By: Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
- Rain again for BTCC race day
- Neal extends points lead
- Jackson placed second
Neal earns 40th British Touring Car Championship victory
Matt Neal has won race 1 at Croft in mixed conditions from an inspired Mat Jackson, to extend his lead in the championship to 10 points now from Jackson, bringing up his 40th victory in the series.
Conditions were very similar to Oulton Park last time out making tyre choice again a real gamble. Just 30 minutes prior to the race heavy rain started although this wouldn’t last long and the circuit slowly started to dry albeit still remaining very wet for the race start.
The first 5 cars all went with full wet tyres on and it was Jason Plato who led into the first corner where he received a slight nudge from Rob Collard sliding the car across the grass, allowing Neal to take the lead with Collard getting up into second.
The opening laps took place in still very wet conditions meaning the few drivers like Jackson, James Nash and Paul O’Neill who all gambled on slick tyres all struggled and slipped right down the field. However they all closed back up to the field on lap 8 with the circuit drying when the safety car was brought out after Tony Gilham had spun at the first corner.
After the safety car came in on lap 11 there was only one man on the move and that was Jackson who had earlier been struggling to steer in a straight line down the straights. Jackson was driving superbly quickly passing Andy Neate and then managing to pass Tom Boardman, Alex MacDowall and Tom Chilton; all within half a lap of each other. He then passed Andrew Jordan and Gordon Shedden and was right on the leading trio heading onto the last lap.
He got past Plato early on in the lap before diving down the inside of Collard with slight contact. He then was right on Neal’s tail ending out of the final corner however it was Neal who just held on winning by a mere 0.055s.
A delighted Neal said after the race, “I had Rob right behind me. One slip and he’d have been through and I don’t think I’d have been able to pass him after that. Then the team told me on the radio how quickly Mat was coming up and at the hairpin I really thought he’d get me before the line as he had better traction. Luckily that was the last lap.”
This wasn’t the first time at Croft that Jackson just missed out on a race win in mixed conditions at the line as this also was the case in 2008 with Colin Turkington. Jackson said after, “we took a gamble on slicks and it paid off. We knew it was going to be a long race but thought it would come back to us. It reminded me of 2008 and it’s a shame it was second again, so close but so far. Matt took the safe gamble and he just held off.”
Collard although slightly disappointed said, “ Two podiums in consecutive events is great. Without a safety car we could have won. We’re quick in places but the Honda’s are gone down the straights.”
Plato wasn’t too disappointed not to get a podium but admitted things could have been different if it wasn’t for the first corner and said, “Start wasn’t great but Rob gave me a little punt which ruined my race a bit. Heading onto the final lap I waved Jackson through and I hoped that he would take the win away from Matt but he backed out down on the wet bit and that kind of ruined that little plan!”
Behind Plato in 5th was Gordon Shedden who got past Jordan on lap 4 who finished 6th. 7th was Chilton after he had had a great early battle with Jordan passing and re-passing through the sunny double hander. Recovering to 8th and 9th were Nash and O’Neill with their slick fronts with Boardman picking up the final point in 10th.
Just outside the top 10 was Tom Onslow-Cole on his return to Team Aon in 11th who was another driver on slick fronts with Frank Wrathall in his DynoJet NGTC Toyota Avensis having a great race in 12th. Also just missing out on points were MacDowall and Neate who both had excursions late on from inside the top 10 late on in the race while Rob Austin was running well inside the top 10 before having to retire on lap 3 with broken rear suspension.
At present the circuit is dry however rain showers have continued since the first race and remain threatening. So stay logged into Motorsport.com for race 2 which will happen in the next couple of hours as we bring you race-by-race coverage throughout the day.