A record Brands Hatch crowd of 35,000 witnessed a dramatic British Touring Car Championsip season finale where Jason Plato became only the second person in the series history to take three wins in a day; but this wasn't enough to stop Colin Turkington to take his first BTCC crown.
The script couldn't have been written better. Going into the final round of the 30 race season, amazingly just eight points separated Turkington, Plato and outgoing double BTCC champion Fabrizio Giovanardi.
Tom Chilton shocked the paddock by taking Ford's first pole position in nine years and led Plato away from the start. Giovanardi got the best launch but was squeezed out by Chilton and Plato going into the first corner and had to back out to avoid contact, which is more than can be said of Matt Hamilton and Martin Johnson at the first corner. This resulted in the safety car coming out as Hamilton was stuck in the gravel. Meanwhile Johnson, although making it back to the pits, would not be seen again for the rest of the day.
Mat Jackson was also having a less than happy opening race as he was first hit halfway round the first lap by Matt Neal, who he had barged past the corner dropping him down the field, before having his own moment on lap five coming out of Clearways.
Lap ten saw two more cars exit as first, former Formula One racer Johnny Herbert got it wrong at Druids going straight into the gravel, while later round the same lap Gordon Shedden found the barrier after going straight on at Sheene curve.
Chilton had led the whole race impressively holding off Plato until the last lap and in fact the last corner. Plato got a better run off of the penultimate corner which forced Chilton to go defensive into the final corner, Clearways. Although he defended well, Chilton ran slightly wide allowing Plato to get the overlap. Plato won the drag race to the line and crossed the line 0.015s ahead of the Ford; the closest finish in BTCC history.
Chilton was far from down, however, and was able to take the positives out of the result saying, "I'm still very happy. The car led all the way to the last corner. Obviously I wanted the win very badly but a little bit of a mistake at the end and I couldn't quite get it."
Plato was also quick to praise Chilton and the Ford and said, "Tom drove a fantastic race. The Ford didn't use its tyres up like I thought it would. Over a lap there was no way of passing him. But I hoped he might tighten up a bit at the end because it would have been a big win for a Ford and I was able to move in. That gave me one last chance and it worked out. But I wouldn't want to leave it that late again..."
Behind Chilton were the three Vauxhalls of Giovanardi, Andrew Jordan and Matt Neal and this meant, with Giovanardi finishing on the podium and gaining more points on Turkington who finished down in eighth, the gap was closed to six points.
Behind the Vauxhalls were the two Airways BMW's, with Rob Collard finishing ahead of Jonny Adam. Paul O'Neill, who picked up the Fans Favourite driver of the year award before the race, was in ninth behind Turkington while Anthony Reid was 10th, picking up his first points since returning to the season.
Race 2 got under way in the finishing positions of race one and Chilton managed to get past Plato at the start. The safety car had to come out at the end of the lap and it was Hamilton who was again involved; this time being the unlucky victim as Herbert spun round Martyn Bell. Hamilton collided with Bell in the process.
Turkington had made a good start but was coming under pressure from Giovanardi's teammate Neal. As Neal tried to overtake Turkington, O'Neill tried to take advantage. Neal tried to hang on around the outside for a couple of corners but eventually O'Neill ran him wide coming out of Druids dropping Neal down the order.
This allowed Turkington to break free and he went on to pass Neal's team mate Jordan going into Paddock Hill bend. A lap later and he then passed Adam after running wide coming out of Sheene. However, there was less good news for one of Turkington's team mate Reid as Jackson spun him around at Surtees Corner.
It was Chilton still defending from Plato, hoping to make amends after the first race, but his luck was to run out on lap sixteen when Plato tapped Chilton into running wide at Druids. Giovanardi was keen to also get past quickly and went around the outside of the Focus and Surtees. This allowed Turkington to take advantage and got past both Collard and Chilton to third. With Chilton out of position this also allowed the two Airways BMW's of Collard and Adam past; so Chilton had dropped from first to sixth in just half a lap.
As this was happening Jordan was out of luck as he suffered a puncture around the ultra fast Hawthorns corner and, although just keeping it out of the barriers, lost all chance of a good result.
With all the chaos Plato made a break for it and ended up winning his second race of the day ahead of his two title challengers, Giovanardi and Turkington. Behind the title contenders were the two Airways BMW's of Collard and Adam, with the unlucky Chilton in sixth.
O'Neill finished 7th ahead of the recovering Matt Neal with Tom Onslow-Cole in the second Team Aon Focus and Gordon Shedden rounding off the top ten.
The championship fight couldn't have been closer going into the final race of the day and of the thirty-race season as, amazingly just 4 points separated Turkington and Giovanardi, who was going for his hat trick of titles, with Plato a further 4 points behind, going for his third win of the day.
