In front of 19,000 spectators, Honda's Matt Neal and MG's Anthony Reid each sprayed the victory champagne in Croft's two Green Flag MSA British Touring Car rounds today, while a pair of runner-up places for Vauxhall's James Thompson saw him close...
In front of 19,000 spectators, Honda's Matt Neal and MG's Anthony Reid each sprayed the victory champagne in Croft's two Green Flag MSA British Touring Car rounds today, while a pair of runner-up places for Vauxhall's James Thompson saw him close on team-mate Yvan Muller in their fight for the title, the Frenchman crashing out of the first race before recovering to finish third in the second.
Not only did Reid and MG celebrate their first win of the season, but so too did Dan Eaves and Team Halfords as they took Hilton Independent Trophy honours in the opening race with their Peugeot 307. But it is Rob Collard, in his Vauxhall Astra Coupe, who has regained his Independents points lead, thanks to victory later in the day.
Barwell Motorsport's Luke Hines stretched his Production class lead with a win in the second race in his Honda Civic Type-R, but not before Tom Boardman had taken the first race in Team Varta's Peugeot 307.
Neal always looked the dominant force on his way to victory in the day's first race. Both his and team-mate Alan Morrison's Civic Type-Rs were running without success ballast and were able to pass Thompson, who had started on pole position, in the sprint to the first corner.
Behind, Muller and team-mate Paul O'Neill collided. Muller was knocked off the track and into the barriers, while O'Neill continued in fourth. A safety car period followed to allow marshals to clear the track of oil laid by Collard's retiring Astra. Shortly after racing resumed, O'Neill lost his position to Reid, but made it back when they collided and the MG driver slid sideways. Fourth then became third for O'Neill when Morrison retired after one of his car's wheels fell off following his mandatory pit stop.
At the front, however, Neal was unstoppable and when Thompson momentarily stalled his car's engine during his pit stop and then had to cope with falling fuel pressure, the Honda driver's third victory of the season was assured - despite a second safety car period near the end of the race to clear debris from the track.
Behind the first three, Reid allowed fast-closing team-mate Colin Turkington, his ZS running without ballast, past into fourth. Turkington's charge took him to within half a second of O'Neill at the finish, but there was disappointment for MG's Warren Hughes who spun out of his home race while avoiding a crossed-up Eaves at the fastest part of the circuit, the 140mph Jim Clarke Esses. Eaves, however, was able to keep control of his car to finish a fine sixth as the highest-placed Independents runner.
Seventh fell to Honda's Tom Chilton who, after serving a drive-through penalty, managed to pass the rapid GA Motorsports Astra Coupe of Carl Breeze, second in the Independents. Team Petronas Syntium Proton's David Leslie and Phil Bennett were close behind in ninth and 10th in their Impians. GA's Paul Wallace and Halfords Daniel Buxton, each making their Touring Car debuts, and Synchro Honda Racing's James Kaye followed.
Once he had overtaken the Edenbridge Racing BMW 320i of Michael Bentwood, Boardman was able to pull away from his Production class rivals for a comfortable win. Bentwood was later passed by Barwell team-mates Alan Blencowe and Hines as they took second and third in class. Richard Marsh, making his BTCC debut, took fifth in Team Varta's Peugeot 306. But there was disappointment for Varta's Jim Edwards whose Honda Accord, after lying third in class at one stage, retired with driveshaft failure. Jason Hughes, impressing on his BTCC debut for the Kartworld Racing team, was also out of luck, stopping in the pitlane shortly before the finish with a broken balljoint on his Nissan Primera.
The second race belonged to Reid as soon as he overtook leader Neal into the hairpin on the fifth lap. With no ballast, his ZS was the class of the field and he steadily built up an unassailable lead over the rest of the field.
Reid said: "I'd got victory in my pocket three weeks ago at Rockingham when I ran off the track, so there was a lot of pressure on me to give MG a win. This is one is extra special because everyone in the team thoroughly deserves it."
Following the pit stops, it was left to Thompson and Muller to take up the chase of Reid. Muller's crash earlier in the day resulted in him starting the second race from near the back of the grid and his charge back through the field had the crowd on its feet. Muller, though, let his car off its jacks too early during his pit stop and he was left with too much ground to make up on Thompson in the closing stages. Third place, however, could prove crucial in his pursuit of the title, although his championship lead over Thompson is now down from 31 points to just 17. The meeting was the first since Brands Hatch last August that a Vauxhall driver had not won a race, but the Luton marque continue to comfortably lead both manufacturers and teams' championships from Honda.
Morrison, who also started near the back following his first race retirement, also starred to make it up to fourth by the finish ahead of Neal, who said afterwards his car's performance was hampered by carrying maximum ballast and oversteer.
O'Neill was sixth, followed by Turkington and Independents winner Collard whose victory was only secured in the dying stages when he managed to find a way past Breeze who, with fading brakes, slid wide at a corner. Hughes, Kaye and Chilton completed the top 12. Kaye in particular could count himself unlucky not to win, when, almost in sight of the finish, his Honda's rear anti-roll bar came loose and slowed his pace dramatically. Eaves had also spent time at the front of the Independents field before his car retired in the pitlane with mechanical problems. Team-mate Buxton and GA's Wallace were also out early, the former with accident damage after a collision with Morrison, the latter after a trackrod on his Astra broke after a brush with a tyre barrier.
In the Production class, Boardman looked to be on course for a second victory until his Peugeot's driveshaft broke and put him out of the race. This allowed the closely-following Hines to take over at the front and Barwell could have been celebrating a 1-2 had Blencowe not suffered a puncture just two laps from home. He crawled around to finish third, but his problems allowed Bentwood to sneak through to second. Marsh and Hughes took fourth and fifth. Edwards, meanwhile, failed to make the start after his car's gearbox broke on the parade lap.