The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship roared back into life this past weekend (1/2 April) at Brands Hatch with all-out action and three different race winners gracing the top step of the podium.
In front of a packed-out crowd, the 32-car strong grid kicked off the new campaign in fine style as Tom Ingram, Gordon Shedden and Andrew Jordan all t
Not short on producing the unpredictable, qualifying saw red flag stoppages and rain play its part on deciding the grid for the opening encounter of the year. Being on the circuit at the right time, Eurotech Racing's Jeff Smith took a surprise pole position as heavy rain halted anybody's chances of improving with ten minutes to go.
Smith's maiden pole was to be the crowning glory of his weekend however as he was unable to convert it into a victory in race one.
Producing a carbon copy of last year's season-opener, Speedworks Motorsport's Ingram underlined the development of the Toyota Avensis to take a dominant lights-to-flag victory around the Indy circuit. Drama began almost instantly in race one at Colin Turkington and Matt Neal came together off the start, bringing the first safety car of the day.
On the restart, Ingram stretched his legs to take a commanding win whilst Smith toppled down the order before retiring at the halfway stage. Gordon Shedden and Adam Morgan rounded off the podium with the Mercedes driver heaping pressure on the defending champion all the way to the line.
Race two saw even more drama take place, again on the start line as the lights went out. Jason Plato found himself pitched into the concrete pit wall and suffering substantial damage to his Subaru Levorg - a car that wouldn't make race three. Walking away unhurt, Plato's demise saw the red flag waved and a full restart take place.
Off the line, the ballast-ladened Ingram launched his Avensis into an early lead but soon succumbed to the rapid Shedden. The man everyone was keeping an eye on however further down the field was Team BMW's Rob Collard, who was picking drivers off one-by-one.
Drawing up behind Ingram, Collard made his move at Paddock Hill Bend on lap 20 and set off in pursuit of the Halfords Yuasa Racing Type R but ran out of laps to get close enough for a move. Shedden's victory, his third in succession in round two of the BTCC, saw him further cement his position at the top of the standings. Ingram rounded off the rostrum to collect yet more silverware.
With the sun setting at Brands Hatch, the reverse grid encounter saw a familiar name and manufacturer drawn onto pole position. Following the exclusion of Rob Austin in race two, Tom Chilton was promoted to eighth and selected at random to start from pole position in his new Vauxhall Astra.
Nailing the start, the Power Maxed Racing driver could do nothing to stop the BMW of Jordan slicing through the front row into a lead he would ultimately never lose. Running the soft tyre, Chilton began to close on Jordan during the mid-point of the 24-lap encounter but was unable to make a move on the Pirtek Racing.
Turkington's fightback from a race one retirement saw his carve his way through the top ten and he was soon on the tail of Chilton, who after valiantly defending for several laps, dropped to third. That left Turkington to hunt down his new team-mate and the Northern Irishman did just that.
Hounding Jordan on the penultimate lap, the double champion filled the mirrors of the Red Bull athlete but was unable to take the win, despite contact being made at the final corner. That left Jordan to lead a BMW 1-2 whilst Chilton took a memorable podium finish to round off a stellar day of racing.
In the overall standings, Shedden heads into the next event with a six point advantage at the top of the points whilst Morgan emerged from the weekend in the lead of the Independents' driver standings. Senna Proctor gave Power Maxed Racing even more to smile about by sweeping all three victories in the Jack Sears Trophy.
Championship standings following the first event of the season can be found here.
The BTCC heads to Donington Park on the Easter weekend (15/16th April) for rounds four, five and six of the 2017 campaign.