Silverline Chevrolet teammates Jason Plato and Alex MacDowall scored a first 1-2 of a rollercoaster season in the opening BTCC race at Snetterton.
Plato's post-qualifying prediction that an early lead would be pivotal proved true as the reigning champion held off an optimistic challenge by Matt Neal around the outside of Riches on lap one to maintain the lead.
Having got the best of the start from fourth on the grid to challenge for the lead, Neal was victim of his own ambition, Plato easing him wide and onto the grass. Pushed to spinning point, Neal span across Plato’s nose before sliding broadside across the track in front of the pack which miraculously avoided the Honda. Neal's wide ride continued the rear of the only just missing the metal barrier on the inside of the track before coming to rest on the outside of the Montreal Hairpin after cross the track once more – this time once the 26 car grid had passed by.
The chaotic first lap contined, several cars running wide on the exit of the hairpin and in shades of last season's Donington Park accidents Tom Onslow–Cole hit one of the foam barriers placed on the outside of Williams, the new corner that takes drivers onto the back straight. This time, however, the shattered block landed on the outside of the circuit.
The first lap ended with the Chevrolet 1-2 already in place, with Gordon Shedden chasing in third. Any potential battle for the podium never materialised, Plato extending his lead lap by lap fractionally over MacDowall, Shedden unable to close in to challenge the second place man. The top three running an uncharacteristically quiet race by Touring Car standards.
The race behind was less settled. Frank Wrathall – possibly the story of qualifying yesterday – had moved up to sixth after Neal's off, taking fifth from James Nash on lap two at Hamilton.
A lap later and the Dynojet driver had moved up to the rear bumper of Tom Chilton's fourth placed Ford Focus, harrying the current Independents' champion for number of laps before Chilton ran wide at Riches, letting Wrathall up to fourth, where he would finish, taking a maiden Independents' win for his family team, and the first ever overall points for the NGTC-spec cars that will shape the BTCC’s future.
Forgivably Wrathall was unable to make up any of the four second gap to Shedden in third. After his mistake Chilton had to briefly fend off James Nash, before pulling away from the Triple Eight man. However, on the final lap Chilton lost ground and places, slumping to ninth behind the battle scarred sister car of Onslow-Cole.
Ahead of the two Fords one of the battles of the race took place. Paul O'Neill had briefly run in sixth after following Wrathall past James Nash on lap two, but a mistake at Riches dropped his behind the Airwaves Racing car of Mat Jackson. Scarcely more the half a second apart at the start/finish line O'Neill was able to close up under braking -notably at Murray's, Montreal and Agostini – but unable to complete the pass once the turbocharged Ford accelerated out of the corner.
SEAT driver Dave Newsham completed the top ten, though he suffered a drop in speed in the closing laps which cost him ninth place to Onslow-Cole. It could, and probably should, have been two Special Tuning SEATs in the top ten. Tom Boardman had started from the rear of the grid after an engine problem ruled him out of qualifying. Amid the frantic opening exchanges he had climbed to tenth, before a recurrence of the engine malady put him out of the race.
Lea Wood and Tony Gilham completed the list of retirement, Wood's Integra losing a wheel on the way to the grid, while Gilham's race lasted less than the length of the front straight, suspension failure rendering the Vectra undriveble.
Also out of luck was Rob Austin. Another of the full NGTC runners Austin was challenging for his own best finish of the season – though nowhere near Wrathall's result – before he was spun out at Agostini by Nick Foster. Showing off the pace of the Audi he recovered to 15th. Matt Neal, also recovering, albeit from a more serious spin, finished 18th from where he will have to launch a drive through the field in the day's second race.
Both series debutants ran well, Martin Byford finished one place ahead of Austin, the new AmD Milltek Racing recruit another to loss places on the final lap. The Welch Automotive Proton turned in a solid performance, until a mechanical problem led to increasingly slow laps to end the race, driver Dan Welch finished 22nd after running 15th at the half way point of the 12 lap race.
Alex MacDowall writes an exclusive blog for theCheckeredflag.co.uk,
you can read all about his racing exploits here.