Alex MacDowall troubles on the drag towards the first corner gave his Silverline Chevrolet teammate Jason Plato an undisputed lead into Riches, which the former champion first defended, then consolidated, to make a winning start to the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) Sunday races.
MacDowall had become the youngest ever BTCC pole-sitter, emerging on top in a wet qualifying session around the 1.95 mile track. However, an advantage the 19-year-old had lasted only a matter of seconds before he pulled his Chevrolet Cruze off to the right hand side of the circuit.
Inside the car the gear shifter had apparently broken and although MacDowall was able to limp the car back to the pits a day that should have been spent scoring points at the front of the field was already set to be another spent fighting through the BTCC ranks.
MacDowall's misfortune had given Plato the lead, with Mat Jackson second for Airwaves BMW. The two, teammates for Chevrolet last year, were locked together at the start of the race, seldom more than half-a-second between them, though Jackson had very few genuine chances take the lead as Plato was able to maintain just enough advantage down the Revett Straight to render the BMW's braking advantage harmless though the left-right of the Esses.
Late in the race Plato was able to pull away from Jackson, the Cruze improving in the hands of Plato while Jackson either eased off or began to suffer with tyre degradation – he and teammate Steven Kane were the most noticeably aggressive driver of the new, higher kerbs at the Russell chicane.
The near constant half a second was stretched out to over two second in the closing laps by Plato's late race charge which included the fastest lap of the race set on lap 14 of 18 lap race.
Despite the fade Jackson kept second place comfortably from Tom Chilton in third. The Team Aon driver – the team many expected to dominate thanks to a speed advantage – had briefly fallen to fifth behind the Dynamics Hondas, but had re-passed first Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden. A little unexpectedly, once past the Scotsman Chilton was unable to cut down the gap to the leading pair, infact often slower than both the Chevrolet and BMW ahead of him.
However, if the speed expected from the LPG powered Ford was absent from Chilton's race it could be found in Tom Onslow-Cole's race, fighting through the field in the other Ford after he failed the ride height test after qualifying.
The was no typical overtaking spot for Onslow-Cole. He drove past Andrew Jordan on the short straight between Riches and Sear, initially passed Matt Neal down the inside approaching the Riches. His brief fight with Neal was the closest Onslow-Cole got a to a battle with any one driver, Neal forcing the Focus wide on the exit of Riches after the above mentioned overtaking maneuverer, Onslow-Cole somehow holding the car out of a spin after he dipped the left side wheels onto the grass.
Neal's aggressive (his more vocal opponents will say unfair) defence proved to be in vain. Onslow-Cole, undettered simply drove past Neal on the Revett Straight, Neal maintaining – understandably – that the Ford's speed advantage on such a high-speed track made it a near impossible opponent.
Onslow-Cole's charge resulted in sixth place, behind James Nash in an impressive fifth and Sheddon. Steven Kane finished seventh, Tom Boardman, Andrew Jordan and Rob Collard completing the top ten, Collard snatching the final point from Paul O'Neill on the final lap of the race.
In contrast to Onslow-Cole, Neal's race ended in retirement, a left-front puncture in the closing laps meaning he only completed sixteen laps. The left-front in the tyre worked hardest around Snetterton – especially on front wheel cars – though the final blow may have been dealt when he collected the tyre bundle on the apex of the second element of Russell. The retirement, and Plato's win, mean Neal surrenders the championship lead to Plato, the Chevrolet driver now nine points ahead.