Robert Collard, Matt Neal and Jason Plato shared the wins in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship’s first three races of 2012 yesterday at the Brands Hatch Indy circuit in Kent. A win for double Champion Plato in race three – notably also for the famous MG badge on its return to the championship – means he leads the standings as the title race now moves to Donington Park in Leicestershire in a fortnight (14/15 April).
Dave Newsham had qualified on a career-first pole position for the opening race but his Team ES Racing.com Vauxhall Vectra crashed out in a tangle with Plato’s new MG KX Momentum Racing MG6. This enabled Collard’s eBay Motors BMW to sneak through for victory. Finishing second and third were Neal’s new Honda Yuasa Racing Team Honda Civic and Collard’s team-mate Tom Onslow-Cole.
Neal then came out on top of a long tussle with Plato to win race two – the first victory for a car built to the BTCC’s latest ‘Next Generation Touring Car’ technical regulations. In fact it was an NGTC ‘1-2-3’ as Andrew Jordan’s Pirtek Racing Honda Civic was second after muscling past Plato’s MG in the closing laps. Meanwhile there was a lucky escape for Nick Foster who rolled his eBay Motors BMW onto its roof.
Plato’s victory in race three – which increased his career record tally of wins to 69 – came after he turned the tables on Jordan by passing him for the lead at mid-distance. Jordan took second ahead of Newsham who, after his race one disappointment, ended the day on a high with a maiden podium result. Significantly the race needed to be re-started after a multiple pile-up shortly after the original start forced a red flag stoppage.
The results mean Oxford’s Plato takes away a slender lead to Donington Park (14/15 April) with Worcestershire’s Neal, Staffordshire’s Jordan and Hampshire’s Collard in hot pursuit.
“We honestly never expected this so soon so we’re all cock-a-hoop,” enthused Plato. “I must take my hat off to my team – I’m just a small part of it all and they have worked their socks off to get this car ready. It’s still way off being fully sorted so I’d imagine the rest of the pit lane is probably feeling a bit scared…”
Neal commented: “It’s great that the new Honda has shown race-winning pace on its debut but I don’t think I’ve started a season before when the competition has been so fierce. The BMWs were on fire and Jason and that MG also look like they might take a bit of catching. We can’t afford to leave any stone unturned.”
Jordan added: “Any other day I’d be very pleased with two seconds but I’m slightly disappointed that the win got away from me in race three – it’s certainly got me fired up for my home event at Donington. The main thing, though, is we’ve come away from the first round with a decent points haul.”
Collard, who backed up his race one win with a pair of sixths, said: “I’m delighted with the win so a bit disappointed to be off the podium in the next two races but at least we’re in the hunt from the off.”
Having dominated 2011’s Manufacturers/Constructors Championship, Honda/Dynamics find themselves trailing MG/888 after Brands Hatch’s three races. And it is Pirtek Racing, thanks to Jordan and team-mate Jeff Smith’s combined efforts, which has stolen an early lead in the HiQ Teams Championship. Jordan and Pirtek also lead the Independent drivers and teams’ standings respectively.
Elsewhere, officials fined Robert Collard (£500) and Jason Plato (£750) and put three penalty points on both drivers’ competitions licences following on-track incidents. The Honda Yuasa Racing Team’s Gordon Shedden was also excluded from race three’s results after his team carried out unauthorised work on his car during a red flag period.