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Matt Neal clinches first win of 2014 amid chaos

Matt Neal claimed his first victory of the 2014 British Touring Car Championship season in a crazy opening race at Knockhill, with Rob Austin in second and Gordon Shedden in third.

The triumph marked Neal’s first visit to the top step of the podium in more than a year and it was also his first win in the Honda Civic Tourer, but there were greater repercussions further down the order as a retirement for championship leader Colin Turkington saw his advantage in the title race over Shedden reduced to nine points.

As the race got underway, MG’s Sam Tordoff converted his pole into a first lap lead ahead of Austin in his Audi A4, as the field safely negotiated the opening couple of tours with little change in position.

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But the serenity of the start was not in tune with what was to come, as plenty of action and a spate incidents ensued in front of a bumper crowd at the Scottish circuit. Shedden set the tone of what was to come with a late, deep lunge on the inside of Andrew Jordan’s Pirtek Racing Honda for third at the end of lap four for third place, with Tordoff escaping at the front as Austin took time to heat his tyres.

The first incident of the day came in the middle of the pack as Robb Holland and Dan Welch were both forced to retire after contact. Chris Stockton had passed the Audi driver at the start of the lap and as those behind looked to pile the pressure on, Welch caught one of the curbs and was launched into the side of Holland’s car, breaking his front suspension and forcing the pair to crawl back to the pits.

The decision was taken not to deploy the safety car but the leading five cars were still able to bunch themselves up as Austin dragged Shedden, Jordan and Neal towards Tordoff at the front.

On lap 11 Austin took a look up the inside of the MG at the hairpin, but the move put him on the back foot as he was forced to defend from Shedden’s Honda, who soon moved into second after tapping the rear of the Audi, forcing Austin to lift off and drop to fifth.

Behind the leading group, Jason Plato headed an increasingly long gaggle of cars as he struggled for pace, and as those behind bunched up, Nick Foster spun the United Autosports Toyota Avensis of Glynn Geddie from ninth, the Scot having put in his most impressive showing in the series until that point.

Back at the front, Tordoff slowly began to edge away again as Shedden struggled slightly, and Jordan sensed a chance to pounce as he made a move for second at the start of lap 15. Shedden looked to immediately retake the position, but slight contact through Duffus sent the Honda backwards down the hill, as he crashed into the reigning champion at McIntyre, allowing Neal and Austin into second and third and forcing Jordan to retire.

After starting from ninth after a grid penalty, Turkington had latched onto the back of Plato’s MG in the battle for what was now fifth but was continually unable to pass the two-time champion down the main straight. That changed on lap 18 though as Mat Jackson bumped the BMW coming out of the hairpin, pushing Turkington past Plato as they headed into turn one.

Any thoughts of a podium for the eBay Motors driver were soon quashed however, as he was eliminated from the race just a corner later. After running wide, Plato was forced to slow to avoid contact which allowed Jackson to pass up the inside into McIntyre, but making slight contact with the MG’s rear pushed Plato sideways, who in turn touched the rear-left of Turkington’s car and punted the championship leader into the gravel trap.

The incident was yellow flagged for a lap, and that was crucial as Neal had moved onto the back of Tordoff’s tail while the drama behind them had unraveled, and passed the MG for the lead on lap 19 – just before the safety car was eventually deployed to recover Turkington’s stricken car.

There was more drama to come as Tordoff slowed and pulled off the circuit on lap 22, just as the safety car was about to return to the pits. The 25-year-old was able to rejoin, but finished the race down in 24th.

Neal led away as the race restarted, with five laps left to run after the race distance was extended. Austin, who was now back in second, initially fell back once more but retained his composure to rapidly close in on the Honda driver.

Despite narrowing the gap in the last three laps, the Audi man was not close enough for a pass into the hairpin and Neal was left to seal victory by 0.230s from Austin, as Shedden fended off Jackson for the final podium slot.

Plato had a quiet but effective run to fifth, ahead of Morgan, Ingram, Smith, Newsham and Foster, who rounded out the top ten.

Race Two gets underway at 14:15.

Top ten result

1 4 M Matt NEAL Honda Yuasa Racing Honda Civic Tourer 27 25:35.539 52.495 5
2 101 I Rob AUSTIN Exocet Racing Audi A4 27 0.23 52.513 2
3 52 M Gordon SHEDDEN Honda Yuasa Racing Honda Civic Tourer 27 2.049 52.496 4
4 6 I Mat JACKSON Airwaves Racing Ford Focus ST 27 2.35 52.782 7
5 99 M Jason PLATO MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save MG6 27 2.96 52.684 6
6 33 I Adam MORGAN WIX Racing Mercedes-Benz A-Class 27 3.829 52.353 17
7 80 I Tom INGRAM Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis 27 7.328 52.709 13
8 40 I Árón SMITH CHROME Edition Restart Racing Volkswagen CC 27 8.34 53.006 16
9 17 I Dave NEWSHAM AmD Ford Focus ST 27 9.231 52.861 15
10 18 I Nick FOSTER eBay Motors BMW 125i M Sport 27 9.269 52.775 8

Complete race results

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