Neal leads the way after Oulton

Neal leads the way after Oulton

The rain may have stayed away from this weekend's British Touring Car Championship event at Oulton Park but the action and controversy certainly didn't. A large crowd witnessed, as expected, a hard-fought event, which certainly wasn't short on ...

The rain may have stayed away from this weekend's British Touring Car Championship event at Oulton Park but the action and controversy certainly didn't. A large crowd witnessed, as expected, a hard-fought event, which certainly wasn't short on incidents or drama. Tom Onslow-Cole scored the most points from the weekend, which won him the one-off Cliff Johnson trophy to mark the sad passing of Boulevard Racing Martin Johnson's dad and team boss. The real winner was Matt Neal who leaves with an 8-point lead from Jason Plato.

Matt Neal leads race 3.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

Onslow-Cole took advantage of his maiden pole to lead away from Gordon Shedden on race one, but the main mover during the first lap was the WSR BMW of Rob Collard, who managed to get past both Silverline Chevrolets to cross the first lap in third position.

The first safety car of the day had to be deployed on lap 4 when Matt Hamilton and Shaun Hollamby made contact coming out of the chicane, Knickerbrook, leaving the Honda Civic of Hamilton stuck in the gravel. Andrew Jordan was an early retirement with yet more mechanical problems after making good progress from the back of the grid following his troubles from qualifying. Meanwhile fans favourite and local boy Paul O'Neill didn't even make the start.

After the safety car had come in the big mover was Mat Jackson in the Airwaves BMW, first passing Tom Chilton as he tried to pass Alex MacDowall in the Chevrolet Cruze. MacDowall would then lose further places when Jackson succeeded in gaining the place this time allowing Chilton through as well.

On lap 15 came the first controversial moment of the weekend. After Jackson had got past the first Chevrolet he quickly found himself behind the second Cruze of Plato. After battling for a number of laps Jackson made a late lunge down the inside of the 2001 champion at Cascades, hitting the side of the Chevrolet, sliding Plato on the grass and dropping him down the order where he eventually finished 10th, picking up just a single point.

Both drivers had different views of the incident with Plato saying, "Mat just tried a move that was never on. Showing your nose and then hoping is not how to do it and I'm just very disappointed in him. I know I'm hard to overtake but... I'd have thought he'd know better by now. It's achieved nothing except getting me out of the way."

Needless to say Jackson had a different view of the incident, "Jason had been holding me up for many laps and stacking me back into the drivers behind. I had plenty of looks at him but there was never contact then. I felt I'd got far enough alongside him going into the corner to justify that move. It's a shame I was held up for so long because I definitely would have had the pace to go and threaten the top three." The stewards agreed with Plato this time and Jackson received an official reprimand and was given two penalty points on his license.

Tom Onslow-Cole wins.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

That was the battle for 4th but the main battle was for first between Onslow-Cole, Shedden and Collard. The trio had an exciting but fair race long battle with them often almost running three abreast going around the Hairpin. This continued right up until the last lap when Collard ran side by side with Shedden coming out of the Hairpin. With Shedden holding the inside line into the chicane he was able to hold onto the place. Exiting the chicane Collard got it sideways dropping back allowing Shedden to concentrate on trying to pass Onslow-Cole, but it was the Ford driver who was able to hold on to take his second victory of the season.

Onslow-Cole said afterwards, "That was very tough and I'm fortunate Rob kept Gordon occupied on a few occasions as that gave me a few breathers. It's also very nice to win properly - I won at Brands Hatch but that inherited the win from team-mate. This feels a lot better."

Shedden was also pleased with second and said, "I'm sure my car was quicker than Tom's but he defended very well, a really good drive. I got my nose in front once but the punch of that Ford engine just got him back in front. But I'm pleased."

Third place Collard also enjoyed the battle for the lead and said after the race, "That's a great start - the first time this year I've got onto the podium in race one. I felt my car had the legs on the pair of them but it was quite marginal and would have required a mistake from one of them. I'm playing catch-up and need points so wasn't prepared to take a crazy risk this early in the weekend."

