The short, undulating Brands Hatch Indy circuit is always a formidable opponent, but introduce a mix of front’ and rear-wheel-driven machinery, 32 exceptional cars and drivers, with a downpour or two thrown-in for good measure, and you’re going to need many more sides to your lucky dice than six to be able to predict what might happen next.

It was fast, furious and bruising. If ever there was a fitting way to open the BTCC’s 60th season, then this was it.

But before the programme had even started, those who turned-up on Saturday to watch qualifying were treated to an exemplary display from Honda newcomer, Dan Cammish.

When faced with the task of replacing Gordon Shedden (the former double-champion), Team Dynamics knew that ‘good’ simply wasn’t good enough, they needed better. Enter Cammish. I’ve watched him since his early days in Formula Ford. He has the rarest of racing talents; he has finesse. His control, balance and confidence, all orchestrated into a record-breaking lap as he pushed onwards, ever faster and ever deeper. Only to be halted by the heartbreak of a self-inflicted wound (failing to stop in the pit lane for the weighbridge). It was such a rookie mistake from someone so used to living by the rulebook, and it cost the Yorkshireman dearly. Gone was a stunning pole position for his BTCC debut, yet it was plain for all to see that after only three races there is already a new hero in town, and perhaps more importantly, one of the few who can rise to the challenge of Colin Turkington.

As so often happens in the BTCC, what started-off in Race 1 as a familiar pattern of solid points scoring by race winner Jack Goff and P2 man Turkington was soon transformed into a Race 2 battle of judgement calls. As the cars left their garages, the rain was still falling, but by the time they arrived on the grid, it had stopped: It was too wet for slicks, but would soon become too dry for wets. If you’re in with a shout, you have to race with your head; if you’re not, then you can afford to race with your heart. And that’s how it played-out. The front-runners stayed on wets and found grip off the line, but those brave enough to risk the melee held-on until the dark grey tarmac lightened, propelling them ever faster out of each corner and stopping them ever quicker going-in.

It was a race where positions changed so rapidly that as the end drew-near, standing from my vantage point at the top of Paddock Hill bend, I genuinely had no idea who was leading, who was chasing and who was desperately holding-on. And then all of a sudden, the screams of the crowd turned into a roar, and into sight and across the line came the trio of Senna Proctor, Jake Hill and Ollie Jackson. And that was it. The race was over. The car starting in 27th had won, and the car that had started just in front (in 25th) was second. I’ve seen some epic encounters in my time; this one will now rank amongst them.

For the third and final race, we were treated to just a little more Alan Gow magic, this time with the Reverse Grid Pole Position being drawn in favour of Rob Austin and the debuting Alfa Giulietta. Austin and team boss Simon Belcher have worked relentlessly over the winter to develop their car into a winner and whilst it lacked the edge on this opening weekend, both car and driver held their nerve under relentless pressure to finish in a podium place.

What have we learned from Brands Hatch, and what we can now expect (as the season progresses)? I’m going to play it safe and say ‘more of the same’. There were 9 different podium finishers this weekend, which tells us just how close this season will be. But with an early call, I think that Turkington and Cammish will be the two who end-up battling for the drivers’ title, with Goff, Austin and Tom Ingram, followed closely by Aiden Moffat, Adam Morgan and Tom Chilton who will fight ever harder and closer for the Independents’ crown.

So here are twenty of our favourite images from the day, and please believe me when I say it was a difficult choice.

  • The grid of 2018 sees a return of many familiar faces, along with some talented newcomers and much-missed returnees. Here’s BMW’s Rob Collard, showing newcomer Tom Oliphant the way into Surtees, whilst former Independents’ Champion, James Nash, flashes by spectators on the banking.

  • (Left to Right) Winning and grinning: It’s not only the drivers who celebrate success after each race.

  • (Left to Right) Let’s hear it for the boys (and girls) of Ginetta Junior! Every year we think that it can’t get any better, but every year the teenage racers in Ginetta Junior prove us wrong.

  • (Left to Right) On the Grid: Paul O’Neill gets the pre-race thoughts of Colin Turkington, before the former double-champion settles into his pre-race focus.

  • (Left to Right) In action and ready for action: Mike Bushell made it clear that his return to the BTCC would be, in his words, about ‘sending it’. Meanwhile, whilst the cars assemble on the grid, the marshals prepare for just that.

  • (Left to Right) Turning Japanese: BTC Norlin Racing have switched to the former Team Dynamics Honda Civic Type R’s for 2018 and straight away, they’re in the points. Staying with his Type R for another season is Matt Simpson, who is clearly relishing the move to Eurotech as he races to his highest ever BTCC finish.

  • (Left to Right) Back to the support action: Paul Rivett is already a triple Clio Cup Champion. Here he is taking his first win of 2018. Meanwhile, British F4’s Ayrton Simmons might still only be 16 but this didn’t stop him throwing down the strongest challenge to a talent-laden international grid by almost scoring the perfect weekend (pole position, 2 wins and a P2).

  • (Left to Right) There was plenty going on in the outer paddock and spectator areas: Colin Turkington’s 2009 championship-winning BMW 320si E90 came along to cheer-on the Irishman as he campaigns for his third title. Meanwhile, over at BTC Norlin, James Nash makes an appearance before invited guests for a quick Q&A, and quite possibly, in honour of the team’s new Japanese partnership a spot of impromptu karaoke.

  • (Left to Right) The BTCC would be nothing without its fans. Mike Bushell knew that the fastest way around a wet but drying track would be to brave slicks. Here he is waiting to leave the pits.

  • (Left) Sometimes, winning means throwing caution to the wind. Senna Proctor, Jake Hill and Ollie Jackson all did this by changing early to slicks and are seen here crossing the line to complete a remarkable podium for Race 2. (Right) Senna Proctor dives into the pits.

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The next rounds (4, 5 & 6) of the 2018 British Touring Car Championship will take place at Donington Park at the end of this month, from April 28-29, with tickets available from just £28 in advance (online).

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Images: Lucy Laughton, Phil Laughton (PLP), Mike Hills (Hills Speed Images), Steve Hindle (The Black Stuff).