This weekend saw the opening three races of the new 2011 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season, and fans discovered that in the 5-month hiatus since last season the competition had lost none of its close-fought rivalry, or its thrills and (plenty) of spills.

Jason Plato and Matt Neal shared the wins (2:1) which saw Plato, the reigning Champion, become the most successful BTCC driver ever – with 62 career wins, overtaking the legendary Andy Rouse’s record of 60 wins.

Fastest car on the day was clearly Honda’s BTCC Civic, in which Neal shattered Brands’s BTCC qualifying lap record on Saturday and then subsequently break the record again during Sunday’s race. Neal was unable to convert his pole position in the first race after being unceremoniously spun (a.k.a. punted) into retirement by Plato’s overly ambitious team mate Alex MacDowall. Plato went on to an unchallenged win, followed home by the impressive youngster James Nash, second in his 888 Racing Vectra – powered by an NGTC-spec turbo engine.

MacDowall subsequently earned his just rewards via the stewards office, receiving 3 penalty points on his competition licence and a fine of £1000 for the incident in Race 1; then 20 seconds time penalty and 3 penalty points for an incident in Race 3, and finally to crown it off he was awarded 1 penalty point and fined £150 for late attendance at the Drivers Briefing. The young Chevrolet driver will need to start racking up points on the track, rather than the stewards office if he’s to remain driving for the team in 2011.

The other talking point of the day was inevitably the gap in straight-line performance between the turbocharged cars and those (such as Plato’s) which remain powered by a normally aspirated S2000 engine. Plato was characteristically glum about the disadvantages he faced, despite his double-win, so the politicking has already begun for what is bound to be a close season, but one which is likely to see Plato and Neal as regular front-runners.

Plato said after the event: “Given the gap to Matt in qualifying I didn’t expect to be leading this early, but the chances came our way and we capitalised. Beating Andy Rouse’s record is also a lovely bonus – he’s one of the legendary names who I used to watch as a kid and it’s actually hard to believe that 14 years have passed since I got my first win when I first came into the BTCC in 1997! But I’m already thinking more about the next meeting at Donington – the circuit lay-out there will make the turbos much harder to beat and I suspect we’re going to be in for more than just a tough weekend.”

Roll on Donington Park on 16 – 17 April.

Drivers Standings (after races 1,2 &3)

Pos. Driver Car Points
1. Jason Plato Chevrolet Cruze – S2000 38
2. Mat Jackson Ford Focus ST – S2000-NGTC (Turbo) 30
3. James Nash Vauxhall Vectra – S2000-NGTC (Turbo) 26
4. Gordon Shedden Honda Civic – S2000-NGTC (Turbo) 25
5. Matt Neal Honda Civic – S2000-NGTC (Turbo) 23
6. Paul O’Neill Chevrolet Cruze – S2000 20
7. Tom Chilton Ford Focus ST (2011) – S2000-NGTC (Turbo) 16
8. Alex MacDowall Chevrolet Cruze – S2000 8
9. Robert Collard BMW 320si – S2000 6
10. Andrew Jordan Vauxhall Vectra – S2000-NGTC (Turbo) 5