After a disappointing weekend at Brands Hatch to start the season Mat Jackson started in better fashion for Redstone Racing at Donington Park by topping the first practice session for the British Touring Car Championship.
Jackson for the fastest man for much of the 40 minute session, lapping the 1.98 mile circuit in 1:11.465 inside the first 15 minutes of the session. Though it withstood scrutiny from the rest of the BTCC pack – notably those in new NGTC Civics – Jackson's time is some way off where the normal pace for the weekend is likely to lie, being six-tenths off the time with which Andrew Jordan topped the first session a year ago and a full 1.4 seconds from Matt Neal's 2011 pole time.
That gap could prove several things – that the class of 2012 is simply slower, running lower boost pressures that the Donington meeting last year, which was the high water mark for the dominance of the then newly turbocharged cars. Or several teams are keeping their holding their ultimate pace back until this afternoon's qualifying sessions.
A red flag stoppage, neutralising a quarter of the session, also helped Jackson's case. Rob Collard span off at Old Hairpin shortly before the half way point of the session, embedding the eBay Motors BMW in the gravel after an off he admitted was a product of his own mistake.
After the stoppage several drivers inched closer to Jackson's time – Honda Yuasa men Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal improving to third and fourth, but remained a tenth away from the Ford Focus.
Neal and fellow Honda man Andrew Jordan, who had annexed second place ahead of the works cars, were part of a move late in the session to come out for a final blast that had all the hallmarks of a dummy qualifying run though it was nothing of the sort Jordan, at least, running simply after the team made another set of changes to the Pirtek Civic. Neal failed to improve, aborting his lap after setting a personal best through the lap's opening sector. Jordan improved on his second lap out of the pits, but only to 1:11.507, still 0.042 seconds off Jackson's time.
Also for Redstone Racing and also recovering from a tough opening weekend Aron Smith was fifth fastest. Jason Plato was sixth ahead of Brands Hatch rival Dave Newsham. Rob Austin, Jeff Smith and Tony Gilham – in his year old S2000-spec Civic – was tenth fastest despite missing the end of the session after spinning into the same Old Hairpin gravel as Collard, fortunately however, without bringing out the safety car.
Ollie Jackson’s session was limited to just eight laps in three short stints as the AmD Milltek.com team came to terms with a cracked alternator body on the VW Golf – a problem the team will fix before second practice.