Vauxhall has claimed its 100th victory in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship after Fabrizio Giovanardi took his first win in the series in the most dramatic race of the 2006 season so far.
The Italian started from the second row of the grid and battled past the SEAT of Jason Plato and the Honda Integra of Matt Neal to hit the front on the fifth lap, but had to use all the experience gained in becoming a multiple touring car champion to keep the pack at bay through 26 action packed laps of the tight and twisty Knockhill circuit.
The drama started as soon as the second lap, when contact between the MG of Colin Turkington and the Honda of Gareth Howell at the Real Radio Hairpin saw Howell sitting against the barrier on the edge of the circuit and the Safety Car called out. However, before the Safety Car even got out, two more cars had gone off, with Turkington spinning at SEAT Curves and James Kaye and Adam Jones being left with nowhere to go and going off into the gravel.
When the race resumed, Giovanardi made light work of Plato to hit the lead having got past Neal before the Safety Car was called out. At the end of lap six, Giovanardi led from Plato and Neal, with Mike Jordan fourth, Gordon Shedden fifth and Darren Turner sixth having been demoted from second to tenth on the grid for an indiscretion in the opening race. On the following lap, Neal tagged Plato as the pair came through Clarks, with Plato forced to run across the gravel and drop to fifth and Neal dropping behind Turner – who came through the melee ahead to go up to second. Shedden was also touched by Mike Jordan to drop outside the top ten, with the Eurotech car then involved with Plato on the following lap before pitting. Rob Collard meanwhile retired from the race when he went off at Scotsman.
Giovanardi continued to lead, but on every lap had both Turner and Neal shadowing his every move. Neal took second place on the 15th lap while Plato was recovering from his off to go back up into the top six as he passed Dave Pinkney on the run over the line to start the lap. As the top three battled amongst themselves for position, Gavin Smith and Tom Chilton made it a five way fight for the lead, with Plato rapidly closing in behind. On lap 18, Neal got a run on Giovanardi out of Clarks but was forced onto the grass as the two ran along Hislops, allowing Turner to get past Neal on the outside on the run into the Real Radio Hairpin. However, with the inside line, Neal defended the place, and was followed through by Smith who took third from Turner.
Turner quickly reclaimed the place on the following lap and then went second past Neal, who managed to keep third from Smith. That wasn't for long however, as the Astra Sport Hatch dived into the final podium place on lap 22, only for Neal to reclaim the place immediately. Gordon Shedden, recovering from his earlier incident, was also in the thick of things and having passed Plato for sixth, he took fifth from Chilton and then fourth from Smith on lap 23, with Chilton also passing his team-mate to demote the Irish driver to sixth. However on lap 24, Smith tagged the rear of Shedden on the run into Clarks, spinning the Integra into the tyres and out of the race.
It meant that as the field crossed the line to start the final lap, Giovanardi was still defending as if his life depended on it from Turner, with Neal third, Plato fourth and Chilton and Smith completing the top six. However, there was still a sting in the tale…
As the train of cars exited Clarks for the final time, Turner tagged the rear of Giovanardi and the resulting loss of momentum saw him then hit from behind by Neal. Neal in turn was hit by Plato who was then collected by Chilton and Jordan, who was running a lap down. Jordan and Chilton were fired off into the gravel on the inside of the circuit while Plato tried to get his severely damaged SEAT home to the finish – although the lack of a front right wheel meant he went straight on into the tyres at Real Radio Hairpin. Neal managed to keep going but dropped down to sixth as Smith somehow managed to avoid everything to come home for a third place finish behind a delighted Giovanardi and Turner.
Dave Pinkney took fourth after coming from the back of the pack, with Jason Hughes fifth ahead of Neal, Mark Proctor was seventh ahead of a recovering Howell, with Martyn Bell matching his best finish of the season in ninth. Colin Turkington was the final runner, a lap down in tenth.
However, Turner was then excluded for a technical infringement – moving everyone else up a place and giving Proctor pole for the final race.