ACE Matt Neal produced a gritty performance to fire himself firmly into the BTCC title race with a trio of strong top-ten finishes at Croft which vaulted him up to third in the drivers’ standings at the midway point.
Both Neal and Droitwich-based Halfords Yuasa Racing team-mate Dan Cammish had to dig deep after struggling for speed during qualifying around the North Yorkshire circuit, with the three-time champion placing 15th on the grid and the BTCC rookie 20th among the 32 high-calibre protagonists at the weekend.
Neal drew upon all of his experience and guile to fight his way to a ninth-place finish in race one, and he was moving forward again in race two when he found himself elbowed onto the grass by a rival in the heat of battle, relegating him to 11th.
Undeterred, he recovered to seventh at the chequered flag and completed his weekend’s points-scoring tally with a solid fourth in race three after briefly pushing for the podium.
Competing on home turf, Yorkshireman Cammish found the going tough in the opener after going the wrong way on set-up and crossing the finish line 19th, but with his Honda Civic Type R much improved for races two and three, the 29-year-old stormed to 11th and tenth-place finishes respectively to conclude his weekend on a far more positive note.
The results see Neal leap from sixth up to third in the chase for the coveted crown in the UK’s premier motor sport series, with Cammish sitting 13th and continuing to set the pace in the Jack Sears Trophy.
“We really had to fight for every single point there, and my car ended up looking a bit battered and bruised,” said Neal.
“I think all the Hondas suffered, and Croft is normally a track that suits us.
“We lacked speed in qualifying, but we came through well to crack the top ten in race one and we could have finished a fair way further up the order in race two – the Civic Type R felt really strong on the harder tyre – but for the contact.
“I think Dan [Lloyd] could have given me a bit more room, but it is what it is.
“It would have been nice to finish on the podium in race three.
“Ultimately, we didn’t quite have enough but fourth was still a very solid result and we scored good points across the weekend towards the Drivers’, Manufacturers’ and Teams’ championships, which is a positive way to go into the summer break.”