If you could guarantee anything in the first round of the 2015 British Touring Car Championship season at Brands Hatch, it was that absolutely nothing was guaranteed.
Three-time World Touring Car champion Andy Priaulx took pole position on his return to the series, 13 years after setting fastest time on his last appearance at Donington.
The BMW driver led the field away when the lights went out for Race 1, staying at the front until lap 15 when his soft tyres dropped off the cliff. He fell through the field, ultimately finishing ninth.
Rob Collard was able to take advantage of his WSR teammate’s misfortune. He made a lightning start to vault from fifth on the grid to second within the first couple of corners. He was pursued throughout by Team BMR pair Aron Smith and Jason Plato, who followed Collard past Priaulx at Paddock Hill Bend.
Despite being within range from a late lunge under braking, Smith and Plato held station, preferring to earn points and get good data for the season ahead. The top three crossed the line after 24 laps separated by just 0.884 seconds.
Behind the leading trio, Jack Goff impressed with fourth, fending off the attentions of reigning champion Colin Turkington and Gordon Shedden in his soft-shod MG.
Collard was delighted to take first blood, not least because his son Ricky had taken his first outright win in car racing in the MSA Formula race immediately before Rob lined up on the grid, probably a unique double.
Sadly, that was as good as Collard’s weekend got, as he struggled to a points-less 16th place on soft tyres in Race 2 and retired from Race 3.
Having set fastest lap in the first encounter, Plato secured pole for Race 2. He streaked away from the lights and built up a significant lead, the BMR Volkswagen showing immense speed. But his race ended on lap 20 as a deflated tyre sent him into the gravel at Paddock Hill. He took it in his stride though, happy just be quick and collect good data.
Behind Plato, the pack jostled for position. Priaulx and Shedden rapidly progressed and spent much of the race squabbling over second. Plato’s demise turned their fight into a battle for the lead. In the four laps that remained, the pair passed and re-passed each other. Shedden held the advantage going into the last corner, but Priaulx spotted an opportunity as the leader negotiated a back maker.
Coming onto the pit straight, the Honda and BMW were side-by-side, crossing the line almost level, Shedden squeaking through just 0.040 seconds ahead – about the length of his car’s front overhang. Team Dynamics-run Honda Yuasa Racing was absolutely ecstatic to achieve a win with the new Civic Type R so early, after the car was completed late and had relatively little testing.
Turkington rounded out the top three, followed by Adam Morgan and Andrew Jordan, putting in their best performances of the weekend.
Tenth-placed Rob Austin drew pole for the reversed-grid Race 3. Several incidents in the first couple of laps led to a lengthy safety car period. When the race resumed, he was hounded by Matt Neal in the second Honda Yuasa Racing entry and Goff.
Austin held on as long as he could, but Neal made his move on lap 21, taking Goff with him. Goff applied as much pressure as he could, but triple champion Neal soaked it up. At the finish the gap was 0.196 seconds – to underline the competitiveness of the field, no more than fourth tenths separated second from first all day.
Aron Smith took his second podium of the day with third, while Sam Tordoff had his best result with fourth. Austin held onto fifth and Tom Ingram repeated his Race 2 sixth place.
Neal and Goff leave Brands Hatch as joint championship leaders, both on 37 points. Aron Smith lies third with 36, followed by Priaulx on 34 and Shedden on 32.
Honda has a habit of building cars that produce results from the off, although no-one expected the squad to take a double win first time out. But fortunes were so up-and-down over the three races, we can’t really read anything into the results. Apart from the new Honda Civic Type R being extremely good. But we knew that, anyway…
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Race 1 top 10 finishers after 24 laps
- Rob Collard — Team JCT600 w/ GardX BMW 125i M Sport — 19:52.332
- Aron Smith — Team BMR Volkswagen CC — +0.411
- Jason Plato — Team BMR Volkswagen CC — +0.884
- Jack Goff — MG 888 Racing MG6 GT — +5.464
- Colin Turkington — Team BMR Volkswagen CC — +5.726
- Gordon Shedden — Honda Yuasa Racing Honda Civic Type R — +5.819
- Andrew Jordan — MG 888 Racing MG6 GT — +7.127
- Matt Neal — Honda Yuasa Racing Honda Civic Type R — +8.668
- Andy Priaulx — Team IHG Rewards Club BMW 125i M Sport — +9.974
- Tom Ingram — Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis — +11.260
Race 2 top 10 finishers after 24 laps
- Gordon Shedden — Honda Yuasa Racing Honda Civic Type R — 19:57.832
- Andy Priaulx — Team IHG Rewards Club BMW 125i M Sport — +0.040
- Colin Turkington — Team BMR Volkswagen CC — +1.131
- Adam Morgan — WIX Racing Mercedes A-Class — +4.646
- Andrew Jordan — MG 888 Racing MG6 GT — +5.229
- Tom Ingram — Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis — +5.566
- Sam Tordoff — Team JCT600 w/ GardX BMW 125i M Sport — +8.365
- Matt Neal — Honda Yuasa Racing Honda Civic Type R — +9.176
- Jack Goff — MG 888 Racing MG6 GT — +9.653
- Rob Austin — ExocetAlcosense Audi A4 — +12.826
Race 3 top 10 finishers after 27 laps
- Matt Neal — Honda Yuasa Racing Honda Civic Type R — 25:10.270
- Jack Goff — MG 888 Racing MG6 GT — +0.196
- Aron Smith — Team BMR Volkswagen CC — +1.706
- Sam Tordoff — Team JCT600 w/ GardX BMW 125i M Sport — +4.553
- Rob Austin — ExocetAlcosense Audi A4 — +4.719
- Tom Ingram — Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis — +5.662
- Adam Morgan — WIX Racing Mercedes A-Class — +7.537
- Andy Priaulx — Team IHG Rewards Club BMW 125i M Sport — +8.825
- Dave Newsham — Power Maxed Racing Chevrolet Cruze — +8.909
- Hunter Abbott — ExocetAlcosense Audi A4 — +9.157