The third and final race of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) at Brands Hatch was the perfect prelude to what can be expected from the season ahead.
The undoubted speed to the turbos and the effect on the racing and as Matt Neal took victory it set up what many expect to once more be the battle for the championship – Neal versus Plato.
While Neal took a lights to flag win from pole position on the reverse grid Jason Plato was left to fight in the midst of the top ten against maximum success ballast and a fleet of turbocharged rivals. Plato made it as high as fourth, though some distance from those ahead, and constant pressure from Gordon Shedden finally paid off on lap seventeen.
The pass came not at the turbo cars' strongest point – down the main straight, where Shedden time and time again pulled casually up on the outside of the no.1 Silverline Chevrolet – but at Graham Hill Bend, Shedden lunging down the inside into the left hander. Plato finished fifth, holding off James Nash in another turbocharged car, but it could easily have been worse for Plato.
Nash had only fallen behind him from the start when the Triple Eight man and Mat Jackson converged as they took off for the start, the Vectra being swiped onto the grass on drivers' left, falling outside the top ten, though only for a lap before Nash – who impressed all day – passed Dave Newsham for tenth.
The other man to fall out from ahead of Plato was Andrew Jordan – the Pirtek Racing driver luckless once more. Having converted second on the grid into second on the road Jordan was, so he says, sizing up a move on Matt Neal, when another front-left puncture struck. While the 21-year-old blamed contact, or gravel for the puncture that ended his race one efforts he took full responsibility for the second puncture, apologising to the team for running to hard over the kerbs.
Jordan's demise left Mat Jackson in second, and though he pulled up to within half a second of Matt Neal, he could do little to give the Motorbase squad a win on their home track.
In a quiet race by the day's breathless standard it was Nash and Alex MacDowall who took their turn in the role of charging into the points, though just as his teammate struggled to keep pace with the NGTC-spec engine cars MacDowall found himself left behind by Nash. The Chevy driver finished ninth, while Nash passed Rob Collard and Tom Chilton to make it to sixth and Plato's rear bumper.
Tony Gilham completed the other half of a good opening weekend for Triple Eight with the NGTC engine, scoring another point with a tenth place finish to claim a top ten finish in each race on his BTCC debut, making him by far the best of the newcomers to the championship.
However, the race was not all about the turbocharged cars. After starting third Paul O'Neill in his relatively lightly ballasted GoMobileUK Cruze was able to cling onto a podium place – though he also benefited from Jordan's problems ahead of Shedden.
Plato leads the points after the first weekend, two wins enough to put him eight points ahead of Mat Jackson with surprise package Nash in third.