Matt Neal won the third British Touring Car race at Brands Hatch to head a remarkable one-two finish for the works Honda team.
Neal inherited the lead on lap seven of a safety car-increased 27-lap race but only just held on after a stunning charge through the field from teammate Gordon Shedden saw the reigning champion miss out on what would have been an incredible victory by less than a tenth of a second.
Sam Tordoff capped a very impressive debut BTCC weekend with the MG squad by completing the rostrum, but teammte Jason Plato leads the championship after backing up his two race wins with fifth, Adam Morgan splitting the two MGs.
With the majority of the field on the soft compound Dunlops tyre wear was always going to be a factor and as Jackson led away from pole, Sam Tordoff got away poorly and as the Hondas of Andrew Jordan and Jeff Smith ran side-by-side trying to pass the MG Colin Turkington misjudged the entry into the first corner and ran wide into the Paddock Hill gravel.
Neal passed Morgan for second on the opening lap but on the second tour, as the field ran through turn one, Dave Newsham lost the rear of his Speedworks Toyota and ran into the path of the helpless Rob Austin – spitting the Audi violently into the tyre wall, though fortunately both drivers walked away unhurt.
Poleman Mat Jackson led at the restart but it was a brief tenure as the Ford slowed temporarily exiting Druids and Neal inherited the lead.
Behind them Frank Wrathall, Shedden and Aron Smith had made impressive starts after starting 16th, 22nd and 26th respectively, with all three drivers in the top ten by the tenth lap. The trio dumped Jackson – who had slipped to sixth – further down the order before Jeff Smith passed Wrathall’s Toyota and Shedden made short work of the pair by lap 13.
At the half-way stage Neal had a 1.5s lead ahead of Morgan, who on the harder compound tyre was comfortably keeping Plato and Andrew Jordan at bay – but Tordoff was on the move.
He passed Jordan into Graham Hill Bend on lap 17 and three laps later, as Shedden followed suit, the Porsche graduate nailed his KX Akademy mentor to take third, Shedden again following suit shortly after.
Morgan and Tordoff – who had run the soft tyre in the first and second races of the day – then began to chip away at Neal’s lead but behind them Shedden was closing relentlessly.
Tordoff passed the Toyota into Clearways but Shedden was cunning and use the better momentum to move by both cars on the run on to the start-finish straight.
By then, only two laps remained and Neal was two seconds up the road. Remarkably, Shedden had that gap down to nothing as the cars entered Clearways nose-to-tail on the final lap, the Yuasa-liveried Civics almost flying formation to complete the most unlikely of one-two finishes.
Further back, Lea Wood made it three different Jack Sears Trophy winners in three races.
It means Plato heads Jordan by nine points at the top of the table after the first three races of the season, with Tordoff impressively third after his maiden race weekend. Jeff Smith, another who impressed at Brands, is fourth in the table with Neal the highest works Honda in fifth. Defending champion Shedden is joint 10th, on 17 points.