News : Plato still on top in the BTCC after Thruxton
Words: Clive Goldthorp Photographs: BTCC Media Office
The combination of the UK’s fastest race circuit and what ITV4 Commentator and former Champion, Tim Harvey, described as ‘absolutely atrocious’ conditions ensured that this weekend’s Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship meeting at Thruxton in Hampshire was an eventful one.
MG KX Momentum Racing’s Jason Plato was one of the first to fall foul of the damp-but-drying conditions during Qualifying on Saturday with an off at the 140mph Church corner which saw his MG6 GT charge through one tyre barrier and over a second before what an unhurt Plato described as a ‘fairly soft landing.’ Plato observed that was ‘a shame, though, because I was on my best lap at that point…’ Anyway, his time of 1m 17.807s was still good enough for P2 on the grid, being just 0.824s behind pole-sitter Andrew Jordan in the Pirtek Racing Honda Civic.
The Qualifying session, which had been red flagged after Plato’s crash, was again stopped with a minute left on the clock when his team-mate, Andy Neate, and Rob Austin’s RAR Audi A4 had separate but equally heavy crashes exiting the rapid Goodwood-Village section of the track. Neate’s time of 1m 20.883s saw him in P16 but still ahead of the two works Honda Yuasa Racing Team Honda Civics of Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal, who were down in P18 and P19 with Neal having had an off of his own at Allard. The MG KX Momentum Racing crew were reportedly working until nearly 2.00am on Sunday morning in order to repair the cars.
The first of Sunday’s three races, Round 7 of the BTCC, was won by the Redstone Racing Ford Focus of Mat Jackson in appallingly wet conditions but only after a first corner tangle between Jordan and Plato had sent the former into the barriers on the inside of the track and the latter onto the grass on the outside. Plato, though, was able to resume in fifth and had clawed his way back up to third when the race was red flagged – Liam Griffin had crashed his Redstone Racing Ford Focus heavily at Allard. The second MG KX Momentum Racing MG6 GT of Andy Neate was the last classified finisher in sixteenth place. Interestingly, Plato admitted to ITV4′s Louise Goodman that he had been on the radio to Team Principal, Ian Harrison, suggesting that the race should be stopped because of the conditions and commented ‘maybe I’m not as brave as I used to be!’
A dominant Gordon Shedden’s Honda Yuasa Racing Team Honda Civic won Round 8 from P6 on the grid with Plato crossing the line in second, having passed Mat Jackson’s Redstone Racing Ford Focus on Lap 13, and increasing his Championship lead to 13 points over his closest challenger, Shedden. Plato said: ‘The conditions this time weren’t as bad as in race one but there was no stopping Gordon in that one. In these conditions it’s important just to get to the end and second place is still a big chunk of points.’ Team-mate Andy Neate was again just out of the points in sixteenth.
Fife-based racer Shedden was again victorious in Round 9 and led home team-mate Matt Neal in a Honda Yuasa Racing Team 1-2. Plato finished fourth having subjected a determined, third-placed Frank Wrathall’s Dynojet Toyota Avensis under considerable pressure for the final five laps. Andy Neate retired his MG6 GT on the sixth lap after what must have been another character-building weekend.
However, Shedden’s second victory of the day meant that Plato’s Championship lead was reduced and so he left Thruxton with the same four point lead which he had after the BTCC Meeting at Donington Park a fortnight ago. ITV4′s Tim Harvey reckoned that the Scot had adapted to the new NGTC Honda Civic more quickly than reigning BTCC Champion, Matt Neal, and commented: ‘Shedden has made a very strong statement [today] – he is a man who is absolutely going for this Championship.’
Plato, though, remains optimistic: ‘We’ve had zero running in the wet before with the MG so to take away a big points haul on a rainy day is very pleasing. We’ve got a big Test Programme planned between now and Oulton which should really enable us to make big gains with the car.’
Mind you, the rest of the BTCC grid will also be using the six week break until Rounds 10, 11 and 12 at Oulton Park on the 9th and 10th June, 2012 to develop and test their cars – and hoping that, by then, some summer weather will have arrived!