Matt Neal takes the spoils in race threePosted: April 3, 2011
Neal was drawn onto pole position for the reverse grid final race at Brands Hatch and got a perfect start to lead Andrew Jordan and the rest of the pack into Druids for the first time.
Behind them, James Nash’s race was already ruined when the fast-starting Ford of Mat Jackson forced his way through the middle of the pack, sideswiping the Triple Eight Vauxhall and sending Nash onto the grass.
Jackson was on a mission in the early stages and began hounding Paul O’Neill for third place, the Chevrolet Cruze visibly slower on the straights without a turbocharged engine like the Ford behind him. On lap six Jackson made his move as he ducked up the inside on the exit of Paddock Hill and muscled his way past the purple TechSpeed Cruze and into third at the expense of O’Neill’s right wing mirror.
Up front, Neal spent the first half of the race hanging onto the lead ahead of the turbocharged Pirtek Vectra of Jordan who kept close to the back of the Honda but could not find a gap to overtake as Neal consistently drove each corner cleanly and precisely.
However it would then end in heartbreak for Jordan as he suffered another left-front puncture just like he did in race one, costing him the chance to challenge Neal for the race win that he and the team would certainly have deserved, and Jordan was visibly gutted at losing another podium.
Jackson took up the mantle and started chasing after Neal, but could get no closer than half a second to the Honda as Neal picked up his first win of the season ahead of Jackson and a very happy Paul O’Neill.
Neal told ITV after the race: “He (Plato)’s going to be the man to beat this year so we’ve got to do it consistently. We can do it over one lap but it’s now down to the consistency of the racing.”
O’Neill was ecstatic with his podium, telling ITV: “It’s been a lot of sleepless nights but it’s all come together. I know how hard it is and I love the racing because everybody’s been a great help like Jason and RML. He’s got a dodgy dress sense but he’s been absolutely grand and i’ve got a lot to learn from the car but we’ll get there.”
Points leader and double race winner today Jason Plato played a points game in the final race and finished fifth behind Gordon Shedden’s Honda Civic. Shedden’s car showed the straight-line speed of the turbo engine in his fight with Plato, and dived up the inside at Surtees late in the race despite Plato’s best defending efforts for fourth place.
The Arena Ford team had a tough final race as Tom Chilton could only finish eighth after being passed by James Nash and Rob Collard during the race, whilst his team-mate Andy Neate finished a poor weekend outside the points having been turned around by Alex MacDowall on lap one at Druids.
Collard put in an impressive showing despite clearly struggling to match the outright pace of the top cars, but he battled James Nash’s more powerful Vauxhall all the way to the flag to a seventh place finish.
Jeff Smith gave the crowd plenty of excitement first passing Nick Foster at Paddock before catching a huge slide at Clearways in a contender for save of the season, and later engaging in a great battle with Tom Onslow-Cole, the Volkswagen driver just holding off Smith’s Vectra on the run to the flag for 13th position.
Tony Gilham scored points for the third time in a row with 10th place to cap off an impressive debut weekend, while Frank Wrathall did not make it out with problems with his new Toyota Avensis.
1. Matt Neal Honda 19m50.198s
2. Mat Jackson Motorbase Ford + 0.189s
3. Paul O’Neill Tech-Speed Chevrolet + 3.813s
4. Gordon Shedden Honda + 6.602s
5. Jason Plato Chevrolet + 7.150s
6. James Nash Triple 8 Vauxhall + 7.323s
7. Rob Collard WSR BMW + 7.928s
8. Tom Chilton Arena Ford + 8.307s
9. Alex MacDowall Chevrolet + 8.910s
10. Tony Gilham Triple 8 Vauxhall + 11.764s
11. Tom Boardman Special Tuning SEAT + 13.663s
12. Dave Newsham Geoff Steel BMW + 14.026s
13. Tom Onslow-Cole AmD Volkswagen + 25.806s
14. Jeff Smith Eurotech Vauxhall + 25.910s
15. Nick Foster WSR BMW + 26.427s
16. Andy Neate Arena Ford + 26.996s
17. John George Tech-Speed Chevrolet + 33.353s
18. Liam Griffin Motorbase Ford + 33.589s
19. Chris James ES Chevrolet + 1 lap
20. Andrew Jordan Eurotech Vauxhall + 1 lap
21. Tony Hughes Speedworks Toyota + 1 lap