Fabrizio Giovanardi bounced back from an awful start in the opening race of the weekend at Brands Hatch to make a winning start to his defence of the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship.
In a race held in tricky conditions at the Kent circuit following overnight rain and a mid-race shower, the Italian came home ahead of poleman Mat Jackson and arch rival Jason Plato to secure the first win of the new campaign and put himself top of the pile in the standings.
Giovanardi himself had qualified in second place on the grid, but got a terrible start off the line as Jackson led the field into Paddock Hill Bend for the first time, with Colin Turkington climbing up to second and Plato moving into third. By the end of the opening lap, Giovanardi had got back ahead of Plato into third although the two BMWs out front were already breaking away. Further down the order, Erkut Kizilirmak suffered a spin coming out of graham Hill Bend to drop to the back of the order.
Giovanardi soon found himself in second place when Turkington suffered a spin on lap two, losing the rear of the Team RAC BMW under braking going into Graham Hill and going off onto the grass, dropping down to 20th place in the process. If left Jackson with a lead of more than three seconds after just two laps, with Giovanardi second and Plato third. Behind the podium runners, Darren Turner was fourth ahead of Tom Onslow-Cole and Gordon Shedden.
While Jackson held his comfortable early advantage, there were battles aplenty down the field with Martyn Bell forced into retirement after being tagged by a spinning Alan Taylor and both BTC Racing Lexus' being early casualties. Stephen Jelley was another enjoying a baptism of having been forced wide at Clearways while dicing with Mike Jordan and Jason Hughes. It left the former F3 racer outside the top ten as a result.
Jackson continued to hold his lead over Giovanardi, but behind him there was a train of cars led by the two diesel SEATs. Right in the middle of them were the two Halfords Civics, with Tom Chilton moving ahead of Shedden when the Scot got slightly out of shape on lap six on the entrance to Clearways. Someone else making a move was debutant Steven Kane, who muscled his way past former champion Matt Neal coming out of Druids on lap seven to take eighth place.
Having started to lap the back-markers, making contact with Taylor's Integra in the process, Jackson saw his lead start to vanish when a brief rain shower hit the circuit at the half-way mark – with the damp condition playing to Giovanardi's strengths.
The Italian started to close the gap to the BMW and by lap 17, he was right on the tail of the BMW. When Jackson got slightly out of shape at Clearways – a la Shedden earlier in the race – Giovanardi took his chance to slide through into the lead of the race.
In the battle for third, Turner was putting Plato under pressure, and the two actually made contact at Graham Hill Bend on lap 18 which saw Turner lose a bit of time before closing back onto the tail of his team leader. But behind the two SEATs, a queue of cars was developing with Chilton having moved into fifth and Neal into sixth, with Shedden now seventh and Tom Onslow-Cole having slipped to eighth.