The opening weekend of the MSA Dunlop British Touring Car Championship promised action aplenty from the short Brands Hatch Indy circuit and there was no disappointment from that expectation.
The only car missing from the weekends expected 31 car grid was Dan Welch as he waited on parts to finish the new Proton Gen-2.
Qualifying for race one was a frantic affair as the cars carried no ballast and Andy Jordan put his Pirtek Honda on Pole Position from Jason Plato, Colin Turkington, Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden in the top five, with impressive performances from the new Honda Civic Tourer. Tom Ingram, Aron Smith, Alain Menu, Mat Jackson and Rob Collard completed the top ten.
The 7th returning champion, Fabrizio Giovanardi suffered in Qualifying, trying to find a good quali setup and only finished 18th...
In race one, Jordan led away and almost lost the lead into Paddock Hill Bend in a lurid slide but held it and held off Plato for the lead. Menu was tapped into a spin before Druids and at the end of lap one Neal forced his way past Turkington for 3rd. Ingram lost places at the start to Smith, Jackson, Collard and Austin.
On lap 3, Smith would tap Jackson into Clearways sending the Ford Focus wide through the gravel trap. Meanwhile Turkington began attacking Neal for 3rd whilst Shedden closed in on the fighting pair. Shedden would pass Turkington on Lap 13 causing slight damage to the BMW as he passed which would affect Turkington later on.
Whilst Plato hounded Jordan, further down the field on lap 15 United Autosports James Cole and Pirteks Martin Depper made contact at Druids with Cole suffering a damaged rear suspension from the contact. A lap later Jack Goff would get his Insignia past the impressive Mercedes A-Class of Adam Norgan who showed good speed all weekend.
Turkington fell back to try and defend from Austin, Smith, Collard and Ingram. Austin got past on lap 17 as the BMW driver suffered with damage. Collard and Smith would go on to pass Turkington at the end. Ahead Neal and Shedden fought for 3rd place and highest Estate car on the podium with fair racing between both.
Race One finished with Jordan, Plato and Neal on the podium with Shedden and Austin 4th and 5th. Collard , Smith, Turkington, Ingram and Tordoff finished the top ten. Foster, Goff and Morgan scored points in 11th, 12th and 13th whilst Giovanardi and Jackson fell back after suffering setup issues with Gio having to deal with a slow puncture. Both finished 14th and 15th respectively.
Race Two saw Jordan lead from the start with 45 kilos max ballast whilst Plato didnt get off the line causing the cars behind to take avoiding action. Collard and Neal made contact but both survived into Druids. Chris Stockton slid into the gravel causing the safety car to come out. Plato got going again as at the restart Jordan led from Shedden, Neal, Foster, Collard, Turkington, Morgan, Ingram, Giovanardi and Smith.
Warren Scott and Jack Goff made good positions as the safety car came out and later on it was determined that they had passed Mat Jackson under the safety car. Further forward the BMW's began fighting for position as Shedden attacked Jordan for the lead. On lap 9 Turkington passed Collard for 5th place and went after team mate Nick Foster.
Shedden continued harrying Jordan showing good pace in the Tourer as Turkington moved up to 4th on lap 10 but the 2009 Champion wasnt done yet. On lap 18 he passed Neal for 3rd showing the improved pace of the NGTC BMW. A lap later Marc Hynes and Martin Depper made contact with Depper in the barrier causing a 2nd safety car. At the restart Jordan scampered of as Turkington set after Shedden.
Race Two finished with Jordan winning from Shedden and Turkington with Neal and Foster completing the top 5. Collard, Smith, Morgan, Ingram and Giovanardi were 6th to 10th whilst Goff, Tordoff and Scott took 11th to 13th. Plato recovered to 14th whilst Jackson took the last point in 15th.
Race Three saw Collard on Pole from Foster, Neal, Turkington, Shedden and Jordan with Smith, Morgan, Ingram and Giovanardi in tenth. However Smith, Goff and Scott were all served grid drop positions for overtaking Jackson under the safety car. The race began with Foster jumping the lights and starting again whilst Gio almost hitting the tyres on the way to Druids. Depper hit the wall further round whilst Geddie slid off. Turkington passed Foster for 2nd as Neal, Shedden and Morgan completed the top six. Plato was up to 7th as Jackson and Tordoff passed Jordan on the soft tyre for 10th.
And thats just on Lap One!!!
Ok ... And breath...
Turkington carried on his march to the front of the field as he spent the next few laps hassling Collard for the lead as The BMW's continued to dominate the race from the front. Turkington took the lead on lap 7 as Foster and Aiden Moffat received a drive through penalty for being out of position. Alain Menu in Race Three was a man possessed as he made his way through the field. Austin and Newsham were also on charges through the field after Race Two dramas.
Alain Menu and Tom Ingram made contact as Ingram was spun round into the barrier causing another safety car period. At the restart Turkington led from Collard, Neal, Shedden, Morgan, Tordoff, Plato, Jackson, Jordan and Menu now up to 10th... But Alain wasnt finished there. With him running the standard Dunlop race tyre, the others ahead were easy pickings for him.
Plato passed Tordoff on lap 17 for 6th place and then passed Morgan for 5th on the following lap in the unballasted MG. Menu passed Tordoff on lap 19 as Sam suffered with the soft tyre further in with Jordan and Goff passing him. Plato moved passed Shedden on lap 20 and continued charging forwards. Shedden fell back to Jackson, Smith and Goff.
On lap 26, Plato pursued Neal past Rob Collard with Neal staying in second. Menu moved past Jackson and Shedden to take 5th on the final lap as further down Warren Scott recieved contact from Hunter Abbott in the 2nd RAR Audi.
Who said Alain Menu would be slow and couldnt keep up with the current crop of BTCC Drivers???
Race Three finished with Victory for Colin Turkington followed by Neal, Plato, Collard and Menu completing the top five. Shedden, Jackson, Goff, Newsham and Morgan completed the top ten whilst the final scoring positions went to Austin, Tordoff, Jordan, Cole and Abbott both scoring their first BTCC points.
As far as the championship was concerned, Jordan led by 2 points from Matt Neal with Turkington a further point behind. Shedden, Plato, Collard, Morgan and Tordoff completed the top eight championship positions.
There are many other stories to tell this season with the likes of Robb Holland, Chris Stockton, Jack Clarke and Simon Belcher all finishing in the races whilst Ollie Jackson soldiered through all three races gathering valuable data to improve the Proton. Meanwhile returning champions such as Menu and Gio proved they can mix it with the best of the current BTCC without fear.
Next up is the fast and flowing Donington Park National Circuit on Easter Sunday which is a circuit ideally suited to Touring Car racing and should give a better idea as to who is fast and favourite in the series.