Brands Hatch round-up: Collard, Neal and Plato takes wins in chaotic opener

The new British Touring Car Championship season well and truly sparked into life at Brands Hatch on Sunday, and with Rob Collard, Matt Neal and Jason Plato all taking thrilling victories.

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Amongst some spectacular racing action, there was still a tasty amount of carnage and occassional comedy for the fans to savour, particularly if you were up at Druids corner….

(championship standings also below)

Race three was looking as though it had just settled down, until Mat Jackson ran wide exiting Paddock Hill bend, bouncing across the gravel and damaging an oil line, spewing fluids all over the track on the run up the hill.

Rob Austin just about survived, but Oliver Jackson was less lucky as he lost it on the oil and spun off into the tyrewall.

The chaos was just beginning, as Tom Onslow-Cole’s mixed weekend on his WSR return ended in the gravel trap after he hit the patch, followed by Liam Griffin and Dan Welch, the Proton ploughing into the Redstone Ford. Tony Gilham followed them, then the two Speedworks Toyotas piled in as well before the red flags were waved.

It was gutting for Morgan, whose car had just been repaired after a lap one accident in the first race, his debut in BTCC being a disastrous one.

Elsewhere, the first race was a dramatic one from all angles, with Dave Newsham having been nerfed out the way by Collard on lap one of the first race from a briliant pole position he had earned the day before.

He was then fired off unintentionally by Jason Plato at Paddock Hill bend after the Vauxhall driver was taking the lead after a lunge into Clearways on race two winner Matt Neal.

It looked like an optimistic move from Plato as he clattered into the Vectra trying to pass the pair of them under braking, and despite his claims that newsham left little room, the officials handed him a £750 fine and three points on his license for the incident.

Motorsport salutes marshalls, and without them motorsport would be in tatters, but the tractor driver got maybe a bit too carried away in this instance when cleaning up a different accident.

After Rob Austin tagged the Ford of Irishman Aron Smith into the barriers at Druids – a shame for Aron who had some good pace in the Ford – the snatch vehicle driver tried to tow the car through the gravel trap…where the inevitable happened.

The splitter dug in, and the front end of the car was torn apart by the gravel. Cue Tim Harvey with a great reaction –

Never could the quote “to me, to you” have been more appropriate. Or a Benny Hill theme tune…

The race was won by West Surrey Racing and Rob Collard, taking their first wins since 2009, Collard’s last win being at Donington that season. The win was well earned as he held off reigning champion Neal despite a nudge exiting the last corner, and the win almost brought team boss Dick Bennetts to tears.

Collard also nearly binned his BMW in the gravel celebrating with some donuts after a popular win with the massive crowd.

Race two saw him struggle with the 45 kilos of ballast however, and it left Neal and Jason Plato to really kickstart their 2012 battle. And what a battle it was.

The pair were glued together, and Plato took the lead by using Neal’s favourite overtaking spot at Clearways under braking (with a little tap), after which Neal gave him a bit back and repeated the move cleanly to grab the lead back, and take the first win for the new NGTC Civic.

With the crowd warmed up after that spectacle, they were treated to more.

Redstone Racing were plucky all weekend especially with Mat Jackson, who had been having a consistent run in the top 10 all Sunday, but while running a strong second, his race three was ruined by that moment at Paddock Hill which ended the race for him, and resulted in the red flag.

The restarted race saw Andrew Jordan and Jason Plato show their A-game, Jordan excelling all weekend despite a miscommunication with Chris James in qualifying and a knock with the spinning Newsham in race one.

After a second in race two, he fought past Austin and Collard to lead raced three, before Plato repeated the feat and chased him down. A win in only the Triple Eight MG’s third race was looking a distinct possibility.

Jordan’s defensive drive was one to marvel at, blocking in all the right places until his Civic went wide at Clearways, and Plato nudged his way through to an unexpected and quite memorable victory.

Their feel-good story didn’t end there, as Plato leads the series into Donington in two weeks time, with Neal second and right on his tail despite a spin ruining his third race. Jordan will be one to watch after winning at the track last year, and watch out for Newsham on a track that suits the Vectra.

Driver of the weekend: Tough, but Jason Plato.

Andrew Jordan was a star this weekend, as were many more. Neal won in a new car in style, but only Plato could win it after surprising everyone with his ability to bring an MG with hardly any testing behind it to the front, and after missing out in race two, he took a momentous win in the final race of the day. One of Jason’s best wins considering the circumstances.

Gritty underdog: only Dave Newsham could take this.

Rob Austin was impressive, but pole position, challenging for the race one win, and recovering to a race three podium in an underdog ES Racing team made Newsham a real namedrop for success around the paddock. He will be a spoiler this season no doubt…

“Why always me” award: Obviously, Gordon Shedden.

Electrical probelms all weekend, the car would cut out at any time it wanted, and even excluded for repairs under red flag park ferme conditions after a briliant recovery to fourth in race three. No luck.

John Thorne meanwhile had a weekend from hell in the new Insignia, struggling with the back end of the car all weekend that left him either in the wall or on the grass more than enough.

Heart-stopping moment: The BMW of Nick Foster on its roof.

Although an incident missed by the cameras, one of the most frightening images of the weekend was the WSR BMW of Nick Foster on its roof in race two. Thankfully, after two topples upon impact with the tyre barrier, Foster climbed out of the car unscathed.

Championship standings after rounds 1-3:

01 Jason Plato 52
02 Matt Neal 48
03 Andrew Jordan 45
04 Robert Collard 43
05 Rob Austin 30
06 Jeff Smith 28
07 Tom Onslow-Cole 22
08 Mat Jackson 22
09 Lea Wood 13
10 Gordon Shedden 11


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