News : Plato closes BTCC points gap at Silverstone
Words: Clive Goldthorp Photographs: BTCC Media Office
A massive 30,000-crowd witnessed three dramatic Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) races at the ‘Home of British Motor Racing’ last weekend with a 24-car field – the biggest of the year to date - taking to the famous Silverstone venue’s 1.64 mile National circuit for the penultimate BTCC Meeting of the year. MG KX Momentum Racing’s Jason Plato took his MG6 GT to two wins while the other victory was claimed by Redstone Racing’s Mat Jackson in his new, NGTC-spec Ford Focus.
Plato, some 32 points behind Championship leader and Honda Yuasa Racing Team driver, Gordon Shedden, after the previous BTCC Meeting at Rockingham, was in a determined mood: ‘Two words spring to mind this weekend regarding my mind-set…. “Maximum Attack” – enough said.’ Actions soon spoke louder than words – Plato set the pace in Saturday morning’s wet FP1 with a best lap of 1m 04.819s and was the only driver under the 1m 05s barrier.
Mat Jackson was next up in his Redstone Racing Ford Focus with a time of 1m 05.035s while the two factory-backed, Team Dynamics-run Honda Civics of BTCC title contenders Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden were eighth and fourteenth with the latter having only a brief run. Andy Neate, in the other MG KX Momentum Racing MG6 GT, was another to complete just a handful of laps and did not post a representative lap time as dry conditions were forecast for the rest of the weekend.
Indeed, the circuit had dried out sufficiently by the start of FP2 for dry weather, slick tyres to be used. Daniel Welch, in his family-run Welch Motorsport Proton Persona, was fastest with a time of 59.165s and pipped Plato’s Triple Eight Race Engineering-run MG6 GT by just 0.029s. The two Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civics of Neal and Shedden were back in twelfth and fifteenth although Shedden, Will Bratt in the Rob Austin Racing Audi A4 and Ollie Jackson in the AmD Racing Volkswagen Golf were all given black flags and excluded from the session for exceeding the track limits at Copse Corner. Plato’s team-mate, Andy Neate, was eleventh fastest on 59.792s after his MG6 GT developed a small technical problem.
However, Jason Plato was soon back at the top of the time sheets when Saturday afternoon’s Qualifying session began and he proceeded to procure his fifth pole position of the season – and his third in a row – with a time of 58.717s which established another Qualifying lap record. The two Championship leaders, Shedden and Neal, were in serious trouble with their Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civics. Neal, the current Champion, was only tenth and Shedden a diastrous nineteenth – both, though, had expected their cars’ lack of straightline speed to hamper them on the National circuit’s straights. Andy Neate took the other MG6 GT round in a best time of 59.326s for a solid twelfth but was just .356s away from achieving an all-MG front row.
Jason Plato remarked: ‘Gordon only nineteenth – that’s a shame, isn’t it? You shouldn’t wish ill on your rivals… but I do. Hopefully, the conditions will stay dry for tomorrow because clearly we’re in great shape and a good points haul will really make this Championship come alive for us. Things have a way of evening themselves out and maybe here it’s our turn after some bad luck.’
Team-mate Andy Neate was moderately pleased with his Qualifying effort:’ P12 is not too bad today, considering how close the session was today. I had a little bit of understeer in the car which meant I struggled a little on exit speed but, having looked at the data, we understand this now and a change in the suspension should hopefully sort it for tomorrow!’
MG KX Momentum Racing’s Team Principal, Ian Harrison, observed: ‘I’m very pleased with that, Jason on pole is important - his third in a row is a great performance and you can’t ask any more than that, but the big points are tomorrow. Andy did a good job – another tenth of a second and he would have been sixth - so it’s positive for tomorrow on both sides of the garage.’
The Autumn sun had broken through the Sunday morning fog by the time the build-up for Round 25 began and the race conditions were bright and dry. Jason Plato and Mat Jackson dominated the race with Plato’s MG KX Momentum Racing MG6 GT leading until Lap 11 when Jackson’s Motorbase Performance-run Ford Focus swept past into Brooklands Corner and established a new lap record. However, when the Focus’ throttle failed on the exit of Becketts Corner, Plato regained the lead and took his fifth win of the year from the ES Racing Vauxhall Vectra of Dave Newsham and Jackson’s team-mate Aron Smith, who was on the BTCC podium for the first time in his career.
