Jason Plato has ensured that the fight for the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship title is a three-horse race with a dramatic win in the opening race of the weekend at Brands Hatch.
Plato went into the weekend as the rank outside, but made a move on long-term leader Tom Chilton exiting Clark Curve for the final time to secure a win that, allied to fastest lap, allows him to close to within 14 points of leader Colin Turkington with a maximum of 34 still available.
Chilton had led the race for its entirety after maintaining his lead off the start, despite two Safety Car periods allowing the field behind to remain in close quarters. However, following the second caution period, Plato was able to put Chilton under pressure until the Team Aon Ford Focus ran slightly wide on the exit of Stirlings on the final lap.
That allowed Plato to close right onto Chilton's tail and as the pair came through Clark for the run to the line, Plato stuck the nose of his Racing Silverline Chevrolet up the inside and was able to edge ahead as the pair crossed the line; victory going to the 2001 champion by just 0.015secs as he denied Chilton a first win in the Focus.
Second for Chilton was still the best result for the Arena-run car and came following the maiden podium secured last time out at Rockingham, while Fabrizio Giovanardi completed the podium in third – taking him to within six points of Turkington in the title race.
The Italian briefly got alongside Plato at the start but was unable to make a move stick as he settled for third, with Vauxhall team-mates Andrew Jordan and Matt Neal following him home. Neal endured a hectic first lap as he was forced wide by Mat Jackson at Graham Hill Bend, but responded by hitting the Chevrolet at Surtees, with Jackson running wide and dropping down the order. He would later run wide again at Clark to end his run of points scoring results with a 12th place finish.
Behind the train of Vauxhalls, Rob Collard took sixth from Airwaves BMW team-mate Jonny Adam, the pair having been held up throughout by Neal, while Turkington took eighth with his ballast-laden car. While that has seen his points lead cut, the Team RAC man will now have a lighter car for the second race early this afternoon.
Paul O'Neill took ninth place, having prevented with the BTCC Fans' Trophy ahead of the race, with Anthony Reid taking the final point in tenth.
Four drivers failed to finish the race, with Matt Hamilton being fired off at Paddock Hill on the opening lap in an incident that caused the first Safety Car period, with Martin Johnson also retiring due to damage sustained in the incident. Johnny Herbert meanwhile went off at Druids on the tenth lap, with Gordon Shedden going into the tyres later in the same lap at Sheene.
For full results, a href=http://www.crash.net/btcc/results/153157/1/brands_hatch__race_results_1.html>CLICK HERE.