Despite the penalty points Jackson kept his 4th place as the second Ford Focus of Chilton for 5th followed him home and his team mate Steven Kane came 6th. MacDowall finished 7th ahead of Neal, who would take the lead of the championship for the first time. James Nash was 9th in the triple 8 Vectra with the recovering Plato finishing in 10th.

For the second successive race O'Neill failed to start the race with gear selection problems and Onslow-Cole lead from the start defending from Shedden into the first corner, Old Hall. Shedden's race wouldn't last long as he had to pit with a drive shaft failure that he picked up half way through lap 2.

Start of race 2.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

The first lap saw the normal contactstarting with Tom Boardman spinning around the VW Golf of Hollamby and then for third, Chilton tapped the back of Collard's BMW spinning around the rear wheel drive car. With Collard facing the wrong way around the track the unsighted MacDowall then slammed into the front of the WSR car, causing heavy damage to the Chevrolet.

Plato was in a determined move following his first race clash and would take it out on a number of drivers including Jackson. First he got past Chilton and returned the favour from race 1 on the Airwaves BMW nudging it wide at the hairpin allowing him past.

Plato then took the lead on lap 10 after he ran quite heavily up the back of Onslow-Cole again at the hairpin causing, like team mate MacDowall, heavy damage to the front of the Chevrolet but was able to create enough of a gap to run down the inside of the Ford on the run up to the chicane. Plato would hold onto the lead but would be punished for both incidents receiving in total 4 points on his licence and like Jackson an official reprimand.

Plato told afterwards, "It wasn't easy - that prang with Tom lost my car a lot of front-end grip for the rest of the race. I was also a bit fortunate on the opening lap. A lot of cars got caught up in that tangle in front of me and I guessed correctly to go the long way round and passed four cars in one go. It's a mega result for everyone in the team as well because they'd had to perform major surgery on the car after race one, fitting a new slave cylinder and master cylinder in the pedal box. A top job."

He was diplomatic on ITV after the race about the Ford's pace despite the restrictor that had been applied, "We've got no weight on now and that Ford Focus has got 45kgs on. Yet it's away down the straights like a lunatic."

Plato was also critical of Onslow-Cole and again on ITV after the race said, "Tom Onslow-Cole's lifting off down the straight to force me one way, I'm not having that, either race or don't, and if you're not going to race, be prepared to get something up the back side. Rubbing's racing."

Jason Plato leads Matt Neal.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

Onslow-Cole who ended up third, however, was less than impressed with Plato's comments or move and said, when quizzed about the move, "I wouldn't call it a move, I'd call it a crash!"

Plato's main title challenger, and often the villain, Neal was also in the thick of the action. This time kept his copybook clear, despite the odd bit of contact, and finished behind Plato in second. He first got past Chilton at Lodge with a little door-to-door contact, which also let past the Airwaves BMW of Kane. The second Airwaves BMW then jumped out of the way for the charging Neal running wide coming out of Old Hall before passing Onslow-Cole without contact at the Hairpin.

Jackson would come 4th for the second time of the day with his team mate Kane behind him and Chilton coming home in 6th. Nash would finish 7th with Boardman next up in 8th.

Behind Boardman there was an almighty battle for 9th with not many straight panelled cars left. This was mainly due to John George in the other Honda Integra when he ran heavily up the back of Lea Wood, who in turn ran up the back of Dave Pinkney. George had to retire with engine damage as a result of the contact but this allowed MacDowall to catch up following his early problems and, with Wood and Pinkney continuing to battle, he dispatched of Wood and then overtook Pinkney on the line to take 9th.

This proved vital with the reverse grid putting MacDowall on pole position for the final race of the day.

Despite Wood's car looking incredibly second hand following race 2, the team worked well to get it looking straight for race 3. Unfortunately less attention was paid to the wheels and on the grid his right rear overtook the car and he failed to take the start.