Championship leader Shedden salvaged seventh while his team-mate, Matt Neal, retired the other Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civic with turbo boost problems. The result meant Shedden still led the Championship but that Plato’s points deficit was reduced from 32 points to 19 points. Andy Neate’s MG6 GT collided with the Pirtek Racing Honda Civic of Championship contender Andrew Jordan who went into an immediate retirement. Jordan was, understandably, annoyed as the incident severely affected his outright Championship chances and also halted his charge to the Independent Drivers’ crown. Neate, who finished twelfth, was fined £500 and his Race Licence endorsed with three penalty points for causing the incident.
Plato commented on the victory and told the BTCC’s website: ‘Mat drove a great race and there was no point fighting him when he made his move – I wanted us to get away from the rest and then sort it out later. In the end, it was gifted to me, nevertheless, it’s a great result.’
Ironically, in a stark demonstration of the adage ‘what goes round, comes round’, Mat Jackson’s Redstone Racing NGTC-spec Ford Focus won Round 26 after a stunning drive through the field from seventeenth on the grid – but only after Jason Plato’s race-leading MG6 GT had suddenly slowed and stopped on the Start-Finish straight with a crank sensor failure! Matt Neal also posted a high profile and, if anything, even more dramatic retirement when flames poured from his Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civic’s exhaust and he had to make an emergency stop at the side of the track to minimise the fire damage.
Neal’s team-mate, Gordon Shedden, finished seventh and so further increased his lead over Neal at the top of the Championship standings to 21 points with Plato 27 points adrift in third. Plato’s team-mate, Andy Neate, finished one lap down in eighteenth – his MG6 GT had picked up a puncture as a consequence of contact with the Rob Austin Racing-run Audi A4 of Will Bratt.
Nick Foster’s eBay Motors BMW 320si came out on top in the draw for Round 27′s reverse grid. However, that had no impact on the two MG KX Momentum Racing drivers with Andy Neate’s MG6 GT starting from eighteenth and Jason Plato’s similar car from twentieth on the grid. Foster soon pulled clear at the start and left a whole group of cars to fight their way ahead of the underpowered NGTC Honda Civics of Andrew Jordan and Gordon Shedden.
Meanwhile, Jason Plato had used his MG6 GT’s impressive traction to stunning effect and was soon challenging Mat Jackson’s Redstone Racing Ford Focus for sixth position. Plato took the place on Lap 6 and then rapidly overcame the Honda Civics of Shedden and Jordan as well as the eBay Motors BMW 320si of Rob Collard. Plato’s next target was the race leader, Foster, and a great run out of Luffield saw him take the lead at the end of Lap 12. Mat Jackson, whose Ford Focus was carrying the maximum 45kgs of success ballast, passed Foster for second exiting Copse with five laps to go but there was no catching the leader. Plato therefore took his second victory of the day and his sixth of the season – he also claimed a bonus point for setting the race’s fastest lap.
Gordon Shedden finished sixth but his team-mate, Matt Neal, in the other Honda Yuasa Racing Team car posted his third DNF of the day – contact with Lea Wood’s BINZ Racing Vauxhall Vectra sent his Honda Civic spinning into the barriers exiting Brooklands Corner. Neal therefore failed to score a single point all day…
A jubilant Plato told the BTCC’s website: ‘I put everything on the line in that one – after the retirement in [Round 26] I had to if I was going to still have any sort of chance going to Brands. It was great fun and it’s a great win but it underlines just how fantastic our MG6 is.’ Andy Neate, who posted a DNF in Round 27, was contrastingly underwhelmed with his weekend and said: ‘A disappointing day for me today, considering that we had good pace in the car, just one points finish is not a great return. However, starting in the mid-field for each race as I did today, increases your likelihood of getting involved in accidents and it showed today. Onwards and upwards towards the final at Brands now, I guess.’
Team Principal, Ian Harrison, summarised MG KX Momentum Racing’s weekend at the team’s local track – Triple Eight Race Engineering’s base is just nine miles from Silverstone at Greatworth in Oxfordshire – as follows: ‘Three great races from Jason today, the DNF in [Round 26] has hurt us though, but a good job by Jason as always. Andy’s had an unfortunate day getting tangled up with various people, which is a shame, as his overall pace this weekend was stronger than his results show.’
Honda Yuasa Racing Team driver Matt Neal’s three DNFs mean that he now lies third in the Championship standings with an unchanged 333 points. However, as a result of his two wins, Jason Plato moves into second with 349 points while Gordon Shedden has 364 points and so takes a 15 point advantage into the final BTCC Meeting of the year at Brands Hatch in Kent on the 20th and 21st October, 2012. Plato and the MG KX Momentum Racing crew seem to have nailed the MG6 GT’s handling at just the right time and he is clearly ready for the challenge saying: ‘My tail is in the air going into Brands Hatch, I’m confident we will have the best car and a just 15 point gap to the top is very do-able. Game on.’