The top eight were reversed on the grid, which meant Neal for Vauxhall, in their last race, was on pole with O'Neill alongside him. Neal initially led away but O'Neill made a poor get away dropping him down the field. Neal led until the third corner, Graham Hill bend, where he ran wide allowing Adam to take the lead. This slowed down the pursuing pack and Chilton made contact with Collard, sending him heavily into the barriers. There was more bad news for Airways BMW, as at the next corner Neal would tap Adam sending him into a spin, although he would continue. This allowed Turkington up the pack and Chilton got a run on Neal, which he defended going into the next corner, Hawthorns. This, however, allowed both Turkington and Giovanardi up to second and third respectively.
Giovanardi realized he quickly had to get past Turkington and tried around the outside of him going into Hawthorns, which Turkington defended and allowed Chilton to slip down the inside of him. By now Plato was also making his move up the field and, seeing this, Giovanardi made his move back past Chilton at Surtees. Unfortunately this also allowed Plato past.
Turkington was now in a Vauxhall sandwich and, fully aware of what Vauxhall's plan would be to get Neal to back Turkington into Giovanardi, Turkington dived down the inside of the Vectra at Druids. In doing so he ran wide on the exit and made quite heavy contact with Neal, which sent Neal wide on the grass allowing Giovanardi to move into second. There was more bad news for Neal on the same lap as Plato also barged past the former double champion sending him through the gravel at Sheene.
Plato by now had eyes on his third victory of the day and passed first Giovanardi, going around the outside of him down the start/finish straight after lost Giovanardi momentum trying to pass Turkington, and then straight around the outside of Turkington at the next corner, Paddock Hill. Amazingly this meant the top three in the championship title battle were running 1,2,3 on the road as well.
Plato was able to make a break but the battle was very much on for second between Giovanardi and Turkington. Then at the end of lap ten the decisive moment happened coming out of the last corner. Giovanardi tried to squeeze past the RAC BMW on the exit, but Turkington defended his position forcing the Italian onto the grass, which allowed Chilton back into third. Giovanardi tried everything to catch up to the Focus; even sometimes running with all four wheels on the grass, but by now his car had gone off and was unable to put up any further fight.
Jackson was also having a troubled race when he made contact with Shedden coming out of Druids, sending the pair both wide with Shedden scraping the barrier before continuing. Jackson then had a further bruising battle with the RAC BMW's of Stephen Jelley and Reid.
Jelley first barged his way past Jackson at Graham Hill bend before he instantly dived back down the inside going into the next corner. Although he would later fall back down the order after being knocked off on the last lap by Reid at Graham Hill and would eventually finish out of the points in 11th.
There was better news for his Racing Silverline teammate as Plato crossed the line for his hat trick of wins for the day, but the biggest news was that Turkington, as he crossed the line in second, would become 2009 BTCC champion at the end of an emotionally draining race.
Chilton would take a brilliant third ahead of Giovanardi who had just failed to give Vauxhall the perfect send off. A battered Neal would finish 5th ahead of the other two Team RAC BMW's of Jelley and Reid. Adam would recover from his first lap spin and take 8th ahead of another recovering driver, Shedden, with Pinkney taking the final points scoring position of the season.
At the end of a truly dramatic day and season it was an overwhelmed Turkington who became the first Northern Irishman, in front of four generations of Turkington's, to take the title, "It's everything I've worked for, I couldn't relax at all. The pressure coming into the day was already immense. Then after the first two races the emotion inside me was something else - I knew I was close but that it could still be taken away from me. After leading the season for so long I don't think I could have taken that. It was the race of my life. I had to get past Matt (Neal, Giovanardi's team-mate) because he was holding me up, backing me into Fabrizio and if he'd got past me I knew it would be over. So I went for it and got the lead. Jason then got us all with a great move, but so long as I was where I was I knew I was in the right place. I concentrated on driving the best two laps of my life at the end and then, when my team confirmed it over the radio, I just burst into tears. To have my family and so many more supporters come over from Ulster to be here makes it so special."
Plato couldn't have done anymore to take the championship by winning all three races and missed the title by just five points in the end. Although, as consolation he managed to pip Giovanardi to second in the final points, said afterwards, "Colin has driven fantastically well. He did everything right today in keeping his nose clean and attacking at the right moments. All I could do was try and win races and then hope something might happen behind, but you simply can't take anything away from Colin - he is a truly worthy Champion."
Outgoing double champion Giovanardi would eventually finish 9 points behind champion Turkington and said, "I have no hard feelings. It was just great to be in such an exciting fight to finish and even though it did not come my way this time I still really enjoyed that last race because at least I went down fighting. But Colin really deserves to be the Champion."
So sadly for Vauxhall Giovanardi couldn't give them the perfect send off after 20years of racing at the top, but they did manage to clinch the teams championship to go with the Manufacturers/Constructors championship which they had previously already one.
So that's how the 2009 championship was decided in one of the most dramatic and closest seasons witnessed in the BTCC and ending with Colin Turkington as a deserved champion. Hope you have enjoyed the coverage on Motorsport.com this season and although the 2010 dates have yet to be announced, if the action is half as good as this season you won't want to miss out.