Neal extends lead with race one win as Plato’s hopes slashed

Matt Neal moved closer towards a third British Touring Car Championship title with victory in race one at Silverstone, while one of his rivals Jason Plato sufferred a puncture that may have ended his title hopes.

Honda driver Neal started from pole position and made a good start to hold onto his lead from fellow front-row starter Mat Jackson, while behind them there was mayhem that resulted in an early safety car period.

Jackson’s Motorbase Ford team-mate Liam Griffin tagged Rob Austin, causing Austin’s Audi to spin across the track and collect Ollie Jackson’s Vauxhall Vectra.

Also involved and left with nowehere to go was Tony Gilham in the Geoff Steel team’s new turbocharged NGTC BMW, as he was then clipped and sent heavily into the outside wall.

When the race restarted, at the front it was all about a three-car battle for the lead with Neal – carrying the maximum 45kg of success ballast – holding on ahead of Jackson while the second Honda Civic of Gordon Shedden stayed in hot pursuit.

Jackson looked the quicker man and kept hunting for a gap to dive his Motorbase Ford past Neal, but he defended his lead positon grimly until Jackson suddenly slowed with three laps to go with a right-front puncture.

Jackson’s heartbreak dropped him to 20th place and gifted Honda and one-two result, as Neal headed home Shedden for victory in race one and extended his championship lead to 10 points of the Scot.

“We had a tremendous race with Mat (Jackson) in the Airwaves Ford and he was really keeping us honest”, said Neal, “and when he got the puncture I just couldn’t believe it and then obviously I’m getting all the noises from my car, imagining noises from the engine, the tyres, everything really so it was a nervous last couple of laps.

“There was about two or three occasions where I almost let him go, but we were just quick enough in the right places.”

The late puncture for Jackson also gifted the Independent’s championship title to Triple Eight Vauxhall Vectra driver James Nash, who joined the Honda pairing on the podium in third place.

Nash’s position was made more secure by a drive-through penalty for Tom Chilton, after the Arena Ford driver disrespected track limits at Copse too often and was punished by race officials as a result.

Plato meanwhile had been part of a big battle behind them, until disaster struck when, while under pressure from the Arena Fords of Andy Neate and Tom Onslow-Cole, he slowed dramatcially going through Woodcote on only the seventh lap of the race with a left-front puncture.

James Thompson was another to suffer from the same fate, while Onlsow-Cole was the man who came out on top in the battle for what turned out to be fourth, ahead of Alex MacDowall who made it to the flag in fifth place in the second normally-aspirated Silverline Chevy Cruze.

Starting from 12th, the mightily impressive Dave Newsham picked up sixth position for Special Tuning Racing in his SEAT Leon, ahead of Andrew Jordan who recovered from 13th position despite a clash with Newham to finish seventh in his Eurotech Vauxhall Vectra.

Rob Collard also made his way through the field to eighth, while Neate and Frank Wrathall salvaged a top 10 finish in a race that was littered with punctures.

Tom Boardman was another to suffer after contact in the pack left him as a retirement with broken rear suspension.

With Plato picking up no points from the race due to the puncture, he is now 22 points behind leader Neal with only 34 still available, plus he will also start from 25th on the grid while Neal and Shedden will fill the front row.

Race one results:

1.  Matt Neal                Honda           26m36.253s
2.  Gordon Shedden           Honda             +  0.206
3.  James Nash               Vauxhall          +  3.818
4.  Tom Onslow-Cole          Ford              +  7.078
5.  Alex MacDowall           Chevrolet         +  10.282
6.  Dave Newsham             SEAT              +  11.335
7.  Andrew Jordan            Vauxhall          +  13.525
8.  Rob Collard              BMW               +  16.333
9.  Andy Neate               Ford              +  16.581
10.  Frank Wrathall           Toyota            +  16.601
11.  Daniel Welch             Proton            +  21.391
12.  Tom Chilton              Ford              +  23.151
13.  Nick Foster              BMW               +  24.045
14.  John George              Chevrolet         +  33.407
15.  Liam Griffin             Ford              +  33.564
16.  Ollie Jackson            Vauxhall          +  33.772
17.  Jeff Smith               Vauxhall          +  50.020
18.  Lea Wood                 Honda             +  51.063
19.  Tony Hughes              Toyota            +  53.943
20.  Mat Jackson              Ford              +  54.500
21.  Chris James              Chevrolet         +  1 Lap
22.  Chris Swanwick           Audi              +  2 Laps
DNF    Tom Boardman             SEAT                    20
DNF    Martin Byford            Volkswagen              20
DNF    Jason Plato              Chevrolet               19
DNF    Paul O’Neill             Chevrolet               16
DNF    James Thompson           Ford                    2
DNF    Rob Austin               Audi                    0
DNF    Tony Gilham              BMW                     0

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