BTCC Brands Hatch Race 1: Neal Wins Wet Opener

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Matt Neal took his fifth win of the season at a wet opening race at Brands Hatch to haul himself right into the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship title fight.

The Honda Yuasa Racing driver drove faultlessly to lead Andrew Jordan and polesitter Tom Onslow-Cole over the line, with his teammate and championship leader Gordon Shedden only fifth.

Jason Plato dropped three points to the Scot – and is now just two points ahead of Neal – as he struggled, eventually finishing eighth.

Onslow-Cole led the field into turn one but Neal was immediately into second as Jordan got away poorly in his Pirtek Racing Honda.

Shedden, starting seventh, passed Plato early on as the MG ran wide at Westfield and Dave Newsham was next up to harry the two-time champion, while Neal passed Onslow-Cole at Paddock to take the lead, Jordan following suit soon after.

Newsham passed Plato and demoted him to seventh, and Aron Smith quickly did the same to bump him down another place.

The Irishman, revelling in the wet in his S2000 Redstone Racing Ford Focus in similar fashion to Rockingham, then began to pressure Newsham, the pair continuing their race one and two battle from Silverstone.

A safety car, caused by Ollie Jackson running into the gravel trap at Druids, bunched the field up after the top three had pulled clear of Shedden and Rob Collard in fourth and fifth, and gave Neal a respite after Jordan began to apply serious pressure for the lead.

At the restart, the defending champion gained a second wind – and pulled clear of the chasing Jordan, who came under attack from Onslow-Cole. Smith, who had passed Newsham, ran wide at Druids and dropped back behind the Scot, but the pair touched at Graham Hill Bend, allowing both Smith and Plato through – the latter only momentarily, though.

The Redstone Racing driver then set about catching Collard and Shedden, passing both without major difficulty, elevating himself into an impressive fourth. The leaders were now running closely together again as Jordan regrouped – Neal had set two fastest laps in a row to open up a slight gap – and Onslow-Cole was also hanging on.

Meanwhile, Newsham had caught Collard and the pair ran side-by-side for most of the lap, the Vectra eventually prevailing at Paddock – and then letting the BMW back through after running wide at Druids.

At the front, Jordan had pegged the gap to less than a second but could not mount a final assault with Onslow-Cole looming large in his mirrors, and the Yuasa liveried Civic took the flag first, extinguishing any lingering hopes Jordan had of an unlikely outright title success – though he remains favourite for the Independent’s title.

Neal’s win took him to 355 points after additional scores for fastest lap and leading a race, while Shedden moves on to 375 and Plato 357.

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