Matt Neal resisted a last lap challenge from an inspired Mat Jackson to take victory in the first race of the day at Croft. The changing track conditions made tyre choice crucial and a mid-race safety car swung the balance in favour of the drivers who opted to slick fronts.
Pole sitter Jason Plato made a clean start from pole position but a tap from Rob Collard sent him spearing across the infield before rejoining behind the WSR man in third, with Matt Neal taking the lead.
The front two built up an early lead with Plato taking his time to get up to speed, while Gordon Shedden immediately made up for his poor grid position by diving past Andrew Jordan at Tower to take fourth on lap two.
Plato’s pace began to pick up and by the end of lap six, the Silverline Chevrolet had caught up to the leading duo, and had brought the second Honda Civic of Shedden along with him. As the race reached half distance, the slick-shod runners were all outside the points, but Tony Gilham‘s Vauxhall Vectra had spun into the gravel at Clervaux and the ensuing safety car brought them back into play.
When the safety car pulled in on lap ten, Jackson was the highest of the slick-shod cars in 11th place, but had been matching the leaders’ pace earlier on. With the field bunched up, he was suddenly the man to watch.
Frank Wrathall was dispatched straight away before Jackson battled his way past the Team Aon Ford Focus of Andy Neate to move up to ninth. Ahead of him, Tom Boardman and Alex MacDowall were embroiled in a fierce battle over seventh, but Jackson’s superior grip was clearly apparent, and he danced around the outside of both drivers at the hairpin at the start of lap 14.
Just a few corners later and he had added another victim as Tom Chilton relinquished for sixth. Andrew Jordan couldn’t hold the Airwaves Racing man back either as he cruised past into fifth. With just over two laps to go, Jackson made short work of Gordon Shedden to take fourth but with the leading trio over three seconds clear, it seemed his progress would end there.
But the slicks were clearly the tyres to be on and Jackson was eating up the distance between himself and third placed Plato and as the last lap begun, the gap had been reduced to nothing. Plato’s dogged defence lasted as far as Tower before Jackson outdragged him on the run towards the Jim Clark Esses and by the time they had reached Sunny In, Collard had been caught too, and suddenly an improbable victory looked on.
In the end, Neal needed every bit of power the turbo Honda Civic had to offer as Jackson attacked coming out of the final corner. The Ford Focus was visibly gaining but the finish line came to Neal’s rescue, giving him the victory by just 0.055s.
Collard held off a late challenge from Plato to take third while Gordon Shedden had to settle for a lonely fifth. Andrew Jordan also had a quiet drive on his way to sixth while Tom Chilton held on to seventh despite a late onslaught from a number of slick-shod cars.
James Nash and Paul O’Neill were among them are surged up to eighth and ninth which demoted Boardman to tenth. The Special Tuning driver did come out on top in his battle with MacDowall though after the Chevrolet spun off on the penultimate lap.
|1||Matt Neal||Honda Civic||Honda Racing Team||28:27.486|
|2||Mat Jackson||Ford Focus ST||Airwaves Racing||+0.055|
|3||Rob Collard||BMW 320si E90||WSR||+1.688|
|4||Jason Plato||Chevrolet Cruze||Silverline Chevrolet||+2.547|
|5||Gordon Shedden||Honda Civic||Honda Racing Team||+7.854|
|6||Andrew Jordan||Vauxhall Vectra||Pirtek Racing||+10.324|
|7||Tom Chilton||Global Ford Focus||Team Aon||+13.044|
|8||James Nash||Vauxhall Vectra||888 Racing with Collins Contractors||+13.239|
|9||Paul O’Neill||Chevrolet Cruze||GoMobileUK.com with Tech-Speed||+14.016|
|10||Tom Boardman||SEAT Leon||Special Tuning Racing||+18.675|
|11||Tom Onslow-Cole||Global Ford Focus||Team Aon||+19.356|
|12||Frank Wrathall||Toyota Avensis||Dynojet||+19.506|
|13||Nick Foster||BMW 320si E90||WSR||+21.639|
|14||Alex MacDowall||Chevrolet Cruze||Silverline Chevrolet||+26.845|
|15||Jeff Smith||Vauxhall Vectra||Pirtek Racing||+27.139|
|16||Lea Wood||Honda Integra||Central Group Racing||+29.556|
|17||Shaun Hollamby||Volkswagen Golf||AmD Miltek Racing.com||+38.710|
|18||Liam Griffin||Ford Focus ST||Airwaves Racing||+49.523|
|19||Andy Neate||Global Ford Focus||Team Aon||+1 Lap|
|20||Dave Newsham||SEAT Leon||Special Tuning Racing||+1 Lap|
|Tony Gilham||Vauxhall Vectra||888 Racing with Collins Contractors||+10 Laps|
|John George||Chevrolet Cruze||GoMobileUK.com with Tech-Speed||+14 Laps|
|Rob Austin||Audi A4||Rob Austin Racing||+14 Laps|
|Chris James||Chevrolet Lacetti||Team ES Racing||+15 Laps|
Lap Leaders (1 Point)
Neal (Lap 1-17)
Fastest Lap (1 Point)
Mat Jackson (1:33.323, Lap 16)