Continuing the form that saw SEAT take five wins from six starts at Brands Hatch last season, Jason Plato claimed victory in the opening race of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season.
Plato made the best start when the lights went green to get the jump on pole-sitter Colin Turkington and controlled the race from the front, surviving two Safety Car periods to come home just over a second clear of the Team RAC man on his first race with the BMW E90. Mat Jackson took a fine third place finish, although it remains to be seen whether the SEAT Cupra champion will keep the place, with the Whale Tankers backed car having been shown the black and orange flag in the closing stages due to a smoking tyre.
With 25 cars taking the start – Eoin Murray having been forced out of action by a qualifying accident – action was expected from the start, and the field didn't disappoint. Going into Paddock Hill bend, Darren Turner made contact with the Vectra of Fabrizio Giovanardi to put the Italian sideways with Jackson making a stunning start to go round the outside of the duelling duo into third behind Plato and Turkington. Turner would soon be hit by a Vectra himself however, as he was pushed wide by Tom Chilton on Graham Hill Bend.
By then however, the Safety Car was already heading out onto the track for the first time, with both Kartworld MGs forced into retirement. With Gareth Howell slow away from the grid, Fiona Leggate, on her debut with the team, found that three into one wouldn't go as the field streamed past the Motorbase Toledo, with Ekrut in the Arkas Racing Astra forcing her towards the grass before she spun into the wall. Team-mate Jason Hughes didn't fare much better as he went straight on at Druids and parked his ZS in the gravel.
It meant that Plato led behind the Safety Car from Turkington, Jackson, Tom Onslow-Cole, Chilton and Matt Neal – who had made a fine start to his first race with Team Halfords new Honda Civic. Having already lost time thanks to his contact on the opening lap, Giovanardi was soon in more trouble as he was slow out of Druids while dicing with Adam Jones on the restart, the Vectra dropping down as far as 16th place before launching a recovery drive.
By lap seven, Neal had made up a further place as he took advantage of Chilton running wide at Graham Hill bend to go into fifth. Meanwhile Mike Jordan was also a man on the move, and took sixth from the VX Racing man two laps later at Paddock Hill Bend.
As the front-runners hit traffic, Turkington was able to close in on Plato, with Jim Pocklington proving to be a thorn in the side of the faster cars trying to come through. However, while the Team RAC man closed to within six tenths of a second, he couldn't get close enough to make a move for the lead.
On lap 15, the Safety Car was out once again as Richard Marsh went into the gravel at Druids, but before the field caught up with the Porsche, Neal had gone fourth after slipping inside Onslow-Cole at Graham Hill. The order now saw Plato leading from Turkington, Jackson, Neal, Onslow-Cole, Jordan and Chilton – with Darren Turner and Adam Jones fighting behind.
On the restart, Jones made light work of moving past Turner, while Gordon Shedden was also able to move past the SEAT to go ninth. For Turner however, the race would soon come to an end for the SEAT man as, having lost a place to Matt Allison, he was hit by Giovanardi and forced to retire with damaged suspension. Allison would undo his hard work a lap later by running wide at Paddock and dropping down to 13th.
Out front however, the race went the way of Plato, with Turkington and Jackson following him home, the latter despite being shown the black and orange flag for at least five laps as a rear tyre rubbed on the bodywork of his car. Neal followed him home in fourth with Jordan the leading BTC car in fifth. Onslow-Cole, Chilton, Jones, Shedden and a recovering Gareth Howell rounded out the top ten.
Giovanardi only made it back up with eleventh place, while the debutants all made it the finish. Simon Blanckley in the Sibsport Honda was 17th and finished on the lead lap, with Rick Kerry, John George and Pocklington following him home – Kerry achieving his aim of not bringing up the rear of the field with his new diesel powered car.