BTCC: Neal takes win in first race at Silverstone

Matt Neal drove a strong race to win the first race of the day at Silverstone circuit. The Computeach Racing with Halfords driver made a brilliant start from the second row of the grid to take the lead and, despite early pressure from SEAT Sport UK driver Jason Plato, was able to pull away as those behind him fought each other.

Matt Neal, James Thompson and Jason Plato battle for the lead.
Photo by Mark Gledhill.
Neal quickly pulled away from the grid on a very slippery surface and within a few hundred metres he was ahead. Plato kept right on the tail of the Honda Civic Type-R and squeezed back into the lead on the approach down to Becketts. Neal got held up by this and dropped back slightly but he gradually closed in on the back of the SEAT Toledo Cupra over the next couple of laps.

Behind them Independent driver Robert Collard and West Surrey Racing driver Colin Turkington, who started alongside each other on the grid, ran down the back straight side-by-side before Collard kept his position at the hairpin. Turkington's team-mate Anthony Reid, who had made a good start to move up two places, then closed up on the battling pair and he and team-mate Turkington touched with Turkington dropping back.

VX Racing driver James Thompson, now running in third, closed up on the back of Neal and nudged him all the way round the Luffield complex on the opening lap. Also further down the field VX Racing's Luke Hines and SEAT Sport UK driver Robert Huff exited Woodcote side-by-side as Huff tried unsuccessfully to go around the outside of the Vauxhall Astra Coupe.

Close racing.
Photo by Mark Gledhill.
Team Honda driver Tom Chilton, who had been running in sixth place on the first lap, pulled into the pitlane on lap three with an apparent exhaust problem although he rejoined the race a few minutes later and ran at the back of the field for the remainder of the race.

Neal got past Plato on lap at the Abbey hairpin to take the lead on lap four and then Plato ran wide at Bridge allowing Thompson to pull alongside at Priory. The pair remained side-by-side all through the complex, along the pit straight, and through the first corner before Plato eventually regained the place at Becketts. Muller then took advantage of his team-mate's loss of momentum along the back straight and got past Thompson at the Abbey hairpin. Thompson then fell back into the clutches of Dan Eaves and had to defend hard particularly at Becketts.

Collard, in sixth place, was defending hard from Charlie Butler-Henderson, who had made a great start from twelfth, but the pair unfortunately ran into each other on lap six with Collard retiring from broken steering and Butler-Henderson stopping as well.

The track became over-crowded further down with seven cars from Turkington in seventh to James Kaye in thirteenth being covered by just six seconds. The pack entered Luffield as one big group but there was not enough tarmac and, after a cloud of tyre smoke, Michael Bentwood ran wide into the gravel to retire from the race. Muller got past Plato on the inside at Becketts on lap seven to move up to second place and set about trying to close the gap to Neal. The Honda Civic Type-R driver responded to the pressure and slowly pulled away from Muller.

The field started to spread out in the second half of the race but two slower back markers caused some confusion and Shawn Watson-Smith took full advantage to move from thirteenth to eleventh on the penultimate lap. Neal kept a comfortable gap between himself and Muller to cross the line three and a half seconds to take the chequered flag. Plato held on to finish third with Thompson two seconds further back.