Fabrizio Giovanardi has further closed the gap to Jason Plato after securing victory in the 22nd round of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch.
In a race that saw one of the biggest accidents the championship has seen in recent seasons, the Italian came home ahead of title rival Plato and the second SEAT of Darren Turner – although only 13 cars were running at the finish from the 24 that had lined up on the grid little more than an hour earlier.
At the first start, Mat Jackson blasted away from sixth on the grid to fight Darren Turner for third place into Paddock Hill Bend, trying to run his BMW around the outside of the SEAT through the right-hander. However, as soon as Jackson touched the kerb, he was powerless to stop the car going into a spin which sent him back across the front of the field.
For a split second it looked like everyone would avoid the white BMW, but defending champion Matt Neal could do nothing to avoid hitting Jackson's spinning car and came to a virtual halt on the circuit. With the spray kicked up by the leading cars, the field behind were unsighted about what lay ahead, and the A-Tech Alfa Romeo of Dave Pinkney slammed into the rear of the Honda at full race speed – spearing left across the circuit and wiping out a number of other cars.
When the dust settled, no fewer than eleven cars were left parked on the circuit, with the Motorbase Performance SEAT of Tom Ferrier and the Kartworld MG of Fiona Leggate up against the barrier on the inside after running into Jackson's BMW. Eoin Murray and Martyn Bell were both past the stricken Honda of Neal but in the wall, while behind the blocked track, Jason Hughes, John George, Rick Kerry and Richard Marsh had been caught up in the incident.
Of those eleven, only Marsh and Bell were able to get moving again, with Bell returning to the pits before taking the restart from the pitlane with a somewhat second hand car, while Marsh appeared unscathed as he took his place on the grid. Of the rest, the cars of Neal and Pinkney took the hardest hits, with both cars being destroyed in the shunt, while a number of other cars are unlikely to figure again later today, unless some miracles take place throughout the paddock.
Once the damaged cars had been removed from the circuit, the race restarted over 22 laps, with only 15 cars remaining. Off the line, Jason Plato made a poor start from the second row which saw him lose out to Giovanardi and Chilton, while out front poleman Colin Turkington led from Darren Turner, Chilton and Giovanardi. Plato settled into fifth with Gordon Shedden rounding out the top six.
On lap two, Adam Jones climbed up to ninth past team-mate Gavin Smith, the Irish driver returning to the series in a GR Asia run SEAT Leon, while two laps later, Tom Onslow-Cole moved into the top six as he took Shedden at Paddock Hill Bend. The following lap saw Turner make his move to the lead and, having pressurised Turkington in the opening laps, he tried to go round the outside of the BMW at Clearways.
Running side-by-side over the start finish line, Turner found himself on the outside going into Paddock Hill, and ran wide across the gravel, dropping down to fifth in the process and promoting Chilton to second, Giovanardi to third and Plato to fourth.
On lap eight, Giovanardi made a move for second as he went down the inside into Paddock Hill, with Plato also following the Italian through into third. However it didn't last for long as Chilton went back up the inside into Druids. However, a lap later, Chilton ran wide and slipped back to sixth, putting Plato behind Giovanardi on track in the fight for the title.
Soon the pair were dicing for the lead, as Turkington just touched the white line at Paddock on lap ten and spun his BMW through 360 degrees, dropping him to sixth in the process. It meant Giovanardi took the lead from Plato and Turner, with Onslow-Cole fourth from Chilton and Turkington.
On lap eleven, Jones moved into eighth past Mike Jordan and set about chasing down Shedden while at the back of the field, Bell had pulled back into the pits in the AllAboutProperty.com BMW with steam pouring out from under the bonnet.
Bell was quickly joined in retirement by Shedden who, having lost position to Jones coming out of Graham Hill Bend, was hit by Jordan's Honda Integra and forced to pull out with damaged suspension. Jordan himself would be forced to pit a lap later and would drop to the back of the field.
Out front, Giovanardi wasn't to be denied another victory with Plato and Turner joining him on the grid with Turkington taking fourth – having battled past Onslow-Cole and then benefiting on the last lap when Chilton slipped back to sixth.
Jones took seventh from Smith while Matt Allison and Erkut rounded out the top ten – the Turkish driver securing his first ever BTCC point in the process.
Chris Stockton took eleventh after beating Richard Marsh in a drag race to the line, with Jordan completing the 13 finishers.
How many cars will line up on the grid for the second race of the day remains to be seen….
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