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Collard claims impressive victory in season opener

Rob Collard has won the opening round of the 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship with a flawless performance in his WSR-run BMW at Brands Hatch. VW duo Aron Smith and Jason Plato finished second and third respectively.

Collard made a supreme getaway from fifth on the grid, blasting by the Team BMR trio of Smith, Plato and Colin Turkington by the time the impressive stream of tin-top machines reached Druids Hairpin for the first time.

Pole-sitter Andy Priaulx looked comfortable in the early stages, setting a series of fast lap times having chosen to run the Dunlop Sport Maxx soft tyres in the season curtain raiser. The Guernseyman began to struggle shortly after mid-distance, however, and he dropped to fourth in a blink of an eye.

Collard first squeezed by on the run to Paddock Hill Bend on lap 15, which led to Smith and Plato immediately pouncing before Priaulx could settle his car on the exit of the corner. Fourth quickly became seventh when the fast-starting Jack Goff slipped his MG through, taking Turkington and Gordon Shedden’s all-new Honda Civic Type R with him.

Whilst the lead trio remained barely a second apart until the finish it was the scrap for fourth that provided the main entertainment in the closing stages. With the soft tyres on Goff’s machine now hanging on to their performance, the young talent had to fend off the attentions of two illustrious title winners behind him. The MG 888 Racing driver hung on well while Turkington just kept fifth as both he and Shedden finished almost side-by-side as the chequered flag fell.

Priaulx had fallen to ninth by the finish after Andrew Jordan’s MG and Matt Neal’s Honda made relatively light work of the struggling BMW. Triple champion Neal had endured a wild start to the season after a coming together with WSR’s Sam Tordoff on the opening lap, which both were lucky to get away with, whilst the Chevrolet of Dave Newsham completed a half spin in sympathy of the incident ahead of him. Tom Ingram completed the top ten order after recovering from a poor start.

Josh Cook enjoyed an impressive BTCC debut by scoring championship points in 13th and winning the Jack Sears Trophy, which this season is an all-out race for rookie drivers. All but one of the 26 starters finished in what was a clean and mechanically reliable contest.

Plato will start race two from pole position by virtue of setting the fastest lap. Priaulx will start alongside him and will look to bounce back after a challenging return bow in the BTCC.

Rob Collard said: “First blood is absolutely key in this championship – to go out and command a victory like that is a great feeling. Overtaking Andy felt good too – I know he’s my team-mate but overtaking a world champion is always going to feel pretty special! I’ve got the most experience in this car and went a different direction to the other guys on tyre choice and it’s definitely paid off. I could see Andy was struggling and had to make the move before I came under pressure from behind. Any victory in the BTCC is a big deal, it’s been an epic day for the Collard family so far [Rob’s son won the earlier MSA Formula race].”

Aron Smith said: “It’s a great way to start the year – I wanted to be on the podium and we’ve achieved that. This championship is about scoring points, so I’m over the moon. I know it’s very early, but it has to start now. Being sensible is key – to be fair Rob drove well, he didn’t leave any gaps and I wasn’t going to risk making a gap in the first race of the year. These stealth VWs look awesome, so let’s keep them up the front!”

Jason Plato said: “It’s a great result for the team to start the year. Warren Scott [Team Principal] needs a great deal of praise, it’s ace to be involved. Our intent has been shown – the pace is in the car and we’ve got improvements to make. It was my game plan not to push too hard in the first few laps, get myself some room and then put in a lap time for race two grid position. That definitely worked and now we’re at the front for the next one.”

Click here for the final classification of Round 1 of the 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship from Brands Hatch.

Click here for the grid for Round 2 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. 

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