SEAT’s Jason Plato (Oxford) took a pair of wins and Team Halfords’ Matt Neal (Droitwich) a single victory in today’s (Sunday) opening three rounds of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch contested by a record 26 drivers. Plato’s double gives him an early championship lead, but reigning champion Neal’s triumph, in a new Honda Civic still short on development, is a warning shot to his rivals as the BTCC now prepares for its next three rounds at the Rockingham circuit in Northamptonshire on 22 April.
Meanwhile, Team RAC’s Colin Turkington (Portadown) took a pair of second places in his new BMW 320si to leave Brands Hatch third in the standings. And the championship looks to have found a number of new emerging talents, chiefly Mat Jackson (Henley-in-Arden), Tom Onslow-Cole (New Malden) and Adam Jones (Solihull) – each looked at ease as they mixed it with the established star names. Jones, aged 26, comes away leading the coveted Independents’ championship from Turkington…
Plato, aged 39 and chasing a second BTCC crown, said: “We said all along that getting off to a winning start would be crucial; we’ve managed that and it’s a great start. But those who said this was going to be a SEAT walk-over can think again – the opposition is hot on our heels and at Rockingham they’ll be even closer. This is going to be a classic BTCC season.”
Neal, aged 40, added: “Our win today with a car that has barely done a day’s testing is a bigger shot in the arm than winning the title. The relief when I crossed the line inside the car was something else and to come away second in the championship is something nobody in the team expected. It’s testament to all the early mornings and late hours everyone has worked to get this car ready in time and it’s still only in its early stages of development…”
In the Manufacturers’ title race, Vauxhall, armed with its new Vectra, holds a 15-point advantage over reigning champion SEAT, although it is the latter’s SEAT Sport UK squad that leads the Teams’ championship outright. Team RAC is the Independents Teams’ leader.
BTCC points after Brands Hatch, rds1, 2 & 3 (provisional):
1. Jason PLATO, 41 points
2. Matt NEAL, 32
3. Colin TURKINGTON, 25
4. Tom CHILTON, 19
5. Fabrizio GIOVANARDI, 17
6. Adam JONES, 15
7. Mat JACKSON, 14
8. Mike JORDAN & Tom ONSLOW-COLE, 11
10. Darren TURNER, 9
1. Vauxhall, 67 points
2. SEAT, 52
1. SEAT Sport UK, 52 points
2. VX Racing, 35
3. Team RAC & Team Halfords, 34
5. Team Air Cool, 14
6. Jacksons MSport, 13
For full championship points, visit the official BTCC website www.btcc.net.
Round 1, 27 laps (32.94 miles)
PLATO LEADS FROM START TO FINISH
Plato, lining up second on the grid, made a better start than Turkington, in pole position, and took the lead into the first corner. From there he was never headed and also went on to set the race’s fastest lap.
Turkington took second, followed by Jackson, a sensational third on his BTCC debut in his family’s Jacksons MSport BMW 320si. But his podium celebrations were short-lived – the 25-year-old was later excluded for failing to obey a black and orange flag instructing him to make a pit stop to have his smoking car investigated.
Thus, Neal, who had risen from ninth to fourth, was elevated to third. Fourth was Mike Jordan, in his Eurotech/John Guest-Speedfit Honda Integra, and fifth on his BTCC debut Team RAC’s impressive 19-year-old rookie Onslow-Cole.
After several skirmishes, Tom Chilton was Vauxhall’s highest-finisher in sixth. His Italian team-mate Fabrizio Giovanardi was out of the points in 11th – he started fourth, but a clash with SEAT’s Darren Turner at the opening bend cost him dear. Turner, who’d started third, later retired with suspension damage to his Leon after more contact.
The BTCC’s first diesel car, Rick Kerry’s unique Team AFM BMW 120D, finished 18th on its debut, but there were problems for the bio-ethanol-fuelled MG ZSs of Kartworld team-mates Jason Hughes and Fiona Leggate who both crashed out on lap one. Leggate’s incident caused the first of the two safety car periods.
1. Jason Plato (GBR), SEAT Sport UK/SEAT Leon, 24m57.801s
2. Colin Turkington (GBR), Team RAC/BMW 320si, +1.237s
3. Matt Neal (GBR), Team Halfords/Honda Civic, +3.956s
FASTEST LAP: Plato, 49.706s (86.77mph)
Round 2, 24 laps (29.28 miles)
PLATO DOUBLES UP IN ROUND 2
From pole position, Plato led all the way, crossing the line almost three seconds clear of Turkington who lost time early on defending his second position from a queue of cars. Chilton came through to take third while Turner, having started 23rd after his earlier retirement, took fourth thanks to an excellent comeback drive that netted him the fastest race lap.
Neal was fifth and, sixth, to follow-up a fine seventh in round 1, another of the BTCC’s rising young stars, 26-year-old Adam Jones in his Team Air Cool SEAT Toledo. Giovanardi took seventh – and with the top seven to be reversed for round 3’s starting grid, this became pole position for the day’s third race.
Like Turner, Jackson also put in a stunning drive to finish eighth after starting from last in the pit lane following his earlier exclusion. BTCC debutant Matt Allison, in Motorbase Performance’s SEAT Toledo, and Chris Stockton, in the BTC Racing team’s Lexus IS200, completed the top ten to score valuable points.
In trouble were Neal’s team-mate Gordon Shedden and Jordan – both their cars becoming damaged as the queue of cars behind Turkington tripped over itself – and Onslow-Cole, finishing 15th after a clash with Turner sent him into a wild spin.
1. Jason Plato (GBR), SEAT Sport UK/SEAT Leon, 20m27.095s
2. Colin Turkington (GBR), Team RAC/BMW 320si, +2.659s
3. Tom Chilton (GBR), VX Racing/Vauxhall Vectra, + 4.141s
FASTEST LAP: Turner, 50.224s (85.90mph)
Round 3, 27 laps (32.94 miles)
‘SHOCK’ WIN FOR NEAL & CIVIC
Neal took victory thanks to a terrific start that saw him shoot through from third on the grid to lead into the first corner. From there he held on to take what many will deem a shock win in a car so short on track time prior to the weekend.
Second, having started from pole, and giving Vauxhall’s new Vectra its best result in its debut meeting, was Giovanardi, but he came under intense pressure from Jackson, making up for his round 1 exclusion with a great charge from eighth to finish right behind in third. Jackson also set the race’s fastest lap.
Turner and Plato, the latter’s car – just as in round 2 – carrying maximum success ballast, crossed the line in fourth and fifth. But Turner would be later excluded by officials for his part in an incident that led to Turkington spinning out of the race. Thus, Plato was elevated to fourth and Jones to an even better fifth. Jones had actually run as high as second early on before he drifted wide and lost places.
Onslow-Cole and Jordan put in strong drives to finish sixth and eighth after starting 15th and 23rd respectively. Also of note, Team Allaboutproperty.com’s Martyn Bell took 12th to cap a promising weekend in his BMW 318i and Hughes and Leggate, neither having finished rounds 1 or 2, at least took some cheer with 13th and 15th places.
1. Matt Neal (GBR), Team Halfords/Honda Civic, 23m48.564s
2. Fabrizio Giovanardi (ITA), VX Racing/Vauxhall Vectra, +1.148s
3. Mat Jackson (GBR), Jackson MSport/BMW 320si, +1.236s
FASTEST LAP: Jackson, 49.789s (86.73mph)
[This is a press release]