In the opening race Matt Neal claimed the 60th BTCC victory of his career in his Halfords Yuasa Racing Honda Civic. It was a weekend of milestones for the tall Midlander – during qualifying on Saturday he claimed his first BTCC pole position in nearly five years by setting a qualifying lap record around the Hampshire speedbowl.
His Halfords Yuasa Racing team-mate Gordon Shedden qualified second fastest, just 0.035sec in arrears despite carrying 75kg of success ballast aboard his Civic.
Jack Goff (Eurotech Racing) completing the Honda rout in third, with championship leader Tom Ingram (Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis) fourth on the grid for the first race of the weekend.
Come Sunday’s opening race, Neal put in a faultless performance to lead from lights-to-flag. He kept Shedden and Goff at bay and looked after his car and - crucially - tyres around the notoriously abrasive and demanding circuit. Neal's 60th BTCC victory drew him level with 1980s legend Andy Rouse in second place in the all-time race winners' list - only Jason Plato has more.
While the top of the order remained fairly static, the fight for position in the lower half of the top ten was rather more fraught. Fifth place was initially held by Rob Austin (Handy Motorsport Toyota Avensis), but he was deposed by Adam Morgan (Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes-Benz A-Class), Ash Sutton (Adrian Flux Subaru Racing Levorg), Colin Turkington (Team BMW M125i M Sport) and Mat Jackson (Team Shredded Wheat with Duo Racing Ford Focus).
Behind Austin, Rob Collard rounded out the top ten in the second Team BMW M125i M Sport. The Hampshire-based driver qualified a lowly 18th, but used his rear-wheel-drive BMW to good effect to surge up to 12th at the end of the opening lap.
The grid for the second race of the weekend was determined by the race results from the opening encounter, so Neal and Shedden lined up at the front once again.
This time, however, Neal’s Civic was laden with the maximum 75kg of success ballast, with Shedden carrying 66kg, Goff 57kg, Ingram 48kg, Morgan 39kg, Sutton 33kg, Turkington 27kg, Jackson 21kg, Austin 15kg and Collard 9kg.
Neal, Shedden and Goff reprised their race one dominance by leading away as the lights on the start gantry went out, but the race was soon halted after Dan Lloyd (MG Racing RCIB Insurance MG6GT) had a sizeable accident that damaged the crash barriers, although left the driver uninjured.
Almost an hour later the race was restarted over a shortened distance of ten laps. Neal made the best start yet again, but at the end of the second tour he peeled off into the pitlane. His Civic’s power steering system had failed and had to be reset by the Honda engineers. Although he lost very little time in the pits, the problem meant he plummeted down the order and out of contention for a repeat win.
Neal’s issue meant that for the first time during the weekend, it wasn’t a Honda at the front. From tenth on the grid, Collard had made up another four places at the aborted first start and then surged up to third behind Neal and Shedden when the action got back underway. He’d skipped past Shedden for second when the reigning champion’s Civic got squirrelly exiting Church corner, and then seized the lead vacated by Neal.
Shedden didn’t drop away, and both of the front men soon came under pressure from Ingram, who had deposed Goff on lap four. Shortly after, however, another violent barrier-strike - this time for Martin Depper in the Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo Ford Focus – forced another red flag. The race result was declared, with Collard the winner from Shedden and Ingram. Goff was a lonely fourth, while a resurgent Austin got the better of Turkington in a fight for fifth. Morgan, Sutton, Aiden Moffat (Laser Tools Racing Mercedes-Benz A-Class) and Jeff Smith (Eurotech Racing Honda Civic) rounded out the top ten.
Behind him, Austin fended off the attentions of Goff, but his resistance only lasted until the complex when the Honda man slipped past to secure second place. On lap three Austin was demoted a further place as Ingram charged past.
Next to attack was Austin was Shedden, but the Toyota driver staged a stout defence of his fourth place and by the time the Scot had found a way past on lap eight, the leaders had made good their escape.
Indeed, Ingram was the man on the move and he slipped up to second when Goff ran wide at Allard at the start of lap nine. The Honda driver had earlier gone wide at Church and had collected dirt on his tyres, leaving him short of grip and powerless to defend.
For a lap or two it seemed that Ingram might make in-roads into Turkington’s advantage, but the BMW man then edged clear to secure the Bavarian manufacturer’s 100th outright race win the BTCC.
Turkington said: “I wasn’t confident on the grid before the race because we’ve been chasing a good set-up on the car all day long. But the guys in the team never let up between the races and we moved the car’s set-up in a new direction. I knew straight away on the first lap we had nailed the set-up – it was a dream to drive.
“Taking the 100th BTCC for BMW is a special thing for me. I grew up watching ’Smokin’ Jo’ Winkelhock, Tim Harvey and Steve Soper so for to continue the history of this iconic brand is something that means a lot.”
Ingram undoubtedly had one eye on bolstering his advantage at the head of the points standings, while Goff rounded out a strong weekend with a podium. Shedden was chasing him down towards the end, but the champion was shown a warning flag for exceeding track limits and was forced to curb his pace a little.
Austin fended off Sutton for fifth place. The Subaru driver had earlier deposed Collard, who found his BMW’s pace blunted by the addition of 75kg of success ballast following his race two glory.
The Mercedes A-Classes of Moffatt and Morgan chased Collard home, with Neal rounding out the top ten after a magnificent charge from 29th position on the grid following his race two maladies. After the race, however, Neal was slapped with a 0.5sec time penalty for gaining an unfair advantage and consequently dropped to 11th in the results, behind Tom Chilton's Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra.
After nine of 30 races, impressive Ingram continues to head the points standings thanks to his consistent finishing. He’s on 131 points and holds a 17-point advantage over Shedden. Turkington is a further two points in arrears on 112 points, with team-mate Collard fourth in the championship.
The next three Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship races take place at Oulton Park in Cheshire on 20-21 May.