Qual: Neal bags pole

Matt Neal topped qualifying for the first time this season to take pole for the first of three BTCC races at Brands Hatch tomorrow, pipping points leader Yvan Muller, surprise outsider James Kaye and Muller's closest title challenger James Thompson

Qual: Neal bags pole

Muller was the first to show at the top of the times after an early stoppage caused by a bizarre out-lap crash between Carl Breeze's GA Motorsports Vauxhall Astra and Farique Hairuman's Proton.

Neal though soon put in a quick lap to go to the top of the times in the Computeach Racing with Halfords Honda, and stayed there to the end of the session, though he needed another scorcher to stay ahead of the improving Muller in the factory Vauxhall Astra.

"It's a good job I pulled one out," admitted Neal, "because Yvan was on a real charge. I'm really pleased. The car felt absolutely superb, which is a real credit to the lads. It was a bit battered after Knockhill and they've spent part of their holidays putting it right."

Thompson held third for much of the session, until Kaye put in a lap, which demoted the Vauxhall driver to fourth place. Kaye too was delighted with the pace of his Honda which is run by employees at Honda's Swindon factory in their spare time under the Synchro Motorsport banner. "We've re-grouped brought everything together and we've got a very good car," he said, admitting also that the past couple of meetings had been blighted by an unidentified damper problem, now fixed.

Another fine performance came from Stefan Hodgetts on his first outing in the GA Alfa 156. He set eighth best time, 0.031 slower than SEAT's Rob Huff in the best of the ETCC-spec cars. "I'm very pleased but a little bit shocked," admitted Hodgetts. "It seems you just need to settle down, get smooth and it's got a bit of speed in it. It's Italian, so you've got to warm to the car a bit..."

While Muller and Thompson qualified near the top their title rivals are down the field. Jason Plato who is fourth in the points looks well-placed to pursue his usual tactic of finishing ninth or 10th to secure a place on the front row of the partially-reversed grid for race two. The SEAT driver was 10th quickest.

Anthony Reid, third in the points, though looks to be in real trouble. After making big inroads into the Vauxhall drivers' points leads at Knockhill, he could only qualify 15th with maximum success ballast on the car. His time was only 0.629s off Neal's but he's got some work on his hands even to get up to the coveted ninth or 10th places tomorrow.

Matt Neal Honda 49.332s
Yvan Muller Vauxhall 49.479s
James Kaye Honda 49.622s
James Thompson Vauxhall 49.637s
Luke Hines Vauxhall 49.684s
Tom Chilton Honda 49.689s
Rob Huff SEAT 49.707s
Stefan Hodgetts Alfa Romeo 49.738s
Dan Eaves Honda 49.739s
Jason Plato SEAT 49.788s

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