VX Racing's Fabrizio Giovanardi survived a failing engine to secure victory in the opening Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship race of the weekend at Thruxton.
Giovanardi, who had secured pole position at the wheel of his Vauxhall Vectra, held a comfortable lead over the squabbling pack behind, but had to complete the final four laps of the race with an engine warning light illuminated on the dash of his car – the Italian making it across the line before being forced to park the car on the side of the circuit, the team now facing an engine change on the Vectra ahead of the second race.
“Giving the four-second advantage that we had when the warning lights came on I thought there were two choices, either we slowed down and lost the win or we kept going until the engine went pop; we chose the later,” VXR brand manager Stuart Harris said. “We will have to have a new engine for the next race, but the guys can work miracles and we've done it before.
“The way the season is shaping up we are going to be there fighting right to the end.”
At the start of the race, Giovanardi made the best start to lead the field up to the complex for the first time, but behind him, a stunning start from Colin Turkington saw his Team RAC BMW blast through from the third row into second place, the Northern Irish driver putting Giovanardi under pressure into Campbell but being unable to make the move stick.
As expected, the long run into Campbell from the start ended in chaos, with a number of drivers taking to the grass to make it round the corner. One of those, Mat Jackson's BMW, did so with only three wheels following contact with one of the cars ahead and Jackson then parked the car on the outside of Seagrave, with Gordon Shedden going off at the same place alongside the BMW. Although Shedden would continue, damage to his Team Halfords Honda resulted in the Scot retiring a couple of laps later.
While all that was going on, the front-runners were continuing to squabble, and by the end of the first lap, Turkington had gone from fighting for the lead to fighting to keep the BMW on the straight and narrow as both Tom Chilton and Jason Plato moved ahead of him into podium positions, with Turkington fourth, Darren Turner fifth and Mike Jordan sixth. Gareth Howell, Tom Onslow-Cole, Matt Neal and Dave Pinkney rounded out the top ten – although the latter was forced to take a drive through penalty for being outside his grid slot.
On the next two laps, Turkington would continue to go the wrong way down the order, as he lost fourth to Turner on lap two and then saw Jordan sweep past into fifth on lap three. Lap three also saw the SEATs swap position, with Turner ahead of Plato into third and quickly going about taking the challenge to Chilton for second.
Plato was also going the wrong way at this point, and on lap four he dropped to fifth as Jordan steamed past in the Eurotech Honda Integra, while further down the order, Matt Allison was making moves up the grid as he took ninth from Onslow-Cole.
Out front, Turner was closing on Chilton, with the two dicing for position before Turner finally made a move stick on lap ten to go into second, with Chilton showing the first signs of tyre problems that would ultimately end his podium charge. By this point, Giovanardi held a comfortable lead from Turner and Chilton, with Jordan, Plato and Turkington completing the top six – a three way battle between Neal, Allison and Howell following them on track.