Jason Plato took a dominant win in the opening Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship race at Rockingham to claw back points in the title race.
Having seen off the fast-starting Mat Jackson, up to second from fourth on the grid in his Redstone Racing NGTC Ford Focus, at turn one the MG was never headed and quickly pulled a gap, eventually winning by 3.3 seconds.
Andrew Jordan had a lonely race to take second having made the most of lap one contact between Gordon Shedden and Jackson at Yentwood, with the Scot taking the final step on the podium.
Jackson challenged the MG KX Momentum Racing MG6 on the outside of Deene after getting away brilliantly from the second row of the grid, but as Shedden tried to pass into turn three contact pushed the Focus wide and Jordan’s Pirtek Racing Civic was quick to take advantage.
Plato increased his lead with each passing lap, and his fastest lap – 1m23.255s – was a new race lap record, 1.3s quicker than Frank Wrathall’s from last year, and nearly seven-tenths of a second better than anyone chasing could manage. With his lead at more than four seconds, the top four settled down, but the action behind was just getting started.
Championship leader Matt Neal battled hard with Andy Neate for fifth at the start of lap two but soon lost out to Rob Collard’s BMW, making early progress from eighth on the grid, and began to come under pressure from Rob Austin, recovering from a poor qualifying session in the Audi.
The pair ran side-by-side through Deene and Yentwood but the Civic held out, in a battle which would rage for three laps – with Wrathall briefly joining in before his Toyota began to drop back, eventually finishing outside the top ten.
Further back, Aron Smith and Jeff Smith were battling over 13th and the former came off worse for wear, fired off into the gravel at Tarzan. The Civic driver’s race would also come to a premature end though, significant damage on the right-hand side of his car meaning his return to the pits would be on the back of a truck.
On lap nine, Austin tried to force his way by at Pif-Paf, but made contact with the left rear of Neal’s car and spun, dropping to 14th. The reprieve allowed Neal to hunt down Collard, who was attempting to wrest fifth from Neate, while Adam Morgan, who had passed Newsham for 10th, passed Wrathall on the run through turn one.
Collard made his way into fifth, passing Neate at Pif-Page, and Neal made short work of the second MG, slipping sinside at Tarzan.
Austin’s recovery was then the main source of action as he passed Nick Foster, then pulled off a great late-breaking manoeuvre to dispose of Wrathall, now struggling, for 10th, and then Newsham for 9th a couple of corners later.
Ollie Jackson made several trips to the pitlane, problems hampering the AmD Miltek Golf, and he was joined by the previously strong-running Morgan, and later Bratt, whose Audi was struggling with the same issues which blighted his efforts in qualifying.
But the front four positions were decided early on, as Plato won comfortably, gaining another nine points on Neal in sixth, with Neate, Onslow-Cole, Austin, and Nick Foster completing the top ten.