MacDowall lead from Boardman and Nash at the start but it wasn't long until the first safety car came out when Martin Depper locked up at Cascades sending his Forster Motorsport BMW into the barriers. His teammate Arthur Forster would also have a bad race, crashing heavily at Old Hall where he had been trying some interesting and wild lines all day; although he would somehow continue following repair work in the pits.

Alex MacDowall.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

MacDowall's lead was not to last, when like so many drivers during the day, suffered from steering arm failure. With no steering, he drove straight on at the chicane and ending up parking it in the gravel at Knickerbrook causing yet another safety car.

After the safety car came in it was Chilton who was on the move by first passing Nash and then Boardman for the lead. His joy was short lived as he got the Focus into a major slide drifting his way though cascades dropping him instantly to 4th.

For a second time it was Matt Neal on the move getting past Nash at the hairpin. This allowed Chilton to get a run on the Vectra but Nash forced him wide, which allowed Kane to get past the Ford.

Boardman though was driving out of skin in his Special Tuning UK Seat and was determined to hold onto the lead, which he did in tremendous fashion right up until 4 laps to the end, when Neal dived down the inside of the Seat at Lodge. Worse was to happen for Boardman though when he had to pull off coming out of the chicane on the next lap as the latest victim of a broken steering arm.

This promoted Kane to 2nd, with having just got past Nash and, despite a last lap charge, Kane couldn't find his way past Neal. That's how the order stayed with Nash taking a superb third for triple 8 equalling his best ever BTCC finish. The two Fords would finish 4th and 5th with Chilton finishing ahead of Onslow-Cole with Plato leading Jackson home for 6th.

Next up was Collard after he tapped O'Neill on the last lap at cascades after O'Neill finally got to start a race for the day, allowing Andy Neate to finish 9th. He was later disqualified and handed a 6-place grid penalty for an incident involving Jordan, which saw the luckless Jordan beached on top of the tyre barriers exiting the hairpin.

Jordan was obviously less than impressed with Neate and let his feelings known to the WSR driver on the slowing down lap. This promoted Shedden up to tenth who was still nursing his car from race 2.

Race 3 Podium: race winner Matt Neal.
Photo by Pat Cranham.

Neal was clearly the happiest driver of the day and takes an 8 point lead into the next round, saying after his 3rd victory of the year, "I thought after today's first race I was going to leave here back in sixth in the points - it wasn't such a good race for me and it is so close at the top. But we made some changes to the car and it came alive in races two and three. It's nice to still be leading but it's a slender margin and also very early days and Croft in two weeks is going to be very tough again."

Plato summed up his day well, "A bit of a topsy-turvy day. Getting punted off in race one was a bit of a stinker but the race two win showed we've made more progress with our car and full credit to my team who'd done a lot of repairs to it after race one. The gap to Matt is nothing at this stage. We're not even half way through the season and it's not just Matt who's a rival - plenty of other teams and drivers are in the hunt and, like he says, Croft is going to be very hard-fought."

Kane remains third in the championship but now takes a clear lead in the independent trophy after O'Neill's unfortunate day. The biggest mover in the points though was Onslow-Cole who now sits 4th in the overall points. Honda Racing now lead Arena in the manufacturers/constructors trophy with Airwaves BMW leading Honda Racing by a mere 3 points in the HiQ Teams Championship.

Next up for the BTCC is Croft in North Yorkshire as the series enters its half way stage. So stay tuned to for all news prior to and during the event.

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About this article
Series BTCC
Drivers Tom Chilton , Paul O'Neill , Jason Plato , Matt Neal , Rob Collard , Steven Kane , Tom Boardman , John George , Tom Onslow-Cole , Andrew Jordan , Martin Johnson , Dave Pinkney , James Nash , Mat Jackson , Andy Neate , Martin Depper , Lea Wood , Shaun Hollamby , Alex MacDowall