Matt Neal won the final race of the British Touring Car weekend at Donington Park, closing up to within 17 points of Jason Plato's championship lead with just the final weekend – at Brands Hatch – left to run.
Neal was, perhaps, the favourite for the race, starting from second on the grid, the top nine reversed from the second race, but had to run the first four laps in second place, behind Andrew Jordan. The Lichfield-based driver had been given pole position and initially looked capable of repeating his Croft success, pulling away to a lead of over a second after the first lap – Neal fighting to keep Collard behind him.
With Neal up front it was case of damage limitation for Jason Plato, who quickly made it to fifth finding himself part of Tom Chilton and Steven Kane's fight, briefly trying three abreast through the Craner Curves before deciding discretion was better than damage.
Neal, however, replied by taking the lead. Without any help Jordan's NGTC-engined Vectra oversteered eerily through Redgate, allowing Neal through before the Pirtek car could regain its composure. Jordan had settled back into second ahead of Rob Collard, but the oversteer returned for lurid slide around the Old Hairpin, the West Surrey Racing BMW pilotseizing the opportunity to take a second place he would hold until the checkered flag, though Jordan initially staged a fight back.
It was another race when Andrew Jordan should have had a decent points haul, but had to settle for the minor placings. In third he looked to be one of the few drivers capable of resisting Jason Plato, the Vectra pulling away from the Chevrolet every lap past the pits, opening just enough on an advantage to frustrate Plato.
That made it all the more confounding when Plato made the pass look incredibly simple, walking in through the door Jordan left open at Redgate. Confronted – as if unexpectedly with Plato alongside – Jordan fought side by side down to the Old Hairpin, re-taking second on the left sweep of the Craner Curves before Plato finished the move, easing Jordan onto the grass on the exit of the Old Hairpin.
Jordan's bounce across the grass turned third – or even fourth had he yielded earlier – into seventh – Steven Kane, Tom Chilton and Gordon Shedden helping themselves to free points, taking positions without a fight.
Shedden's sixth place with full ballast was put into context by Tom Onslow-Cole's relative struggles to make up places from eighth and ninth on the reversed grid. The pair had begun their progress together, but once Shedden was past the Ford the Scot was able to pull away. The Team Aon driver's progress was momentarily delayed by contact with Alex MacDowall. MacDowall had already fund himself out-muscled once – by Shedden at the Old Hairpin and on lap 10 he found himself on the outside of the Ford down the Craner Curves.
As he moved over to the racing line for the Old Hairpin MacDowall was spun across the front bumper of the no.21 Ford, sliding into the gravel and tyre wall, into retirement.
He was the only accident based retirement in a race where the checkered flag only greeted 14 finishers.
James Kaye's returing weekend came to disappointing end after one lap, as did Andy Neate's race. Tom Boardman, Shaun Hollamby and Paul O'Neill the other drivers who failed to see the finish.
Behind the podium finishers Kane finished fourth ahead of Tom Chilton, who finally stopped Shedden's charge. Mat Jackson took eighth, having run in fourth before running through the gravel at Coppice – another moment that benefitted Plato.
Onslow-Cole failed to make any progress from his starting slot to finish ninth – James Nash, again claiming the final point for Triple Eight.
With only the three races on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit left Plato 224 points and a 14 point lead over Neal. Shedden four points further back and Onslow-Cole 24 points behind. Tom Chilton leaves Donington on 171 points – and mathematically eliminated from the title race.
Photo credits: BTCC.net