Win helps Neal head off Plato's charge

Matt Neal bounced back in true champion style from a bad start in the British Touring Car Championships at Snetterton yesterday, with a resounding victory in the final race.

Matt Neal bounced back in true champion style from a bad start in the British Touring Car Championships at Snetterton yesterday, with a resounding victory in the final race.

“I'm relieved,” said Neal after extending his series lead to 27 points over Colin Turkington and 40 ahead of arch rival Jason Plato with just three rounds remaining.

“You could have said I should have settled for second place in race two,” he added. “I hope it doesn't count against me at the end of the season.”

The day started off with Plato jumping back into title contention with a dominant double victory.

The Seat Leon racer had given up any hopes of the crown this year prior to the Norfolk races after only scoring a measly four points at the previous rounds.

“I needed to get points back and couldn't have hoped for more,” said Plato after his victories in yesterday's first two races.

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The opening race was led throughout by Plato, who started from pole position with his Seat team-mate James Thompson having to fight his way by the Vauxhall Astra pair of Fabrizio Giovanardi and Gavin Smith to complete a Seat one-two.

In the energetic battle for second both Giovanardi and Smith damaged their cars in their efforts to keep Thompson at bay, both dragging their battered machines home in third and fourth place with bodywork and wheels hanging off.

The fortune of championship contenders Neal and Turkington ebbed and flowed throughout race one with Neal finally taking sixth place with the front bodywork of his Halford's Honda littering the circuit.

Sadly for the RAC-supported MG ZS of Turkington he was ahead of rival Neal when his engine blew up and he was forced to retire.

Plato again led away race two but, once Neal had taken second place and shaken off the chasing pack, he closed in on the leader.

On the final lap series leader Neal, who wasn't prepared to accept the points, wanted victory and challenged Plato.

The pair clashed at the Esses, then again at the next corner and finally at the last corner, with Neal spinning away second place and a host of championship points.

Thompson again picked up second place while Turkington raced through from 15th on the grid, complete with a new engine which his team exchanged in just 75 minutes, to take third place and 11 valuable championship points.

“That was a fantastic result for me after the disappointment of the first race,” said Turkington.

Meanwhile Neal was hiding in his pit as he pondered on his eighth place finish and his series lead having been cut back to 19 points by Turkington.

The grid for race three is drawn by ballot and Neal was fortunate to be alongside team-man, and team-mate Gareth Howell.

Fast starting Tom Chilton split the Honda duo with his Vauxhall Astra in the race for the opening corner but Neal patiently waited and picked his moment to claim the lead at the Esses on the third lap.

Thompson made a stunning start from eighth on the grid and, when Robert Collard retired his Team RAC MG and Gordon Shedden and Turkington clashed at the Esses, moved smoothly into third place.

With Chilton fading fast Thompson slipped into second but, despite steadily eating into Neal's lead, the Seat racer had to settle for his third consecutive second place.

Turkington finished fourth. Plato lost his late race battle with Shedden and finished sixth - but is firmly back in the title hunt having outpointed Neal and Turkington.