Plato leads all the way in Rockingham BTCC race 1

Jason Plato has won the first of today’s three Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship races at the Rockingham circuit in Northamptonshire but Matt Neal has reclaimed the series lead.

Reigning Champion Plato, starting from pole position, led every lap in his Silverline Chevrolet Cruze for his sixth victory of the season and the 66th of his illustrious career.

Second was fellow Chevrolet driver, GoMobileUK.com with tech-speed’s Paul O’Neill, who held the position throughout and third, setting the fastest race lap, Frank Wrathall in his NGTC-spec Dynojet Toyota Avensis.

It was the battle for third that was the most exciting of a race that was littered with incidents…

Gordon Shedden held the spot until the closing stages when he was caught by Wrathall and his own Honda Racing team-mate Neal. The latter was able to squeeze by Wrathall only for the Toyota driver to then re-pass the Honda and then, on the penultimate lap, move past Shedden as well to secure the final podium position.

Later around the same lap Neal and a rapidly-closing Nick Foster in his WSR BMW also wriggled by Shedden – struggling on worn tyres in a car carrying the maximum 45kgs of success ballast – as they exited the Tarzan hairpin. Neal then had to fight off Foster around the final lap to take fourth while Shedden finished in sixth.

The results means Neal has re-taken the championship lead from Shedden by two points. Plato has moved up to third in the standings and is now 25 behind Neal. A dejected Mat Jackson has fallen to fourth after his fourth race retirement in a row, this time after his Airwaves Ford Focus’s front end was damaged in a collision involving Neal and James Nash’s 888 Racing with Collins Contractors Vauxhall Vectra on the opening lap. There was similar heartbreak for Andrew Jordan who retired his smoking Pirtek Vauxhall Vectra while lying third early on…

Finishing the race in seventh, thanks to overtaking Tom Boardman’s Special Tuning Racing SEAT on the final lap, was Rob Austin’s Audi A4. Austin had put in a sublime recovery drive after spinning out of second place on the opening lap. So too Boardman who’d started back in 23rd after being handed a grid penalty by officials.

Nash took ninth and tenth, scoring a point on his BTCC debut, Jackson’s new team-mate Michael Caine. Nash and Jackson and their respective teams are now tied for the lead of the two Independent trophies.

Elsewhere Team Aon’s Andy Neate and Plato’s team-mate Alex MacDowall took 11th and 12th – earlier in the race their cars had tangled at high-speed through the banked Turn 1 corner, the latter’s Chevrolet being sent into a wild 720-degree spin. A safety car period, to recover Foster and Boardman’s team-mates Robert Collard and Dave Newsham’s cars – both stranded in gravel traps – then enabled Neate and MacDowall to resume battle and on the final lap both were able to edge out Aon’s Tom Chilton who was curiously off the pace.

Jordan’s team-mate Jeff Smith survived a spin and a brush with the barriers to take 14th. Further back in 19th was Aon’s Tom Onslow-Cole after a costly clash with Collard (that caused the BMW driver to spin into retirement) forced him into the pit lane to have a punctured tyre replaced. Having started tenth, Martin Byford was also in the wars, his AmD Milltek Racing.com VW Golf’s bonnet flying into its windscreen on the opening lap – he was also forced to pit for repairs and finished 20th, a lap down.

Dan Welch also retired his slowing Welch Motorsport Proton Gen-2 in the pit lane. Newsham’s retirement in the gravel came courtesy of a collision with the recovering Austin.

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