With many of his rivals having hit problems in a carnage filled second race at Rockingham, Jason Plato secured victory in the final race of the weekend to extend his lead in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship standings.
The SEAT man was able to make it to the front of the pack near the start of the 17 lap race and was never headed from that point, as he clinched a third win of the season from Mat Jackson with SEAT team-mate Darren Turner rounding out the top three.
With the top ten being reversed on the grid following the second race, Plato found himself starting from sixth place, but when the lights went green the 2001 champion made a stunning start to dive between Turner's Leon and the SEAT Toledo of Matt Allison to go fourth, and then made light work of Dave Pinkney, Jason Hughes and John George in one move at turn two as the trio squabbled for position.
Pinkney would spin and drop to the rear of the field, with everyone managing to miss the stranded Alfa Romeo as they dropped down off the banking onto the infield, but as the field streamed round to complete the first lap, the slower cars had been dispatched from the front of the race with Plato leading from Jackson and Tom Onslow-Cole – the Team RAC rookie having enjoyed a stunning start to jump up from ninth on the grid into a podium place – with Turner, George and Allison rounding out the top six.
As the early laps rolled through, so the quicker cars came through the pack, but Colin Turkington wasn't amongst them as a difficult weekend for the Northern Irishman came to an end when he retired on lap three. At this point, Plato still led from Jackson, but Turner was now up to third ahead of Onslow-Cole, while Tom Chilton had climbed up to fifth ahead of Allison. Double winner Fabrizio Giovanardi was seventh ahead of George, with the TH Motorsport Integra just ahead of the hastily repaired Team Halfords Civics of Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal – the latter carrying an RAC banner around on its rear wing collected during the usual first lap melee.
Going into lap five, Shedden made a move to take position from George, with Neal and Murray following him through as the trio looked to make up places, while Mike Jordan was also closing in on George, having started from the pit-lane following his race two shenanigans.
On lap six, Onslow-Cole lost his fourth place to Chilton as he ran at turn two, while a lap later, another rookie was losing positions in the shape of Allison who dropped behind both Giovanardi and Shedden in a matter of corners.
The deployment of the Safety Car for all of a lap then bunched up the field, with Plato leading from Jackson, Turner, Chilton and Onslow-Cole, while behind them an intruiging battle was on the cards between Giovanardi, Shedden, Allison and Neal for sixth. Murray was also under pressure from Jordan for the final place in the top ten.
Having slowed the field right down, Plato was able to maintain his lead when the race resumed, but behind the leader the changes occurred straight away. Onslow-Cole dropped out of the race altogether with a mechanical problem on his BMW, while Neal passed both Shedden and Allison for what was now sixth place. A further change came as Jordan dived down the inside of Murray into the second chicane – with contact between the two forcing the Irishman into retirement.
The retirements of both Onslow-Cole and Murray meant another battle quickly took on added importance, with Erkut Kizilirmak and Simon Blanckley suddenly finding themselves squabbling over the chance to score their first point in the BTCC. With a new engine fitted to the Sibsport Honda following the opening race, Blanckley was a man on a mission, and on lap twelve he made the crucial move that would lead to a first point for the newcomer.
Out front however, victory went to Plato from Jackson and Turner, while the Vauxhall pairing of Chilton and Giovanardi took fourth and fifth to complete a fine weekend with the Vectra. A last lap sting in the tail saw Shedden take sixth from Neal when the champion made brief contact with the back of Giovanardi, while Jordan, Allison and Blanckley rounded out the top ten.