Neal beats Jackson in race one photo-finish

Championship leader Matt Neal won a thrilling wet opening British Touring Car race by only just holding off a charging Mat Jackson in the last lap.

Neal started from the front row of the grid, and took advantage when the fast-starting Rob Collard made slight contact with the back of the Silverline Chevrolet’s Jason Plato into the first corner, who had started the race from pole position.

The tap put Plato into a half-spin that saw him sliding across the grass, where he rejoined at the second bend down in third place behind the Honda of Neal and the BMW of Collard.

Neal resisted race-long pressure from the pairing as Collard kept glued to the back of the Honda man for the majority of the race, with Plato closing on them late in the race also.

Jackson was a man who had chosen to gamble on a mixture of slick front and treaded rear tyres on his Motorbase Ford, and the soaking conditions early in the race from the sudden pre-race downpour tested left him struggling for grip as he slipped down to as low as 12th place at one point.

However, as the track surface began drying out Jackson suddenly found himself comfortably the fastest man on the circuit, and from being 20 seconds behind leader Neal he began picking off the wet-shot runners ahead of him until he made his way up to fourth position, making some brilliant moves including a double pass around the outside of Tom Boardman and Alex MacDowall in one overtake at the ultra-tight final hairpin .

On the last lap of the race, Neal looked set to cruise to victory while Jackson began hunting the battle for second place between Collard and Plato. Exiting the chicane he was onto Plato’s tail before driving around the Chevrolet exiting Tower Bend, then immediately dispatching Collard’s WSR BMW two corners later heading into Sunny In corner.

Jackson could sense the chance to snatch the win from Neal who had a small advantage, and found himself with a great run exiting the final hairpin to draw alongside the leader heading towards the flag, but Neal only just managed to hang on to win his fourth race of 2011 by a tiny 0.055s.

“The team told me Mat was coming” Neal told ITV4, “I was just trying to be as quick as I could through the fast stuff and build up a lead, and then when Mat got up behind me at the last hairpin I thought he was going to have me no problem just on traction. That was close.”

Collard completed the podium positions ahead of Plato who dropped from pole to fourth, while Gordon Shedden rounded out the top five in the second Honda Civic.

Eurotech Racing’s Andrew Jordan finished next up in sixth position, three seconds ahead of the battle for seventh between Tom Chilton (Arena Ford) and James Nash (Triple Eight Vauxhall), which was won by Chilton by less than two tenths of a second. Paul O’Neill and Boardman rounded out the top 10 finishers.

The wet conditions, as expected, caught out several drivers including Plato at the start, but saw Tech Speed’s John George – after earlier bumping team-mate O’Neill wide at turn two – and Triple Eight’s Tony Gilham ending in the gravel at Clervaux, the latter causing a safety car period.

The race also saw the irony of Shaun Hollamby, returning to his AMD Milltek team’s Golf, running ahead of Tom Onslow-Cole’s Ford before being spun off at the chicane by Nash, who also had a similar incident with MacDowall who finished down in 14th.

The sensation of lap one turned out to be Rob Austin in his RAR team’s NGTC-spec Audi who ran in seventh place after the opening lap, but this was sadly cut short when he soon retired with suspension and steering damage.

Race one results:

 1.  Matt Neal        Honda                 28m27.486s
2.  Mat Jackson      Motorbase Ford          + 0.055s
3.  Rob Collard      WSR BMW                 + 1.668s
4.  Jason Plato      Chevrolet               + 2.547s
5.  Gordon Shedden   Honda                   + 7.854s
6.  Andrew Jordan    Eurotech Vauxhall      + 10.324s
7.  Tom Chilton      Arena Ford             + 13.044s
8.  James Nash       Triple 8 Vauxhall      + 13.239s
9.  Paul O’Neill     Tech-Speed Chevrolet   + 14.016s
10.  Tom Boardman     Special Tuning SEAT    + 18.675s
11.  Tom Onslow-Cole  Arena Ford             + 19.356s
12.  Frank Wrathall   Dynojet Toyota         + 19.506s
13.  Nick Foster      WSR BMW                + 21.639s
14.  Alex MacDowall   Chevrolet              + 26.845s
15.  Jeff Smith       Eurotech Vauxhall      + 27.139s
16.  Lea Wood         Central Honda          + 29.556s
17.  Shaun Hollamby   AmD Volkswagen         + 38.710s
18.  Liam Griffin     Motorbase Ford         + 49.523s
19.  Dave Newsham     Special Tuning SEAT      + 1 lap
DNF     Andy Neate       Arena Ford               16 laps
DNF     Tony Gilham      Triple 8 Vauxhall         7 laps
DNF     John George      Tech-Speed Chevrolet      3 laps
DNF     Rob Austin       Austin Audi               3 laps
DNF     Chris James      ES Chevrolet              2 laps


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