By Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent: This is the sixth win in a row for the Honda works team however there was more misery for Jason Plato
Honda Yuasa Racing’s Matt Neal moved to the top of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship point standings Sunday morning after taking victory in the 13th round of the BTCC at Croft, taking the points lead from teammate Gordon Shedden by just one point.
This is the sixth win in a row for the Honda works team however there was more misery for Jason Plato. For the second outing in a row he suffered a mechanical failure on the way to the grid; this time with a recurrence from the electrical issues that he suffered in qualifying and as a result just managed a few test laps during the race, not scoring any points and losing yet more valuable ground to the Hondas.
At the start Andrew Jordan, from second in his Pirtek Racing Honda, got the best start but it was Shedden from third who led into the first corner with Neal dropping to third. Meanwhile in the middle of the pack there was a big crash when the BMW of Nick Foster and the Vauxhall Vectra of Dave Newsham sandwiched the Welch Motorsport Proton of Dan Welch, with Newsham and Foster spinning into each other. Newsham crashed heavily into the pit wall with Foster spinning into the infield while Welch also suffered damage and had to pull over before the first corner.
This brought out the safety car but when it came in a few laps later, it was Neal who was on the move trying to make amends after his poor start. On lap 6, exiting the Hairpin the slowest corner in Britain, Neal barged his way past Jordan which also allowed the eBay Motors BMW of Collard past after he could this time only make a couple of places up at the start.
Neal was quickly up on team mate Shedden and after holding him for a number of laps with Collard up right behind Neal, Neal made his move past Shedden on lap 12 barging his way through at Tower also allowing Collard through heading into the Jim Clark Essses. Shedden was to drop back whilst Collard was to remain close to Neal for the reminder of the race but was unable to get past the reigning champion.
After the race a delighted Neal admitted he had clutch issues off the start and said, “That was hard work. I had an issue with the clutch on the start line and couldn’t get the bite. I was quicker than Flash (Shedden) and with Collard behind I asked the team what to do and they said just press on. I felt I had more grip and traction than Shedden and had to pass or Rob would have got us both.” Collard was also pleased with second and said, “I knew the car was quick yesterday and I was waiting for the race to come to me. I saw Matt go down the inside of Flash and I got the run on him. The NGTC cars are just so strong although I was able to put him under pressure with the cars stronger at different points of the circuit. I now start on the front row so the aim is to lead by the first corner, I don’t know how long it will last though!”
Shedden said after the race, finishing where he started “It was alright I didn’t gain but I didn’t lose anything, it was difficult with full ballast. It was apparent early on that I didn’t have enough pace to carry it through and Matt’s set up is significantly better but I’ll have it for the next race!”
Behind Shedden was a distant Jordan while Rob Austin finished a fantastic fifth after recovering from a poor start to at last have something to smile about. He managed to get past the sole MG KX Momentum, on lap 13 exiting the Hairpin, of Andy Neate but he held on to sixth to take his best BTCC finish.
In seventh, after having a more than eventful race, was Tom Onslow-Cole for eBay Motors. Onslow-Cole ran in the top five at one point but spun at Tower after contact with the Redstone Racing Ford Focus of Mat Jackson. Onslow-Cole then recovered to cross the line with smoke billowing from a buckled front right.
Will Bratt came home in ninth in only his second BTCC meeting in the second Rob Austin Racing Audi A4. Bratt stayed out of trouble to make his way up from 21st, while Aron Smith completed the top 10 in the second Redstone Focus despite locking up and going off on the last lap at Tower, whilst putting Bratt under pressure.
Ollie Jackson put in a good showing to come 11th in the AmD Tuning Golf after he got the better of a good battle with the Team HARD Honda Civic of Tony Gilham. Lea Wood finished 13th in his Binz Racing Vauxhall Vectra with Liam Griffin finishing 14th in the final Redstone Racing Ford Focus, despite having to serve a drive through penalty.
The final point went to Adam Morgan for Speedworks after, earlier in the race; he had to pit to remove grass from the radiator. Meanwhile Paul O’Neill, making his debut in the other Speedwork Toyota Avensis, had a great opening lap but like Plato his mechanical gremlins came back whilst inside the top 10 and cut out the engine; although he was able to continue.
Other drivers to face difficulties were Jeff Smith in the second Pirtek Racing Honda after he crashed heavily at the complex whilst battling name sake Aron Smith, while 4th place man Frank Wrathall also had a nightmare race; first by spinning on the opening lap before finally stopping exiting the chicane with a damaged Dynojet prepared Toyota Avensis.