BTCC: Matt Neal, James Thompson win at Brands Hatch

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BTCC: Matt Neal, James Thompson win at Brands Hatch

Brands Hatch hosted the opening two rounds of the 2002 MSA British Touring Car Championship. The races, which formed part of a Superweekender along with the British Formula Three and GT Championship races, attracted large crowds during the...

Brands Hatch hosted the opening two rounds of the 2002 MSA British Touring Car Championship. The races, which formed part of a Superweekender along with the British Formula Three and GT Championship races, attracted large crowds during the Easter Weekend.

Sprint Race

Matt Neil.
Photo by Mark Gledhill.

Matt Neal (Vauxhall Astra) won the opening 19-lap sprint race after Yvan Muller (Vauxhall Astra) suffered a puncture after leading the first 16 laps. Neal was never less than two seconds behind the Frenchman and was pushing him hard when the the leader ran over some debris at Paddock Hill bend. When Muller pitted for a new tyre Neal was already 12 seconds ahead of second-placed Dan Eaves (Peugeot 406), and he subsequently backed off and cruised to an easy victory.

Muller, starting from pole position, lead into the first corner followed by Neal, Eaves and Warren Hughes (MG). Further back Hughes's team-mate Anthony Reid was nudged wide by Tom Chilton (Vauxhall Astra) and into the gravel, eventually rejoining at the tail of the field. Muller and Neal gradually pulled away from the field, but the safety car was deployed before the end of the first lap as Graham Saunders (Alfa) and Alan Blencowe (Alfa), both of Gary Ayles Motorsport, were involved in an accident. James Thompson (Vauxhall Astra) then retired from seventh place with a blown engine.

At the restart Muller and Neal pulled away from Warren Hughes in third who slowly built up a cushion from the pack consisting of Eaves, Tim Harvey (Peugeot), Tom Chilton and Paul O'Neill (Vauxhall Astra) who were fighting amongst themselves. Hughes race lasted until lap 14 when he suffered a puncture at the first corner, robbing the MG driver of a deserved place on the podium. Chilton and Harvey were aggressively pushing each other, nudging and tapping each other around the slower corners and lining up passes along the straight. The inevitable happened and the two cars touched at the entrance to Druids, right-hand hairpin, and Harvey's car was sent helplessly into the gravel. An understandably angry Tim Harvey walked away from the car.

The punctures and battles left Matt Neal on his own at the front to claim victory, with Dan Eaves in second place and Tom Chilton, the 17-year-old in his Touring Car debut, in third.

Feature Race

James Thompson.
Photo by Mark Gledhill.

The main race of the day was shortened to 20 laps due to the late running of the schedule, but this did nothing to reduce the excitement. Again Yvan Muller lead from pole, but this time his works Vauxhall Astra team-mate James Thompson was the eventual winner.

The cars all got cleanly around the first corner but the second corner, the uphill hairpin called Druids, caught out a few drivers. Tim Harvey and Paul O'Neill tangled, sending O'Neill's Astra hard into the barriers and badly damaging the front of the car. Tom Chilton and David Leslie (Proton) both took evasive action and themselves collided, sending Chilton into retirement. This inevitably caused the safety car to come out and the cars spent four laps touring slowly while Chilton's car was moved to safety and the debris was cleared up.

At the restart Muller lead closely followed by Harvey, Neal, Hughes, Reid and Thompson. Muller slowly pulled out a 3 second lead as Thompson overtook Reid and moved up to fifth, and then the Frenchman made his compulsory pitstop and handed the lead to Tim Harvey, which he held for two laps before loosing it to James Thompson. There was excitement when Thompson, Harvey and Reid all decided to make their pitstops at the same time - the winner was Thompson as both Harvey and Reid each lost valuable time and returned in 5th and 7th respectively.

Warren Hughes was now leading ahead of former Superbike champion Aaron Slight as the safety car came out to remove the car of Spencer Marsh who had run off the track at Druids. After five slow laps both drivers pitted along with Tim Harvey who was given a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pitlane. This left James Thompson leading again with Muller, Neal, Reid, and Phil Bennett (Proton) behind. Reid soon slipped past Neal, and Andy Priaulx took Phil Bennett on the penultimate lap. James Thompson crossed the line 2 seconds ahead of team-mate Yvan Muller, ahead of Anthony Reid who secured a deserved podium position for MG.

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Series BTCC