Arch rivals Jason Plato and Matt Neal shared the wins in today’s opening three races of the new Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season held at Kent’s world-famous Brands Hatch circuit.
Oxford’s Plato, the reigning Champion, won twice in his Silverline Chevrolet Cruze to beat Andy Rouse’s 60 wins record in the BTCC and build himself an early championship lead as the title race now heads to the picturesque, high-speed circuit of Donington Park in Leicestershire for its next three races of 2011 in a fortnight’s time (Sunday 19 April). But Neal’s win was also significant for it was the first victory for Honda’s new turbocharged engine built to the BTCC’s latest Next Generation Touring Car technical regulations.
Worcestershire’s Neal had shattered Brands’s BTCC qualifying lap record on Saturday to line up on pole position for the first of today’s races. But within two corners his Honda Racing Team Civic had been spun into retirement as Plato went on to win ahead of impressive youngster James Nash, second in his 888 Racing with Collins Contractors Vauxhall Vectra which is also powered by an NGTC-spec turbo engine. Third, in Team Aon’s new turbocharged ‘Global’ Ford Focus, was Tom Chilton.
Plato, despite his car carrying the maximum success ballast of 45kgs, led all the way to win race two as well ahead of Neal’s team-mate Gordon Shedden and Mat Jackson in the local Airwaves Racing team’s Ford Focus. Shedden’s result came courtesy of a superb drive from last to sixth in race one following a heavy crash in practice on Saturday.
Having set a new race lap record in race two, Neal finally got the win he craved in race three when he led all the way having been drawn on pole position for the reversed starting grid. Warwickshire’s Jackson was again on the podium, this time finishing second ahead of Paul O’Neill, a fine third in the GoMobileUK.com with tech-speed team’s new Chevrolet Cruze.
Plato leaves Brands Hatch with an eight-point lead over Jackson at the top of the Drivers Championship. A surprise third is Nash, the Newport Pagnell driver having gone on to add fourth and sixth place finishes in today’s second and third races. Jackson, meanwhile, leads the Independent Drivers Championship from Nash and O’Neill.
Plato said: “Given the gap to Matt in qualifying I didn’t expect to be leading this early, but the chances came our way and we capitalised. Beating Andy Rouse’s record is also a lovely bonus – he’s one of the legendary names who I used to watch as a kid and it’s actually hard to believe that 14 years have passed since I got my first win when I first came into the BTCC in 1997! But I’m already thinking more about the next meeting at Donington – the circuit lay-out there will make the turbos much harder to beat and I suspect we’re going to be in for more than just a tough weekend.”
Jackson, from Henley-in-Arden, commented: “This is a great start for us. We don’t have the development budgets of Chevrolet or Honda, but we’ve wrung the most from the car every time out today and racked up the points. I believe we can take it to them this season so long as we keep scoring strongly and consistently, but everyone in the team deserves a big pat on the back.”
Nash, aged 25, said: “I’m really chuffed, but the team has done a great job given how little pre-season testing we’ve had. We’re still learning how to get the best out of the car with the new turbo engine and there’s more to come. Plato and Neal are the masters so to be mixing it with them and giving them a bit of pressure is a great feeling, but I’m under no illusions just how difficult it will be to stick with them over the course of the season.”
Elsewhere, Chevrolet/RML lead the Manufacturers/Constructors Championship from Honda/Dynamics, while Silverline Chevrolet and the Honda Racing Team are tied at the top of the HiQ Teams Championship. Airwaves Racing leaves Brands ahead in the Independent Teams Championship, chased by 888 Racing with Collins Contractors and GoMobileUK.com with tech-speed.