Matt Neal took the early bragging rights ahead of the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season, topping Tuesday’s official Media Day test session at Donington Park.
The triple BTCC champion left it until the final five minutes of the four-hour session in Leicester to make his move up the timesheets, denying rookie Ashley Sutton the top spot with his final lap of the day.
Neal and Halfords Yuasa Racing Honda Civic team-mates Gordon Shedden and Andy Neate took to Donington Park’s National layout sporting their distinctive orange and black Halfords-backed livery, initially playing a conservative game rather than hunting quick lap times.
The initial minutes were headed by the 2015-specification Honda Civic Type-R of Eurotech Racing‘s Jeff Smith, trading the top spot with Handy Motorsport‘s new recruit, Rob Austin.
With just over an hour to go, it was rookie Sutton who turned heads with a new benchmark effort of the day for Triple Eight Race Engineering, the 2015 Renault UK Clio Cup champion looking at home in his new environment.
Having jumped up to second place behind the MG6 GT driver with less than 10 minutes remaining of the four hours, Neal then stole the headlines by putting his Honda Civic fastest of all on a time of 1m10.140s, just 0.091s clear of Sutton by the flag.
Sutton and Austin impressed for MG and Toyota respectively in second and third, ahead of another Toyota Avensis in the hands of Speedworks Motorsport‘s Tom Ingram and the second Triple Eight MG of Josh Cook.
Eurotech’s Martin Depper and Smith were next up, the top 10 rounded out by Adam Morgan (Mercedes), Mat Jackson (Ford) and Sam Tordoff (BMW).
26 of the record 32 entries for the 2016 season took to the circuit during the session, one which was truncated by a number of red flag stoppages. Among those included an off for the Power Maxed Racing Chevrolet Cruze of Hunter Abbott, plus a pair of punctures for Ingram and Team BKR’s Aron Smith.
Almost half the runners completed more than 50 laps of the 1.98-mile circuit, with the top 17 cars finishing within a second of the pace-setting time.
The Team BMR quartet of Jason Plato, Colin Turkington, James Cole and Warren Scott all missed out while the finishing touches were put to their new Subaru Levorg machines, which were revealed to the public before cars hit the circuit.
Power Maxed Racing’s new recruit, Kelvin Fletcher, was forced to miss the running due to work commitments, while Team HARD‘s Michael Epps was unable to take part as the team did not have an engine ready.
Donington Media Day test times:
1) Matt Neal, Team Dynamics Honda Civic Type R, 1m10.140s
2) Ash Sutton, Triple Eight Racing MG6, 1m10.231s
3) Rob Austin, Handy Motorsport Toyota Avensis, 1m10.297s
4) Tom Ingram Speedworks Motorsport, Toyota Avensis, 1m10.312s
5) Josh Cook, Triple Eight Racing MG6, 1m10.338s
6) Martin Depper, Eurotech Racing Honda Civic Type R, 1m10.442s
7) Jeff Smith, Eurotech Racing Honda Civic Type R, 1m10.443s
8) Adam Morgan, Ciceley Racing Mercedes-Benz A-Class, 1m10.453s
9) Mat Jackson, Motorbase Performance Ford Focus, 1m10.556s
10) Sam Tordoff, WSR BMW 125i M Sport, 1m10.557s
11) Aron Smith, Team BKR VW CC, 1m10.622s
12) Rob Collard, WSR BMW 125i M Sport, 1m10.672s
13) Aiden Moffat, Ciceley Racing Mercedes-Benz A-Class, 1m10.766s
14) Jake Hill, Team Hard Toyota Avensis, 1m10.803s
15) Ollie Jackson, AmD Tuning.com Audi S3 saloon, 1m10.905s
16) Gordon Shedden, Team Dynamics Honda Civic Type R, 1m10.940s
17) Andrew Jordan, Motorbase Performance Ford Focus, 1m10.992s
18) Jack Goff, WSR BMW 125i M Sport, 1m11.191s
19) Matt Simpson, Speedworks Motorsport Honda Civic Type R, 1m11.236s
20) Chris Smiley, Team Hard Toyota Avensis, 1m11.482s
21) Alex Martin, Team Parker Racing Ford Focus, 1m11.538s
22) Dan Welch, Welch Motorsport Proton Persona, 1m12.414s
23) Andy Neate, Team Dynamics Honda Civic Type R, 1m12.667s
24) Mark Howard, Team BKR VW CC, 1m13.719s
25) Hunter Abbott, Power Maxed Racing Chevrolet Cruze, 1m17.374s
* Stewart Lines (Maximum Motorsport Ford Focus – no transponder)