Henry Neal, Lewis Kent secure titles in Donington finale
Two wins from three races at Donington Park were enough to see Henry Neal secure the Dunlop Touring Car Trophy title, as Lewis Kent secured top honours in TCR UK.
The pair had gone into the weekend fighting for the overall title, with Neal winning the first two races ahead of his rival to take a handy advantage into race three.
That race would go the way of Max Hart, with Neal beating Kent to second spot and the overall title as Kent wrapped up the TCR title.
With bonus points on offer for pole position, qualifying would take on added importance and it was Kent who snared the additional five points as he put the Essex & Kent Motorsport Hyundai on top of the times.
Kent’s time of 1:10.626 was half a second quicker than Neal could manage in the NGTC-spec Honda Civic Type R, with Sam Osborne going third quickest ahead of his first outing in the Cupra TCR that has previously been driven by Dan Kirby.
William Butler, Max Hart and Darelle Wilson rounded out the top six on the grid.
Kent made the best start when the lights went out to head into turn one in the lead but he then ran slightly wide on the exit of Redgate, which allowed Neal to get a run going into the Craner Curves – sliding through in the Honda to take the race lead.
Further back however, Tim Docker – who had already suffered a spin on his way to the grid – lost the rear of his Volkswagen Golf at turn one and was collected by the Volkswagen Racing Cup car of Richard Gilbert.
The safety car was deployed before the decision was then taken to throw out the red flag to allow the debris littering the circuit to be cleared.
The field would be re-gridded in the original order for the restarted race across a shortened 15 minute period, with Osborne getting the best start from row two to go alongside Kent into turn one.
With Osborne on the outside, the pair made contact which allowed both Neal and Hart to jump ahead, with Kent rejoining in third and Osborne dropping back to fifth behind behind Wilson’s Vauxhall.
Neal immediately set about breaking away at the front as Hart was forced to defend from Kent behind, with the Honda driver taking a lead of nearly one and a half seconds by the end of the second lap.
With Neal set to extend his advantage in the overall Touring Car Trophy standings, Kent was putting Hart under increasing pressure and looked around the outside at Redgate on lap five and then tried again through Coppice; the pair running side-by-side down the straight to the final chicane before Hart retained the place.
Behind, Osborne was on a charge in the Cupra and got ahead of Wilson to move into fourth.
The battle between Hart and Kent allowed Osborne to close in on the pair ahead and at the start of lap eight, he managed to split the pair and then tried to get ahead of Hart at the chicane only to be forced off across the gravel.
Kent got ahead of Osborne as a result and then banged wheels with Hart as they came through Redgate before finally taking second place – although by this point, Neal was well clear up the road.
Neal duly wrapped up his third win of the campaign to extend his points lead ahead of Kent, with Hart rounding out the podium after Osborne was forced to pull off on the final lap. Wilson took fourth place ahead of Mark Wakefield, with debutant Jeff Alden three laps down in his Honda after requiring a mid-race pit stop.
Neal’s victory in race one meant he took pole for the second race of the weekend, which featured just eight cars after Docker’s Volkswagen couldn’t be repaired in time for him to take his place on the grid.
Neal made an awful start however when the lights went out to slip to third spot, with Hart charging between the front pair to lead into turn one from Kent, with Osborne jumping up to fourth as he looked to bounce back from his race one DNF.
The points leader battled back from his poor start however and heading into the final chicane at the end of the second lap, he slid the Honda down the inside to move ahead of Kent into second spot, with Kent then forced to defend from Osborne into turn one to ensure that he didn’t lose third.
The top four would run together on track but on lap seven, Kent tried to make a move at McLeans on the inside and then made contact with Neal into Coppice – which delayed the Hyundai enough for Osborne to get a run along the straight to the chicane; allowing him to move into the final podium position.
With Hart not as fast as the cars behind, Neal saw his chance to make a move for the lead coming out of Coppice on lap nine but the Cupra driver squeezed Neal onto the grass along the straight.
That allowed Osborne to get ahead into second as Neal regained control and he managed to get the Honda stopped for the chicane to stay ahead of Kent.
Hart’s lead would finally disappear on the following lap when he ran wide at McLeans and allowed Osborne through into the lead, with Neal then following him through into the final corner to move into second spot and put Hart’s car between himself and Kent.
The race then went behind the safety car, with the VW Cup car of Josh Coggan having come to a halt at the exit of Coppice.
Once Coggan’s car was removed from the circuit, the action resumed with Osborne leading the way only to grind to a halt in the same place that he had stopped in race one – putting Neal into the race lead. Behind, Kent made light work of moving ahead of Hart into second, putting the two title rivals together for the final lap.
Kent forced Neal to go defensive through the Old Hairpin and then made a move for the lead at McLeans only for the Honda to defend at Coppice. Kent then had the inside line for the chicane but Neal was late on the brakes and managed to somehow hold on to keep the place.
It meant Neal took a second win of the weekend to extend his points lead over Kent going into race three, with Hart once again on the podium having had the best possible view of the fight ahead.
Wilson and Wakefield rounded out the finishers, with both Butler and Alden joining Osborne in retirement.
The season finale saw Kent starting on pole in the Hyundai and well aware of the fact that he had to finish ahead of Neal to stand any chance of taking the overall title.
There would be drama before the start after Osborne’s Cupra ground to a halt on the green flag lap and when the lights went out, it was Kent who led the field into turn one from Hart who briefly managed to get ahead of Neal only for the Honda man to fight back on the exit of Redgate.
Kent was on a charge from the outset as he built a lead of more than two seconds on the opening lap but Neal responded on lap two to bring the gap down before the safety car was deployed after Wakefield – who had taken over the Honda raced by Alden in the opening two laps rather than the Cupra he had been driving – went off at McLeans.
Wakefield was able to exit the gravel trap himself which meant a single lap under caution before the racing action resumed, with Kent having seen his advantage at the front eradicated.
Kent was forced to defend into turn one as Neal looked around the outside, which in turn opened the door for Hart to make a move for second spot – sliding up the inside at Redgate to split the two title contenders.
Hart clearly had no intention of settling for second place and made his move for the lead, with Neal following him through on the run to the chicane to move ahead of the Hyundai into second spot.
The top three continued to circulate together as the race entered the final lap, with Kent all over the back of Neal’s Civic as he tried to find a way back into second; well aware that his hopes of taking the overall title were disappearing with every lap.
Kent almost got alongside on the run to McLeans on lap twelve with the battle between the pair giving Hart a little breathing space out front, although the Irish racer would soon have the title rivals back on his tail as Neal produced a number of searing laps to bring the gap down.
As the clock ticked down however, Hart was able to old on to take his maiden victory, setting his fastest lap on the final tour to secure the win by just over a second.
The runner-up slot for Neal was good enough to secure him the overall Touring Car Trophy title, with third place for Kent seeing him pick up TCR UK honours at the third time of asking.
Butler and Wilson rounded out the five finishers.