The gap between Fabrizio Giovanardi and Jason Plato is down to just five points following the first of the three races at the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship Grand Finale at Thruxton, the duo finishing first and second after surviving a myriad of detrimental tyre problems for their rivals.

A largely processional race until the final stages, the end result was a pale reflection of what had been expected with only a couple of laps remaining when several drivers fell by the wayside due to punctures brought on by the stress of the high-speed Hampshire circuit.

Most importantly for the title though, Giovanardi and Plato were unaffected by the actions going on around them to finish almost line astern in first and second, the consequence of which sees the margin slightly reduced and the two alongside each other on the grid for the second race.

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From the off, Vauxhall easily settled into the 1-2-3 positions they had assumed on the grid, Tom Chilton, Giovanardi and Alain Menu in tandem through Campbell. Plato eventually followed behind after a side-by-side tussle with sparring partner Matt Neal through the Complex, eventually emerging out the other side ahead.

Neal lost out though, dropping behind Colin Turkington by Noble and then slipping to seventh when Darren Turner also found his way past the Team Halfords Honda Civic.

A bit of inevitable team manoeuvring saw Giovanardi in the lead of the race by the end of the third lap after slipping past Chilton on the run up to the Club Chicane. Plato meanwhile was trying to chase Menu down in front having shaken off the attentions of Turkington.

Turkington himself was however under intense pressure from Turner, who finally made a move stick at the end of the fifth lap at Club, the SEAT clambering over the kerbs but keeping the Team RAC car behind him. However, the unorthodox line delayed Turkington enough to have the two Halfords Hondas swarming over the back of his BMW, with Gordon Shedden squeezing through, followed by Neal, albeit only after a bit of door bashing up to Campbell and around Seagrave.

Just behind, an exciting tussle between Mike Jordan, Mat Jackson and Matt Allison was unfolding, with Jackson hauling himself up to ninth initially before the Intergra surged back through at Club.

However, Jordan's charge was over by lap nine when he suffered a front suspension failure, his Independent Championship aspirations taking a crucial blow in the process.

Jordan's problems however was the first act in a dramatic final few laps for several of the leading drivers, starting off with second place Chilton when he went straight on at the fearsome Church on lap 14, the pole sitter wrestling his Vectra back onto the circuit but soon into retirement.

He wasn't alone though in suffering left-front tyre failures when Allison began cruising around the circuit in his Motorbase SEAT, bringing an end to a promising performance for the BTCC rookie, while Turner was also seen slowing from what was a solid fourth place result.

With drivers dropping away, attention turned to the front runners, with Giovanardi now leading Menu and a rapidly closing Plato, the two former champions heading onto the last lap with less than a second separating them.

With only the Brooklands straight and the Club Chicane to go, Menu looked as though he would steal crucial points away from Plato only to begin slowing all of a sudden, a left-front puncture yet again the diagnosis.

Needing no second invitation, Plato surged into a surprise second place, just behind Giovanardi, no doubt told to lift off as soon as Menu began to slow. The Italian's ninth win of the season, it is also his third at Thruxton this year.

Menu recovered to fourth, only conceding a place to Shedden, driving well from ninth on the grid, with Neal not quite able to catch the ailing Vauxhall as they crossed the line.

The BMWs of Turkington and Jackson held on for sixth and seventh place, ahead of Tom Coronel, the Dutchman staying out of trouble to score points on his BTCC debut in eighth place.

Ninth place was Adam Jones, who prevailed in an intense race long fight with Tom Onslow-Cole and Rob Collard, with Onslow-Cole himself holding off Collard to record the tenth and final point.

The result means Giovanardi has closed the gap to Plato from eight to five points, although Vauxhall will no doubt be ruing the punctures that would have otherwise seen one point - and two Vectras - separating the sparring partners ahead of the second race.

The large crowd on the other hand wait for tantalising second race with bated breath...