Jason Plato took victory in the first Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship race at Snetterton to claw back points on his championship rivals.
With Matt Neal only managing fourth place and Gordon Shedden fighting back to seventh from last on the grid, Plato is now 20 points behind the lead Honda in the title fight.
Wrathall fought back from a poor start to take second at the flag ahead of Andrew Jordan, the Pirtek Racing man taking the final podium spot on the final lap from Dave Newsham, who was later disqualified when his Vauxhall Vectra was found to be under the weight limit.
Plato got the jump when the lights went out as poleman Wrathall bogged down, assuming a lead he would not relinquish, despite the best efforts of Newsham early on. The only S2000 close enough to challenge the NGTCs pushed hard in the opening laps, drawing side-by-side with Plato into the turn one in an attempt to wrest the lead from the MG, but ran wide and lost out to Wrathall in the process.
The ES Racing driver was revelling in the renewed competitiveness of the Vauxhall Vectra, and continued to battle, Jordan forcing his way on to the rostrum after a series of passes and repasses, and though Newsham crossed the line fourth, he will now start the second race from the back following his exclusion.
The majority of the field held station in the opening couple of laps before the race was interrupted by a Safety Car after Adam Morgan, who had qualified strongly in his Speedworks Toyota, first spun to the back of the field, and then made contact with Robb Holland while trying to recover, the pair ending up in the tyre wall at the Montreal hairpin.
The Civic went in to the tyres backwards and though at first glance it appeared unscathed Team-HARD. discovered the subframe had cracked, though it will be welded hopefully in time for the second race – a disastrous start to the American’s BTCC racing debut.
At the restart Welch put the pressure on Neal and moved into fifth briefly, before the Civic retook the position, as Newsham’s move for the lead dropped him to third.
Meanwhile Shedden had made superb progress from the back of the grid, running in 12th at the restart before swiftly moving into the top ten, while Tony Gilham made the most of the hectic opening laps by rising to 15th in his first race in the Vauxhall Insignia, eventually coming home 14th.
Jeff Smith, Chris James, Tony Gilham, Andy Neate, and Rob Austin all got caught up with each other, and Ollie Jackson dropped out with a driveshaft failure.
He would eventually bring the new car home in 9th, reward for the Motorbase mechanics who had worked tirelessly to get the car ready on time.
The battle for sixth between Welch, Tom Onslow-Cole, Shedden, Collard, Jackson and Lea Wood raged to the flag, though Collard’s race would end with the BMW parked on the side of the track.
When the flag fell, Plato – who Wrathall said simply “did the best job” – was comfortably clear of Wrathall, his new lap record of 1m 58:682s earning him an extra point in the title fight.
Wrathall told theCheckeredFlag.co.uk: “We completely changed the car after qualifying, we had the pace over one lap but the races are 12 laps.
“Who knows [for race two], anything can happen. Just to get a single result and be back on the podium is great. We’ve achieved something special by getting pole position so to back it up with a podium gives us something to build on for the rest of the day.”
Jordan came home third, ahead of Neal, Welch, Onslow-Cole, Shedden, Jackson, Wood and Jeff Smith.