Robert Collard has won a sensationally close first race of the new Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season at Brands Hatch.
eBay Motors BMW driver Collard took advantage of a tangle ahead of him involving Dave Newsham’s Es Racing.com Vauxhall Vectra and Jason Plato’s KX Momentum Racing MG6 to nip past into the lead. The incident, at Paddock Hill Bend, resulted in Newsham, who had started from a career-first pole position, crashing. Matt Neal, who was under attack for the lead from Newsham at the time, was also delayed although he continued in second in his Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civic.
Collard (pictured) then went on to cross the line ahead of Neal and his eBay Motors team-mate Tom Onslow-Cole who pipped Plato for third by just 36/1000ths of a second in a photo finish. Dick Bennetts, whose WSR concern prepares the eBay BMWs, was in tears as his cars crossed the line.
“It means so much to us as an independent team – it’s our first race with a turbo engine in the car and it feels great. It’s the perfect start to our season,” said Hampshire’s Collard.
Neal added: “It’s a shame we couldn’t get the win but the BMWs were on fire. There was so much going on – I wish I could have been watching it trackside with the fans. But it’s a great start for our new Civic. It’s got some great points and there’s still more to come.”
Onslow-Cole commented: “I’d have loved to have made it a 1-2 finish for us but Matt defended really well and I probably needed to pull my finger out a bit more. It was close with Jason – he got ahead of me exiting the final bend but luckily the BMW had just enough punch to get me ahead by the line.”
Neal’s team-mate Gordon Shedden was fifth in a faltering Honda ahead of the Civic of Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan – his car bearing the scars of a first-lap tangle with Newsham.
Mat Jackson’s Redstone Racing Ford Focus ST fought back past Rob Austin’s Rob Austin Racing Audi A4 on the final lap to grab seventh. Nick Foster made it all three eBay Motors cars inside the top ten by finishing ninth ahead of Pirtek’s Jeff Smith.
The race was disrupted by two safety car periods – the first to recover the badly battered Speedworks Toyota Avensis of debutant Adam Morgan which had spun and crashed heavily at Paddock following first-corner contact with Smith’s car . The second was required to move both Newsham’s Vectra and Aron Smith’s crumpled Redstone Ford at Druids Hill Bend.
Dynojet’s Frank Wrathall, who’d started from eighth, retired his Toyota early on with a broken gearbox. There were spins for Tony Gilham’s Team HARD. Honda Civic and, gearing up for the first re-start behind the safety car, John Thorne’s Thorney Motorsport Vauxhall Insignia. Thorne would later crash out of the race at Paddock.