DOUBLE WIN GIVES FABRIZIO GIOVANARDI SERIES LEAD AFTER OPENING RACES AT THRUXTON Fabrizio Giovanardi, 2010, Vauxhall Vectra, Thruxton The UK's premier motor racing series, the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, burst back into life at...
DOUBLE WIN GIVES FABRIZIO GIOVANARDI SERIES LEAD AFTER OPENING RACES AT THRUXTON
Fabrizio Giovanardi, 2010, Vauxhall Vectra, Thruxton The UK's premier motor racing series, the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, burst back into life at a sunny Thruxton circuit with two wins for 2007 and 2008 champion Fabrizio Giovanardi plus a debut victory for Steven Kane. The Italian maestro's double takes him to the top of the championship standings after the first of ten rounds and came in extraordinary circumstances.
The touring car legend feared he would be forced to miss this BTCC season following Vauxhall's decision not to field a factory team in 2010. However a last minute one-off deal for Thruxton - only announced on the eve of the event - saw Giovanardi back behind the wheel of his familiar Vauxhall Vectra, this time as an independent entry under the Uniq Racing with Triple Eight banner.
"I was retired, now I'm leading the championship and, perhaps, I'm retired again!" shrugged Giovanardi. "The team has worked very hard to put this together so late and it's great that I've been able to repay them with these results… but the future is still unclear."
A large holiday crowd gathered in the Easter Day sunshine at the superfast Hampshire circuit and they were rewarded with three action-packed showdowns screened live on ITV4.
The opening race of the eagerly anticipated season was predictably drama-packed with the two Honda Civics of pole-sitter Gordon Shedden and Matthew Neal challenging hard during the early laps. The two Honda Racing Team cars, though, both suffered tyre deflations before mid-distance. Neal managed to limp back to the pits and eventually finished 12th; Shedden's exit was even more dramatic - the Scot's ailing Civic leaving the circuit at more than 125mph and hitting the trackside barriers.
Honda's troubles handed second place to Jason Plato in his Silverline Chevrolet Cruze - last year's runner-up admitting that he'd opted for a conservative chassis set-up to preserve Dunlop rubber on a circuit that's renowned for excessive tyre wear.
Mat Jackson completed the podium places. The Airwaves BMW driver spent the opening laps battling behind the two Team Aon Ford Focuses of Tom Onslow-Cole and Tom Chilton. The BMW driver finally managed to pass both LPG-powered Fords, which also then succumbed to tyre deflations.
Giovanardi then made it two wins out of two with a dominant victory from pole position in the second race. While the Italian made his escape, his pursuers were involved in several tight tussles. Plato made the most of his front row starting position to hold second place for most of the 16-lap encounter but he was under pressure throughout.
Paul O'Neill (Sunshine.co.uk) led the chase in the early laps but he was caught and passed by Neal's hard-charging Honda Civic in the closing stages. Neal then mounted an escalating challenge on Plato. On the penultimate lap the dueling duo clashed on the approach to the Club Chicane. Plato spun back to fourth position behind a delighted O'Neill, while Neal grabbed second spot - a great fight back from 12th place on the grid following his issues in the opening race.
Race three saw the top nine finishers from race two starting in reverse order. Rob Collard (WSR BMW) led away from pole position chased by the two Airwaves BMWs of Steven Kane and Jackson with Neal hot on their heels. The Honda racer was quickly by Jackson and, at the end of lap six, tried an even more audacious move around the outside of both Kane and Collard at the Club Chicane. Contact seemed inevitable - the Civic struck the leading BMW, destroying the hopes of both drivers.
The controversial incident left Kane and Jackson clear to score an emotional one-two victory for Airwaves BMW with Plato fending off late challenges from first Giovanardi and then Shedden to complete the podium.
Plato was happy with his two podiums that give him second place in the standings as the teams head to Rockingham for round two in three weeks time. "We targeted 30 points here and our game plan was to adopt a very conservative approach with the car. It's very easy to be over-aggressive with the chassis set-up and suffer punctures. It's not worth taking any risks at this stage - come Rockingham we'll be on maximum attack!"