Matt Neal converted a second pole position of the day into a second win of the day at Rockingham.
Although starting from pole it looked early on as though it would be another tough race for the Honda driver, as he found himself pushed back into second before the first corner, just like in the second race of the day.
Off the line Neal found himself under pressure from two sides, Paul O'Neill moving to the outside of him from his own second starting slot and Tom Onslow-Cole jumping to the inside to assume the lead before turn one. While the Team Aon driver held the lead through his first real test at Deene, Neal was able to retake the lead further on in the opening lap, as mild chaos unfolded behind them.
John George, Paul O'Neill's Sunshine.co.uk, teammate conspired with David Pinkney and Alex McDowall, sliding off the track at Chapman Curve. A few corners further on, on the exit of Pif Paf it was Tom Chilton and Airwaves BMW driver Mat Jackson running wide, Chilton abandoning his Ford Focus on the outside of the track, while everyone else save for John George, retired back to the pits, their days finished 15 laps earlier than the rest of the field.
With the first lap completed, the race seemed to settle down in a rhythm, Neal, again was able to ease clear of the battles behind him, Onslow-Cole increasingly having to fend off the attention of Paul O'Neill and Andrew Jordan, once more running well, ahead of the surviving Airwaves car in the hands of Steven Kane who was again benefitting from his rear-wheel drive against the front-wheel-drive entries.
For a time it looked like Jordan would be able to do what few had done earlier and keep a BMW at bay. While Kane was faster through the corners – often pushing the Pirtek Vectra through the final Brook Chicane it was Jordan who was able to pull away through the oval sections, giving himself a cushion when it came to braking for the Deene hairpin.
Paul O'Neill was having more luck in his quest to take second, making his move into the Tarzan hairpin to produce an overlap, his and Onslow-Cole racing side by side down the School Straight before O'Neill made a brave attempt to glide around the outside of the Focus on the banked section. O'Neill fell back behind through the flat-out turn one, only to remount his challenge through Yentwood and Chapman Curve, moving into second.
The reversed grid had handed Jason Plato and Rob Collard a ninth and eighth place grid slot respectively. Plato was able to move up to sixth in the opening laps, but Collard was finding it a tougher task to move forward, falling back before ever making progress, past James Nash (who finished eighth, paying off some of the faith Triple 8 showed in him) and Andy Neate before gaining in the Jordan-Kane battle, which Plato had begun to play a part in, forever there to punish an over zealous attempt by Kane.
Kane, however, was still taking risks, as shown by a huge lock-up braking for Brook as he tried, implausibly to go side-by-side with Jordan through a section of track there really is only one line through. He was eventually able to move ahead on the penultimate lap on the run round the back of the track between Pif Paf and Gracelands, slipping inside of Jordan's Vectra sending it back for the consideration of Plato, and increasingly Collard.
On the closing lap the three were nose to tail, all but pushing one another at points. Jordan dropped a wheel onto the dirt existing Gracelands, his car stepping momentarily wide, only for Collard to do the same behind as the three threatened a thrilling finish, but only followed each other across the line, less than a second apart.
Neal took the win, his eventual margin over five seconds, with barely ten seconds covering the rest of the top ten, rounded out by Tom Boardman, recovering from his DNF in the second race. O'Neill took an ever-popular second in front of his fan club in the Rockingham stands and Kane took third after Tom Onslow-Cole ran wide at Deene on the last lap, dropping to seventh.
BTCC Rockingham Race Three Results
No.4 Matt Neal – 16 laps in 23:09.696
No.29 Paul O'Neill – +5.489
No.11 Steven Kane – +7.817
No.77 Andrew Jordan – +10.269
No.2 Jason Plato – +10.795
No.6 Rob Collard – +11.147
No.21 Tom Onslow-Cole – +12.703
No.14 James Nash – +13.617
No.44 Andy Neate – +14.008
No.22 Tom Boardman – +16.180
Photo credit: Vince Pettit Photography