Frank Wrathall continued his superb second half of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) season, setting the fastest time during the 40 minute first practice session at Rockingham.
The session gave the first glimpse at how the latest tranche performance balancing changes had affected the relative speed of the different specification of cars on the 26 grid.
Wrathall's Dynojet Toyota Avensis is one the cars hardest hit by the changes announced on Thursday, having to run 0.05 bar lower boost pressure as well as carrying 20kg extra weight. However, the 24-year-old showed little effect of the newly applied shackles as he set the best time of 1:24.608 in the first half of the session.
Rob Austin – in another NGTC-spec car – was among the early pace setter, but eventually ended the session in ninth as times steadily improved during the opening 20 minutes.
Any further improvement was restricted in the second half of the session, though the rain threatened held off, save for a handful of drops.
Jason Plato was one of the few drivers to mount an attack on Wrathall's time in the second half. After sitting out the opening exchanges of the session Plato set a time of 1:23.736, good enough for second place ahead of his Silverline Chevrolet teammate Alex MacDowall – both men seemingly taking advantage of the altered regulations.
By contrast the heavily ballasted Honda Civics of Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal only finished the session eighth and tenth respectively, Shedden nearly a second down on Wrathall.
At the top of the time Tom Chilton ended the session fourth ahead of Pirtek Racing's Andrew Jordan, back in the top five after poor outings at both Snetterton and Rockingham to begin the second half of the season. Mat Jackson – another man looking to overcome his struggles at the previous round was sixth.
Jackson’s new Airwaves Racing teammate and BTCC debutant Michael Caine – after being the first man to cross the finish line during the session – ended a steady session 15th.
The session was incident free, though several drivers outbraked themselves into the Deene hairpin. Jeff Smith, spin at Yentwood – turn 3 – was the most serious off, though he had no damage as was able to continue the session with no ill effect. Lea Wood, back on the grid after skipping Knockhill, stopped during the session coming to halt on the straight behind the paddock.
The series' second practice is scheduled for 12:25, with the 30 minute qualifying session beginning at 3pm.