The first three races of the 2009 British Touring Car Championship may have lacked the usual outcome of season debuts – ie. half the cars ending up as scrap – but it certainly didn't lack for action.
Initially pole man Mat Neal lost the lead off the line to the Rob Collard and Colin Turkington's BMWs.
There was the usual dogfight on the sprint down to Paddock: Jonathan Adam's BMW was fired off the track as Stephen Jelly's BMW was sandwiched by Adam and Gordon Shedden's Civic. He headed towards the barrier, almost taking me with him. Adam picked up a puncture and was out of the race.
Almost immediately a brief safety car period was called so the track could be cleared, but the race soon restarted with Collard leading. Collard soon dropped back as the battle between Neal and Turkington picked up: they swapped places several times before Neal managed to get an advantage.
Defending champion Fabrizio Giovanardi fought his way through the pack after bogging down at the start, his usual speed and guile getting him back up to second by the end.
Behind them was a close scrap between the bio-fuel powered SEAT Lèon of Adam Jones and Jason Plato in the scratch RML Chevy.
The Arena Focus team weren't able to stay with the leading pack, but the car is very early in its development cycle.
So the season opens with a 1-2 for the works Vauxhall squad: will they dominate now the main SEAT factory opposition is gone?
Race One results
1: Matt Neal (Vauxhall) 24:37.729
2: Fabrizio Giovanardi (Vauxhall) +0.400
3: Colin Turkington (WSR BMW) +0.895
4: Rob Collard (Motorbase BMW) +3.300
5: Adam Jones (SEAT) +6.217
6: Jason Plato (RML Chevrolet) +11.304
7: Stephen Jelley (WSR BMW) +11.306
8: Harry Vaulkhard (Tempus Chevrolet) +13.977
9: Dan Eaves (SEAT) +15.103
10: Martyn Bell (Honda Integra) +15.381
The grid for race two is set by the finishing order of the first race: Neal took the pole, but once again the fast-starting rear wheel drive BMWs of Turkington and Collard were able to blast ahead.
Martin Johnson's privateer old-shape Astra was beaten up pretty badly into Druids and left with some serious rear damage to the car.
Andrew Jordan (driving the third works Vectra) and Shedden fought their way from the back of the grid to strong finishes.
John George put in a brave fight in his replacement Integra: his last one was completely destroyed in a frightening barrel roll at the final round of the 2008 season. The tourers all pop up onto three or even two wheels round Graham Hill bend.
Football team boss Dave Pinkney has swapped to the Dynamics Honda team – his best chance yet of points finishes.
Neal, Jelly and Giovanardi had a close fight, but Giovanardi's Vauxhall was hit with a puncture with five laps to go and dropped out.
Collard shadowed Turkington throughout the race before forcing his way through at Druids, the tight hairpin, on the penultimate lap.
Race Two results
1: Rob Collard (Motorbase BMW) 20:10.761
2: Colin Turkington (WSR BMW) +1.026
3: Matt Neal (Vauxhall) +3.258
4: Stephen Jelley (WSR BMW) +3.654
5: Andrew Jordan (Vauxhall) +15.464
6: Gordon Shedden (Dynamics Honda) +18.714
7: Adam Jones (SEAT) +19.218
8: Dan Eaves (SEAT) +19.552
9: Jonathan Adam (Motorbase BMW) +23.022
10: Jason Plato (RML Chevrolet) +24.790
Pole for the third race is set from a draw: Plato's number 10 spot was picked, so his Chevy lined up first on the grid.
But Adam pretty much rammed the Chevy into Paddock on lap two and grabbed the lead. Somehow Plato held the tank slapper and kept the car pointing in the right direction.
The Clyde Valley SEAT squad managed another strong showing, getting both their cars to points finishes in all three races, and showing that some racing drivers can learn the idea that you don't take your team-mate out.
Collard and Jelly's intra-BMW fight got physical: they came together at Druids and put each other off, forcing Giovanardi to drive off the circuit in avoidance. He picked up damage that meant he also had to retire.
Vaulkhard's Chevy Lacetti put in solid performances over the weekend: his team hope to have a second car out later in the season.
Neal, Turkington and Plato scrapped over second the whole race, but Plato managed to hold on as the other two cars slowed each other down in their efforts to get position.
Martyn Bell, another in a privateer Integra, managed two 10th places: a good weekend for him.
Chilton and Morrison's Focus team will have to put in some serious development to catch the pack. Motorbase on the other hand appeared to have a dream weekend, with their result in the second race followed up with another win, this time by the sister car of series newcomer Jonathan Adam. However, after the race Adam was judged to have taken the lead by knocking Plato out of the way; he was hit with a four second penalty, dropping him to second and promoting Plato to the win.
This is the corner that makes Brands: Paddock Hill Bend.
Race Three results
1: Jason Plato (RML Chevrolet) 22.345
2: Jonathan Adam (Motorbase BMW) +0.155
3: Matt Neal (Vauxhall) +4.123
4: Colin Turkington (WSR BMW) +4.245
5: Gordon Shedden (Dynamics Honda) +6.115
6: Dan Eaves (SEAT) +9.731
7: Adam Jones (SEAT) +10.502
8: Rob Collard (Motorbase BMW) +10.599
9: Harry Vaulkhard (Tempus Chevrolet) +11.302
10: Martyn Bell (Honda Integra) +21.067
Round 2 is at Thruxton on April 26.
- Jonathan Moore