Jason Plato headed the timesheets in the first Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship free practice session at Rockingham.

The MG KX Momentum Racing driver lapped in 1m23.524 – a full second faster than Frank Wrathall’s lap record from last year.

Indeed, the rest of the top five – Gordon Shedden (1m23.722), Matt Neal, (1m23.871), Jeff Smith (1m24.067) and Andrew Jordan (1m24.116) – went under the 2011 record in chilly but sunny conditions.

Plato was quick to assume control of the session, dipping under the lap record early on with a 1m24.135 but Jordan set the tone for the remainder by closing within 0.191s on a 1:24:326s.

The Honda Yuasa Racing pair were quiet for the majority of free practice one but quickly made their mark. Gordon Shedden stole top spot with his 1m23.722 – the first man beneath 1m24 – but could not improve further. Meanwhile, championship leader Matt Neal spent most of the session at the bottom of the timesheets, racking up several laps but without a time to his name, though with ten minutes to go popped up into third place – while Ollie Jackson‘s session ended early as his Golf was pushed into the garage with a problem.

The NGTC cars looked very strong, holding nine of the top ten positions, but Aron Smith, in his S2000 Ford Focus, moved ahead of Redstone Racing stable-mate Mat Jackson in the new car. The BMWs, so dominant at Knockhill, failed to threaten, languishing outside the top ten – although Rob Collard featured slightly further up early on. Dave Newsham, twice a winner now in the BTCC, also struggled, nearly three seconds off the pace.

As the flag fell, Plato headed Shedden and Neal, with Jeff Smith surprising by nipping in ahead of teammate Jordan right at the end of the session. Andy Neate, Aron Smith, Mat Jackson, Frank Wrathall and Rob Collard completed the top ten.

Second free practice starts at 12.15, follow us on Twitter for live coverage @tcfbtcc.