Jason Plato left Brands Hatch with a pair of wins, the championship lead and a BTCC record after fending off turbocharged rivals in the opening weekend of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). Alex MacDowall left Brands Hatch with points of a less wanted nature.
Having equalled Andy Rouse's all-time win record, set in 1992, at the final round last year Plato needed only one race to score his 61st win, and move clear as the most successful driver in the series' illustrious history.
He took advantage of both the front row starters running wide at Paddock Hill Bend on the opening lap to take the lead by the time he reach Druids, less than half a lap into the race. Teammate MacDowall – returning to the Silverline Chevrolet team for a second season – was also in the lead group as they approached the hairpin. However, he was unable to avoid pushing Matt Neal's Honda into the gravel, one of a number of incidents over the weekend for which MacDowall was given points on his racing license.
“That's a great result and an important win for the championship defence,” Plato described race one. “It's unfortunate for Neal, he's definitely got great pace in that car. For me it was a sensible race from start to finish, with the aim of bringing the car home and bagging those all important points. It now means full ballast for race two, but we'll go out there and give it our best again.” The reigning champion added that breaking the record was “definitely something special”.
MacDowall was also out of luck in the day's second race, when a good start – up to third at the expense of a slow starting Tom Chilton and James Nash – proved to be too good, the 21-year-old adjudged to have jumped the start and handed a drive-through penalty which dropped him from the points positions.
The day's final race saw Plato in the midst of a the turbocharged pack, the Oxfordshire-based driver doing well to hang on to fifth place, rounding out a good start to the season.
“What a great way to start 2011,” he said. “We've been a little fortunate in that we've been in the right place at the right time, but that's no coincidence. The performance of the turbo on the straights is simply incredible but my Cruze looks after the tyres well and is definitely better on exiting the corners, which is a real strength we can exploit. We've got a great points haul this weekend and we can be very satisfied with our performance.”
MacDowall made it into the top ten on the track, but was given a 20-second penalty and three points on his license for an unspecified incident that dropped him back to 16th.
“It's been a challenging weekend for me but I'm really pleased with my performance in the first race and that's some championship points in the bag,” MacDowall summed up. “I got a great start off the line in race two, which is an area I've been working on since last year, but obviously on review it was deemed a false start so I had to take a drive-through penalty. It's a shame because I think we'd have been challenging for the podium but lesson learnt.”