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Collard leads the pace in BTCC first practice

Saturday, March 31 2012

Rob Collard set the pace in the opening practice session ahead of this weekend's first round of the British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch. The BMW driver's best time was just two tenths ahead of Rob Austin in the Audi A4, with Collard's team mate Tom Onslow-Cole third. The title-defending Hondas endured a troubled session, whilst the new MGs were still finding their feet.

Reigning champion Matt Neal and 2011 runner-up Gordon Shedden led the cars out of the pitlane, however the latter, who endured a troubled shakedown yesterday, slowed dramatically on his second tour past the pits. Completing the lap after a brief stoppage, the number 52 Honda returned to the garage, an early indication that all was not well for the champion team.

Austin led the field in the opening minutes, adding further proof to the predictions that this will be the most open season of competition in years. Whilst he continued to revel in the handling of his Audi, many of his opponents, including the new MGs, were diving in and out of the pitlane for adjustments.

Andrew Jordan gave the Honda fans hope with his Pirtek Racing Civic lapping within half a second of Austin, whilst the works team were working on an electrical issue. The cars of both Neal and Shedden were barely able to complete a lap without returning to the garage and with Shedden parked on the exit of Paddock Hill, a red flag was called with 25 minutes remaining.

In the Honda's absence at the top of the timesheets, Dave Newsham was delivering on his promising testing form in the ES Racing Vectra, running second at the time of the stoppage, whilst Oliver Jackson, Frank Wrathall and Chris James were also performing well.

Mat Jackson started to improve his pace at the halfway point, getting to within a couple of tenths of Austin, who then lost his headline time to WSR's Rob Collard, the first man under the 49-second barrier. Team mate Tom Onslow-Cole then picked up speed, whilst Austin still remained at the sharp end of the field.

Shedden then stopped on the track again, and with John Thorne's Insignia in the tyre wall at Paddock Hill, the session was halted at three-quarter distance. The extended stoppage gave the teams time to work on setups for the final ten minutes. However they barely had five minutes' running before Oliver Jackson's Golf entered the gravel trap at Paddock Hill. With the session already having overrun, the chequered flag was shown.

Behind the top three, Jordan just failed to pip Onslow-Cole for third, whilst Mat Jackson established a good base from which to launch an attack later. Newsham's pace was also impressive, whilst further back Adam Morgan was an impressive 10th in his debut session, just ahead of Matt Neal's Honda, which was able to keep within a second of the pace. Shedden ended up 21st, with Andy Neate's MG two tenths faster than team mate Plato's example. The second practice session takes place at 12:40 today.

Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, Free Practice 1 times:

1, Rob Collard, eBay Motors, BMW 320si, 48.932s
2, Rob Austin, Rob Austin Racing, Audi A4, +0.197s
3, Tom Onslow-Cole, eBay Motors, BMW 320si, +0.327s
4, Andrew Jordan, Pirtek Racing, Honda Civic, +0.338s
5, Mat Jackson, Redstone Racing, Ford Focus ST, +0.344s
6, Dave Newsham, Team ES Racing.com, Vauxhall Vectra, +0.401s
7, Aron Smith, Redstone Racing, Ford Focus ST, +0.774s
8, Frank Wrathall, Dynojet, Toyota Avensis, +0.782s
9, Nick Foster, eBay Motors, BMW 320si, +0.819s
10, Adam Morgan, Speedworks Motorsport, Toyota Avensis, +0.840s

Tickets for the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch are available on the gate from £13. For more information call 0843 453 9000 or click here.