Jason Plato has taken his first victory of the 2005 British Touring Car Championship season after fending off the challenge of championship leader Matt Neal in the opening race of the day at Oulton Park.
Starting from pole position, Plato led from start to finish at the wheel of his SEAT Toledo Cupra but saw a comfortable lead vanish in the closing stages as Neal searched for another win at the wheel of the Team Halfords Integra.
Neal had started alongside Plato on the front row but lost out to team-mate Dan Eaves on the run to Old Hall on the opening lap, with the two front runners building up a comfortable gap over third placed Neal during the first few laps. Behind Neal, Yvan Muller had settled into fourth ahead of Tom Chilton, with Gavin Smith having lost two place to drop to sixth.
It was this battle in the mid-field which would be the focus of peoples attention for the first half of the race, with Chiltons Civic appearing to hold up a train of cars behind him, with Smith in particular desperate to find a way past. On lap five, a good run out of Cascades allowed the Vauxhall to pass the matt black Honda on the run to Island Bend but Chilton moved back ahead on the run over Hill Top and was then able to break away as Smith came under increasing pressure from Luke Hines in the second SEAT.
The focus then switched to the battle out front, with Neal starting to close on Eaves for second place. Setting the fastest lap on lap six, Neal began to reel in the sister Integra, taking the place with a late lunge down the inside into Old Hall on lap nine. However with Plato a couple of seconds up the road it looked like Neal would be unable to challenge for the win - but the Team Halfords man had other ideas.
With Plato seemingly struggling more and more with his Toledo with each lap, Neal began to reel in the former champion and with just two laps left had closed to within two tenths of a second. On the penultimate lap, Plato was forced to take the defensive line into Island and again into Hizzys before Neal made a late dive into Lodge, the Honda man just missing out on making the move stick.
However that move would prove costly with Plato able to build enough of a gap to take the victory with Neal coming in close behind in second. Eaves dropped back from his team-mate but had enough of a gap over Muller to take the final podium place with the Vauxhall man in a lonely fourth. Chilton took fifth, with Smith just beating Hines in a drag to the line for sixth.
Ian Curley was the only person not to finish the race, the HPI Racing not even able to take the start after problems with his Lexus which will see an engine change needed ahead of the second race.