Eleventh hour confirmation Fabrizio Giovanardi stamped an early claim on this year's British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) in the first race of the weekend at Thruxton.

The two-time series champion, who was only confirmed at the 888 Race Engineering team, with Uniq sponsorship earlier this week started second on the grid, sandwiched by the Honda Racing cars of Gordon  Shedden and Matt Neal who tried to ease his way past the Italian into second though the right-left-right complex on the first lap.

Unsuccessful Neal settled in behind the black Vectra (running without the Vauxhall badge on the nose, the ultimate sign of the marque's withdrawal from the championship) while Shedden was able to pull out a lead on the pair, as all three gapped fourth placed Jason Plato.

But Thruxton, the fastest track in British racing, was true to form.

Tyre shredding form.

Leader Shedden lost a front-left tyre and speared off into the distant tyre barrier out of the view of TV cameras, handing Giovanardi the lead only for teammate Neal to suffer a similar problem, though with less dramatic results handing Plato second. For a time it looked as if Giovanardi was the next to encounter a problem, losing nearly half his initial eight second lead to Plato in the space of a single lap before stabilising around the three second point.

The early part of the race was characterised by a great battle in the train that had formed behind Tom Onslow-Cole's Ford Focus, with Matt Jackson, Andrew Jordan, Paul O'Neill and Rob Collard snaking behind him.

It was the kind of close racing Touring Car racing is known form but soon saw the kind of damage that is all too common in the series. Collard dived up the inside of O'Niell's Honda Integra into the second part of the complex only for the likeable Merseysider to turn in closing the door, slamming the Collard's nose in it in the process. While the Honda was able to continue Collard pulled off the circuit at the following corner, the steering on his West Surrey Racing car broken by the impact.

The complex was to see more dram in the battle only laps later when Jackson forced Onslow-Cole wide in the right hander and as Jackson went through Andrew Jordan, in his Pirtek Racing Vectra, tried to scamper round the outside of the recovering Arena Ford. However, with Onslow-Cole off-line he was unable to see the blue and red car diving towards the apex, hammering into the right hand side of Jordan's machine sending the your driver briefly onto two wheels before struggling back onto the track.

The Fords, powered this year by LPG, were the next to suffer tyre problems, with Chilton the first to drop out in similar fashion to Sheddon, his car refusing to turn with the lose of the front-left Dunlop tyre, careering across the grass and mounting the tyre barrier. In a further parallel with the Honda's Onslow-Cole's puncture, which surprisingly had little to do with his contact with Andrew Jordan, was less dramatic, the driver able to limp the car back to the pits though with any hope of points gone.

  1. No.888 Fabrizio Giovanardi 16 Laps
  2. No.2 Jason Plato +3.260
  3. No.5 Matt Jackson +6.456
  4. No.29 Paul O'Neill +6.845
  5. No.22 Tom Boardman +9.387
  6. No.88 Phil Glew +9.739
  7. No.22 Alex MacDowall  +14.766
  8. No.55 Dave Pinkney +24.711
  9. No.28 John George  +32.548
  10. No.44 Andy Neate +36.396

Photo Credit: BTCC.net