Matt Neal finally broke his win duck of the 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season with victory in an utterly chaotic first race at Knockhill, while championship leader Colin Turkington was one of many big names to suffer in incidents.
The 27-lap opening encounter in Fife began with pole-sitter Sam Tordoff making the perfect getaway as he beat the rear-wheel drive Audi of Rob Austin into turn one, the first lap remarkably calm although it proved to be before the storm.
The initial battle of interest was over third spot as Andrew Jordan held on under pressure from the works Civic Tourer of fellow BTCC champion, Gordon Shedden, who finally made his lunge into the hairpin on lap four of the race stick.
Both quickly closed on the lead duo, before Shedden and Austin made contact exiting Clark which resulted in Austin’s Audi suffering a massive tank-slapper that dropped him to fifth.
The delay allowed Jordan in on the act, and his move on Shedden into the first corner on lap 14 was initially successful, until he slid wide over the kerbs at the bottom of the hill and made slight contact with the Scot that tipped Shedden into a big spin. The Civic Tourer collected his Pirtek rival while heading backwards into Scotsman, leaving the reigning champion hobbling to retirement with right-rear suspension damage while the 2012 champion continued rapidly.
Championship leader Turkington – entering today 23 points ahead of Shedden – was part of a superb battle for fifth place as he fought to recover from the eight-place grid penalty that stripped him of what would otherwise have been a pole position start.
The West Surrey Racing driver drove around the outside of Mat Jackson‘s Motorbase Ford Focus, but found the Triple Eight MG of Jason Plato a wider target to negotiate. Plato grimly fended away his rival which at one stage saw Turkington heading through the grass on the main straight, Plato keeping his MG on the inside into turn one each time.
The efforts were eventually thwarted as Turkington drove by Plato heading into turn one on lap 18 with help from the Ford of Jackson, but his late-braking sent the BMW wide down the hill into Scotsman Corner. Plato and Jackson piled up behind along with the queue that joined int he entertainment, where slight contact between Plato and Jackson proved the bigger blow to Turkington as he was tagged sharp left into the gravel trap.
The championship leader’s disaster provoked a safety car, before which lap 19 saw the decisive race-winning move before the quick chicane made by Neal on Tordoff.
Heartbreak then hit the Triple Eight man in second as he was forced to pull off briefly with an electrical drama, promoting Austin back to second and Shedden sensationally to third despite the race he endured.
The top three stayed that way until the flag flew, Neal claiming his long-awaited first win of 2014 having not lead a lap at all so far this season.
Austin and Shedden made up the podium in a vital result for the latter in the championship battle, while Jackson promoted himself to fourth ahead of Plato. Adam Morgan kept his nose clean to claim sixth in a superb fightback from 17th on the grid in the Ciceley Racing Mercedes A-Class, ahead of an equally impressive Tom Ingram who claimed seventh for Speedworks Motorsport
BMR Racing‘s Aron Smith also charged through the melee from 16th to take the flag eighth, while Inverness driver Dave Newsham gave the Scottish crowd more to cheer about with ninth for the AmD Tuning Ford team.
The top 10 was rounded out by Nick Foster, who was also involved in a fracas as he turned the unfortunate Glynn Geddie around at the hairpin early in the race, the Scot having kept on the pace of Turkington in a top 10 position for United Autosports.
Rob Collard meanwhile put in the biggest charge of all in the WSR BMW, surging from the rear of the 31-car field to an impressive 12th by the flag after a penalty put him to the back of the grid from Snetterton.
Dan Welch and Robb Holland were eliminated in their own clash at Butchers early in proceedings, Welch’s Proton leaping the kerbs where contact terminally wounded both machines.