A full crowd together with a full grid of cars for rounds three and four of the new-look British Touring Car Championship set the scene for a spectacular - and sun-blessed - day of racing at Thruxton.
As had been the case at the Brands Hatch opening round, Vauxhall was the dominant force at the front of the field, with the four Triple Eight-run Astra Coupes the only likely winners in both the day's main races.
The new-look sprint race thrilled the packed spectator banks with an action-packed 15 laps in which the faster Touring Class cars were forced to play catch-up right from the opening moments. With the recently-introduced rule stating that the Touring Class runners had to cover an extra lap over their production-based counterparts, the question on everyone's lips was 'will they catch up?'.
Both crowd and paddock had their answer at the end of lap 13, when leader Jason Plato
overtook BTP frontrunner Simon Harrison to take the lead with just two laps to run. Plato's Vauxhall team-mate Yvan Muller followed the Briton through, with the remaining Egg Sport Astras of James Thompson and Phil Bennett also overtaking Harrison on the penultimate lap.
The start of the race witnessed Muller beat Plato off the line to get in front by Allard. The rear-wheel drive Lexus IS200 of Kurt Luby also had a good getaway, catapulting it in front of both JSM Alfa Romeos. Luby's optimism was short-lived, however, as fate took a hand in the shape of a minor electrical fault, sidelining the ABG Motorsport driver.
The Alfas regained position with Luby's demise, but further problems arose when newcomer Tom Ferrier was forced to retire with an engine problem so serious that could not be fixed in time for the feature race later in the day.
Moving in the opposite direction at the start, Bennett made such a bad getaway that both Peugeots squeezed past him on the opening lap. With Steve Soper retiring and Dan Eaves also running into problems, however, the second Egg car was soon able to regain its place in the leading quartet, finishing fourth on the road after overhauling the BTP 'leaders'.
''It was incredibly exciting,'' exclaimed Plato afterwards, ''I wasn't sure who was leading the Production field, but I knew that I had to push hard to try and catch them. I caught them slightly earlier than I predicted, so the calculations may need tweaking a little in order that the battle for first place happens on the last lap but, overall, I really enjoyed it as did the spectators. It's good to be more on a level playing field with these guys.''
Harrison proved a comfortable winner in the Production Class, despite being overhauled by the Touring Class leaders, as HTML Peugeot team-mate Roger Moen clashed with Peter Cate at the chicane. The impact was enough to force Cate's Honda Accord up onto two wheels and across the path of oncoming cars, although a major altercation was avoided and both drivers rejoined the race at the back of the pack. This left Team B&Q driver - and birthday boy - Nick Beaumont second in class, ahead of James Kaye.