Rob Collard led three rear-wheel-drive cars atop first practice (Photo Credit: btcc.net)

Rob Collard led three rear-wheel-drive cars atop first practice (Photo Credit: btcc.net)

Rob Collard set the fastest time (48.932) in a staccato first practice session for the new British Touring Car season, the only man to lap the Brands Hatch Indy circuit in under 49 seconds.

Collard's performance in the West Surrey Racing run eBay Motors team made good on the performance some expect from the newly turbocharged BMW, with new teammate Tom OnslowCole underlining their speed by setting the third fastest time (49.259), the two 3-Series sandwiching the Audi A4 of Rob Austin (49.129).

Austin – driving the lone Audi in the absence of Mark Hazell – was second fastest in an all rear-wheel-drive lead trio. Austin, with a year's experience of the NGTC Audi led much of the session after flying under the 50 second barrier in the opening exchanges of the session. Austin was as far as two seconds clear before Dave Newsham and Andrew Jordan joined him in the 49 second bracket before the first of three red flags during the 40 minute session.

Gordon Shedden brought out the flag, his brand new Civic beset with electrical issues than limited to the 2011 runner-up to just 11 laps during the session – only Tony Gilham, in Shedden's 2011 car completed fewer. The second red flag, brought out with 13 minutes to go was for a heavy off for John Thorne at Paddock Hill Bend – drawing immediate comparisons with Shedden's off last year. The damage to Thorne's Insignia, though appearing less serious relative to the Scot's Honda is a big set back for the team, who are struggling for the spare parts needed to make a return to the track this weekend.

The lengthy stoppage to recover the NGTC Vauxhall and repair the tyre wall stopped the session clock with ten minutes remaining. Though most of the BTCC grid went back out to log some final laps in the opening session, few drivers were able to improve on their earlier times, leaving Collard, Austin and Onslow-Cole as the top three.

Andrew Jordan was fourth fastest – by far the best of the new breed of NGTC cars. Matt Neal was eleventh fastest for the works Honda Yuasa team. MG drivers Andy Neate and Jason Plato both ran in the session, completing 17 and 11 laps respectively, but were left down in 19th and 20th places – four seconds off the pace.

Behind Jordan, Mat Jackson was the best of the Redstone Racing trio, Clio Cup convert Aron Smith seventh behind media day test topper Dave Newsham. Frank Wrathall, Nick Foster in the third Ebay BMW and debutant Adam Morgan completed the top ten.

Ollie Jackson, who ended the session in the Paddock Hill gravel to bring out a third and final red flag, was 14th for AmD Tuning.com

The BTCC drivers return to the track this afternoon for a futher practice session before qualifying at 3:20pm.