James Thompson celebrated his return to the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship in fine style with a storming drive to victory in race one at Brands Hatch.
Thompson recovered from a poor start in his SEAT Leon - which saw him drop from third on the grid to fifth - to work his way back up the order after a battle in the early stages with former Alfa Romeo WTCC team-mate Fabrizio Giovanardi and towards the end with Tom Chilton, Colin Turkington and Matt Neal.
Chilton had led for the majority of the race having started from pole position, making a clean getaway to lead the field through Paddock Hill for the first time as Turkington blasted into second in the Team RAC MG from fourth on the grid. Gavin Smith held third after also getting away well, with Giovanardi somehow finding a gap between the pit wall and Jason Plato's SEAT to hold fourth.
However with Dave Pinkney not getting away from the grid - Gordon Shedden and Fiona Leggate having already been removed before the green flag lap - Chilton was unable to try and breakaway.
Once the safety car pulled in, Giovanardi found himself under attack for fourth from the two SEATs with Thompson and Plato both finding a way past, with Plato also getting ahead of his team-mate. However within a lap, Giovanardi was back past Thompson for fifth, while defending champion Neal had worked his way past James Kaye to go seventh having started 15th on the grid following his accident in qualifying.
Another safety car period when Mark Proctor span his Honda Civic Type-R on the exit of Clearways closed the field up and on the lap following the withdrawal of the Porsche 911, Plato saw his race come to an when contact coming onto the start-finish straight saw him suffer damaged suspension that put his Leon out of proceedings.
Giovanardi was next to follow him out of the race, spearing into the barrier on the run down the Cooper Straight after trying to go up the inside of Rob Collard with the action switching to what was becoming a four-way fight for the opening race of the year.
Thompson battled past Turkington on lap 14 and was soon closing on the Vauxhall ahead but as the two battled it allowed Turkington and Neal to close up - with the MG taking second at Surtees on lap 18 only for Thompson to go straight back up the inside into Clearways to retake the place, Neal being forced on to the grass as he tried to follow Thompson through.
The only other battle of note on track had Mike Jordan closing on Gavin Smith for fifth, with the Team Eurotech driver taking the place on lap 21. A lap later, the lead would change for the first time as the defensive driving from Chilton wasn't enought to prevent Thompson from slipping up the inside at Clearways to take the lead.