Having impressively claimed his breakthrough HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) success in the opening encounter at Rockingham, Stephen Jelley clearly decided he could get a taste for victory champagne with a second triumph in an entertaining race three – as his team-mate Colin Turkington moved closer to the crown.
With the BTCC's reverse grid format the race three putting Team Aon's Tom Chilton on pole position alongside fellow front row starter Andrew Jordan, it was the latter who made the best getaway when the lights went out, pulling alongside the Ford Focus ST on the run down to the first corner, only for Chilton to edge his challenger out under braking.
Further back, Mat Jackson in the fast-starting Chevrolet Lacetti had vaulted past both of his team-mate Jason Plato's title rivals Fabrizio Giovanardi and Turkington – though he would subsequently yield the place to the Irishman again – as down the order contact saw Harry Vaulkhard head off-piste, Anthony Reid sideways and Paul O'Neill taking out one of the circuit's advertising banners over the course of an energetic opening lap.
Things would get even livelier still for Jackson and Giovanardi at the beginning of lap two, as the Italian passed his Racing Silverline adversary for sixth, only for the Briton to fight back on the exit of turn one and keep his foot in with his wheels half on the grass as he re-took the place. There was more to come, too, as Giovanardi hit the back of Jackson's flame-spitting Chevrolet at the start of the following tour, entering turn one somewhat too quickly and sending the double Silverstone winner off-track and plummeting down to dead last – with damage to the front of the Vectra into the bargain.
Jackson's challenge would be aided, however, by the fourth appearance of the day of the safety car shortly afterwards, after Dave Pinkney beached his Honda Civic in the gravel trap. That bunched the whole pack immediately right back up again, with Chilton leading from Jordan, Jelley, James Nash, Turkington, Giovanardi – whose 2.5-second deficit to the championship leader had been eradicated in one fell swoop – Plato and Jonny Adam, who had ceded position to the 2001 champion following contact with Giovanardi that had sent him into a spin and down out of the top ten.
At the re-start, Chilton made good his escape, as further back Turkington sought to put some distance between himself and title rivals Giovanardi and Plato by diving past Nash into fourth. Jordan, meanwhile, was beginning to menace Chilton with his lights ablaze, and Vauxhall's young gun wasted little time in attacking for the lead at the start of the following lap, with a late and committed move that tipped the Team Aon man into a half-spin that he did extremely well to hold onto.
With Jordan moving away at the head of the field, though, that left Chilton having to deal with the attentions of the menacing Team RAC pairing of Jelley and Turkington behind him, with Plato diving cleanly and somewhat effortlessly down the inside of a now struggling Giovanardi into sixth into the first corner to make it a Chevrolet five-six. The Oxford-based ace would make short work of demoting Nash too, after which he switched his attentions to Turkington ahead.
Further up the order, meanwhile, Jelley successfully and cleanly made it past Chilton for second, with the 24-year-old next falling victim to the duelling Turkington and Plato, the former slicing his way by into the favoured passing spot of turn one and the latter opportunistically snatching the opportunity to follow through. Jelley's next target was leader Jordan, who he deposed with an aggressive pass into turn one that muscled the Vectra onto the grass heading down to turn two. Jordan was clearly in no mood for giving up, however, and when Jelley subsequently ran wide the Vauxhall star regained the advantage, with Turkington and Plato having joined the party for good measure to make it a four-way scrap for the lead.
That quartet would not last for long, though, as Plato attacked Turkington, diving down the inside into turn one but – unable to make the move stick – seeing the BMW grab back the initiative on the inside line heading into turn two. Up ahead of them, Jordan ran wide, enabling Jelley to reclaim the lead and Turkington to attempt to go around the outside, but after that move failed Plato sensed his own chance.
Unfortunately for the Racing Silverline star, his subsequent dive down the inside of Turkington always looked like ending in tears, as he sideswiped the Team RAC machine and sent it spinning. The championship leader's one saving grace was that Nash – who was pulling off his own overtaking manoeuvre on Chilton only a matter of feet behind – was on the inside line and clipped the front of both cars, with the impact sending Plato pit-bound but knocking Turkington back in the right direction once again.
Whilst all that was going on, not far behind Johnny Herbert was taking the fight to the ailing Giovanardi, with the pair enthusiastically tussling it out just ahead of the recovering Turkington, with the similarly-delayed Jackson homing in on the back of all three. With a number of side-by-side squabbles, there were occasions when the trio went three-abreast, and as they came onto the start-finish 'straight' Giovanardi had Herbert on the outside of him, with Turkington aiming down the inside. Light contact saw the Italian lose out, as Jackson and Adam both profited by diving past and the Vauxhall fell down the order towards the foot of the top ten.
Jackson's next target was Herbert – who he demoted for fifth with a couple of laps remaining – leaving the former British Grand Prix-winner and Adam to go on to battle it out over sixth all the way to the chequered flag. With the order at the front, meanwhile, still Jelley from Jordan and Chilton – all three fairly evenly-spaced out – Turkington was closing in, and dragging Jackson along with him.
Ultimately the man from Portadown just ran out of time to launch an assault on the final podium spot, meaning a delighted Chilton clung onto a historic result for Team Aon, behind an equally effusive Jordan in second and the peerless Jelley making it two out of three. Jackson took fifth at the end of a superb comeback drive, with Adam sixth, Herbert seventh, Gordon Shedden eighth, Tom Onslow-Cole ninth and Martin Johnson a wholly unexpected tenth, after pinching the final point from an ailing Giovanardi – who had been dropping like a stone – into the very last corner. Plato wound up twelfth, with only three other finishers and retirements for Rob Collard with water temperature issues and Matt Neal, whose point-less weekend ended much as it had begun.
All of that, though, was ultimately of little consequence to Turkington, the man whose downcast demeanour after qualifying a lowly 14th suggested that the title was slipping away from him. He left Rockingham again just over a day later with an even bigger championship lead than he'd had before.
To see the race result in full, click here