This time, Neal made a proper getaway to lead the race. His Primera had harder-compound tyres, while nearest pursuer Thompson had soft rubber on the Accord. A grip-versus-durability thriller would play out around the Leicestershire circuit.
With everything going to plan for Neal, he brought the #77 car into the pits for his compulsory stop. And that’s when all looked to be lost once more. He stalled the engine while leaving the pits, losing vital seconds as the car coughed back into life – something that usually took an age, Neal later admitted, when the Nissan’s engine was hot.
Down in fifth place, Neal charged back through the order, eventually catching and passing leader Thompson into the Old Hairpin at the bottom of the Craner Curves. He held on to take victory by just over five seconds and secure himself and the team a budget-boosting quarter of a million pounds. To much amusement and approval from the crowd, Neal, who would go on to win another 58 races (and counting) as well as three drivers’ titles, was presented with a giant cardboard cheque from Alan Gow up on the podium to cap a feel-good BTCC weekend 18 years ago.
BTCC, Donington Park, 1999 – Race two, 36 laps
1. Matt Neal (GB) – Nissan Primera, 44m02.088s
2. James Thompson (GB) – Honda Accord, 44m07.86s
3. Jason Plato (GB) – Renault Laguna, 44m09.412s
4. John Cleland (GB) – Vauxhall Vectra, 44m15.021s
5. Vincent Radermecker (B) – Volvo S40, 44m18.864s
6. Jean-Christophe Boullion (F) – Renault Laguna, 44m19.092s
Images courtesy of LAT