24 September 2006
Round 25: Plato leads title challengers.
Jason Plato took a lights-to-flag victory in race one as the three rivals for the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship title filled out the podium at Brands Hatch.
In a surprisingly uneventful race around the short Indy Circuit, Plato was never troubled over the course of the 27 laps, with Darren Turner doing his job in the early stages to support his team leader and Plato having a comfortable enough gap to keep the place secure when Turner was later forced to retire.
One of the few points of drama came right at the start of the race, when a two car incident forced the Safety Car to make an early appearance. Starting from twelfth on the grid, Gavin Smith in the VX Racing Astra Sport Hatch tried to dive between Mike Jordan and Jason Hughes ahead of him, only to make contact with Hughes' Kartworld Racing MG ZS and take both into the wall. While Hughes was able to limp back round to the pits – where he would retire with damaged steering – Smith was left stranded on the start/finish line, with the field circulating behind the Safety Car while the Astra was recovered.
When the race restarted, Plato held the lead from Turner who, unlike at Knockhill, ensured he didn't allow the gap to the leader to become too large. Neal held third from team-mate Gordon Shedden, with Turkington and Tom Chilton rounding out the top six.
Turner would soon be forced out, with the team telling the driver to pull off on lap eight as a precaution when an alarm started to sound in the Leon – the fact an engine soon appeared from the rear of the team transporter suggesting that Turner could be forced to change his motor for the second time this weekend. It meant Plato now had Neal behind him, but for the rest of the race he was able to maintain his position and eased out the gap to take the flag and a victory that moves him up to second in the championship standings and which also means Matt Neal can now not win his second straight title in the second race of the weekend.
Neal took second but behind him there was disappointment for Gordon Shedden who ran a comfortable third for the whole race until the field streamed into Paddock Hill Bend for the final time. Unfortunately for the Scot, he ran wide into the gravel and, while he was able to continue, an apparent puncture dropped him down the pack to finish seventh. That problem allowed Turkington to move up to third for a historic first ever podium finish for a bio-ethanol fuelled car, with Tom Chilton fourth after a somewhat lonely ace for the local ace and Rob Collard fifth. Collard has been involved in one of the few battles during the race with Gareth Howell, before Howell went off at Clearways just a lap after battling past the MG.
Fabrizio Giovanardi took sixth from Shedden, with Jordan, Dave Pinkney and the returning Paul O'Neill completing the top ten. Of the newcomers to the series, Chris Stockton emerged on top with a strong 13th place in the BTC Racing Lexus IS200 – although the result could have been better had it not been for a trip through the gravel at Paddock Hill on lap 13.
1. Jason Plato
2. Matt Neal
3. Colin Turkington
4. Tom Chilton
5. Rob Collard
6. Fabrizio Giovanardi
7. Gordon Shedden
8. Mike Jordan
9. Dave Pinkney
10. Paul O'Neill
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