Jason Plato survived a final corner trip into the Clearways gravel to win the opening race of the 2013 British Touring Car Championship season.
Plato was under pressure from pole-sitter Andrew Jordan for the second half of the race and the pair came together as the Pirtek Racing driver made a last-ditch move for the lead.
Fortunately, though both left the track, they were able to rejoin with positions unaffected – as Rob Austin, who excelled in the soft-tyre shod Audi, was too far back to capitalise on the incident.
Neither Honda driver was in the points after Matt Neal and defending champion Gordon Shedden were forced to pit simultaneously with an unknown problem.
Jordan led the field away for the first time in 2013 as Austin made a flying start from seventh on the grid, vaulting up to third before the first turn and easing round the outside to take second.
Behind, Shedden’s slow-starting Honda was in a trademark Paddock Hill Bend slide but the defending champion was soon facing the right direction again, before a James Cole-induced Safety Car heralded a retirement for Dave Newsham while Rob Collard took to the pits.
Nick Foster and Joe Girling headed down the pitlane before the race had even started, the BMW driver stopping on circuit having qualified highest of the new eBay Motors machines.
Austin led Plato at the restart, ahead of Jordan, Neal, Tordoff, Jackson, Smith, Shedden, Morgan and Ollie Jackson. But the MG soon began harrying the Wix-liveried Audi, pulling out at Paddock, sizing up a move on lap eight and nine.
Behind them, Shedden disposed of Jeff Smith and Mat Jackson and joined the second MG of Sam Tordoff in pressuring Neal for fourth, and as Tordoff passed Neal at Clearways, the Scot tried to pass his teammate on the start-finish straight – but ended up on the inside grass, fortunate it was nothing more serious as the cars passed the pit entrance.
Meanwhile, Frank Wrathall was making serious headway, up to 10th by lap 11 and passing Adam Morgan, Smith and Jackson soon after, to take 7th. Turkington was making similar progress, up to 12th by lap 15.
Austin had eked a small cushion at the front, making the most of the grippier compound tyre, but on lap 14 Plato began to come back and took the lead into Druids. Further back, Wrathall’s charge continued as he passed Neal for 6th – who swiftly entered the pits, followed by Shedden.
Jordan passed Austin for third at Clearways on lap 18 and set about closing the gap which had opened ahead of him. Lap by lap the Civic edged closer, while Mat Jackson’s disappointing start to 2013 continued as he slowed out of Druids and pulled onto the grass at Graham Hill Bend.
Jordan was then right behind Plato as they crossed the line to complete lap 24 and as they started the final lap three tours later the pair were nose-to-tail. As Plato braked for Clearways, Jordan saw a gap – but as he tried to slip inside the two-time champion he tagged the rear-quarter of the KX-livered MG and sent them both off track.
By this time, though, Austin’s challenge had faded, and the pair rejoined to finish first and second, with the popular Audi man joining them on the rostrum after playing the soft-tyre strategy to perfection in the opening race of the day.
Further down the order, James Kaye edged Lea Wood to take the first Jack Sears spoils of the season.
Top ten: Plato, Jordan, Austin, Tordoff, Jeff Smith, Wrathall, Morgan, Turkington, Aron Smith, Ollie Jackson.