News : Plato finishes third in BTCC at Brands Hatch
Words: Clive Goldthorp Photographs: BTCC Media Office
The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) headed to the legendary 2.43 mile Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit in Kent last weekend for the final three rounds of the 2012 campaign with the two MG KX Momentum Racing MG6 GTs sporting an all-new race livery in aid of Cancer Research UK – KX and Momentum 99 owner Tesco PLC’s ‘Charity of the Year.’ The company aims to raise £10m for the funding of early detection and diagnosis projects around the UK and the striking pink and white design encouraged fans to make £1 donations by text.
Jason Plato went into the last BTCC Meeting of the year just 15 points adrift of Championship leader Gordon Shedden in the Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civic and clearly rated his chances of overhauling Shedden for the BTCC crown, saying: ‘Well, this is it, 27 races done and just 3 to go. The BTCC Finale at Brands Hatch has been a happy hunting ground for me in the past and I hope it will be again on Sunday. It is my favourite circuit on the calendar. My tail is high in the air, I have genuine confidence that my MG will have real pace. Let the battle for the most prestigious crown in British Motorsport begin.’
Team-mate Andy Neate added: ‘It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were heading to Brands Hatch with the brand new MG6, which I hadn’t even driven at that point! Heading back there for the season finale now it is quite amazing the journey that we have been on and the leaps forward that we have made as a team have been incredible. It goes without saying that I will do anything I can to help Jason’s title push this weekend [and] ensure we end the 2012 season on a high!’
MG KX Momentum Racing’s Team Principal, Ian Harrison, observed: ‘The stakes are [clearly] high going into the weekend, but it will be what it will be come Sunday evening. Obviously, we will be going all out for victory to help JP win the BTCC for the third time. We are in with a good chance, albeit with a points gap to make up, but we have the right bloke in the cockpit and he knows how to handle the situation. Whatever the outcome, we will leave Brands with our heads held high.’
A damp but drying track greeted the 24-car BTCC grid for FP1 on Saturday morning and, as at that point the weather for the rest of the weekend was expected to be dry, MG KX Momentum Racing just ran through some technical checks on the two MG6 GTs. Matt Neal headed a Honda Civic 1-2-3 and topped the time sheets with a time of 1m 44.510s in his Honda Yuasa Racing Team version while next up were his team-mate Gordon Shedden and Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan. Plato posted the fourth fastest time of 1m 45.710s and was some 1.2s off Neal’s pace – he declared: ‘There’s no point pushing for a time in these conditions. All we’ve done is scrub in dry and wet weather tyres.’ Team-mate Andy Neate was fourteenth quickest with a time of 1m 46.609s.
An improvement in the weather conditions meant that the circuit was almost fully dry for FP2 and Andrew Jordan in the Eurotech Racing-run Honda Civic went quickest with an impressive lap of 1m 31.765s. Jordan was followed by the two West Surrey Racing-run eBay Motors BMW 320sis of Tom Onslow-Cole and Rob Collard. MG KX Momentum Racing’s Jason Plato was fourth on 1m 32.773s while the other MG6 GT of Andy Neate was down in nineteeth with a time of 1m 34.923s. The works Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civics of Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden were seventh and eighth fastest with times of 1m 33.018s and 1m 33.039s respectively.
However, by the time Saturday afternoon’s Qualifying session started, the overcast skies were a real cause for concern in the BTCC Pit Lane. The threat of rain, though, remained just that and eBay Motors’ Tom Onslow-Cole claimed pole position with a time of 1m 31.615s from the Pirtek Racing Honda Civic of Andrew Jordan as the chequered flag fell.
Matt Neal was third in his Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civic ahead of Onslow-Cole’s team-mate Robert Collard who, on his final lap, bumped Jason Plato down to fifth position. Honda’s Gordon Shedden, who Plato was chasing for the outright Drivers’ crown, was seventh behind an impressive Adam Morgan in his Speedworks Toyota Avensis. Unfortunately, Plato’s Qualifying session came to a premature end with a spin into the gravel trap at Paddock Hill Bend as he made one last effort to improve. Andy Neate made a mistake going into Clearways on what would have been his best lap and his time of 1m 33.673s gave him twenty-first position on the grid for Round 28 of the BTCC on Sunday.
MG KX Momentum Racing’s Jason Plato was nevertheless still in a position to challenge Gordon Shedden for the BTCC Driver’s title and said: ‘It was a pretty good session really. We didn’t quite have the pace in the car to go for pole position, but a-mid 1m31 lap was achievable. Unfortunately, on my best lap, I made a mistake into Clearways. That lap would have potentially only moved me one place further forward in any case, so with a fast-starting Collard just in front of me that can potentially help me to stay in the mix with the others. I’m ahead of Gordon and Matt is just in front of me so it’s going to be really exciting.’ Team Principal, Ian Harrison, added: ‘Today wasn’t exactly what we hoped for but, to be honest, it is about where we are in terms of pace. The slight boost reduction we received this weekend has come into play and so fifth on the grid isn’t too bad. We’ve got one of the title protagonists right in front of us and one just behind so it is all to play for tomorrow.’
The rain, which had threatened on Saturday, duly arrived in South Eastern England on Sunday and dampened Jason Plato and the rest of the MG KX Momentum Racing crew’s hopes of taking the BTCC Drivers’ crown in their first season together. Tom Onslow-Cole led Round 28 from pole but Matt Neal’s Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civic was soon past the eBay Motors BMW 320si and set fastest lap en route to an unchallenged victory on the wet track. Andrew Jordan finished second in the Pirtek Racing Honda Civic, Tom Onslow-Cole slipped to third and Aron Smith was fourth in Redstone Racing’s older Ford Foucus ST.
The two main contenders for the BTCC Drivers’ title, Shedden and Plato, were respectively fifth and eighth with the latter’s MG6 GT clearly suffering from heavy understeer in the wet conditions. Andy Neate took the other MG KX Momentum Racing car up from twenty-first on the grid and finished thirteenth but received an official reprimand, a £500 fine and had his Race Licence endorsed with three penalty points for his part in an incident involving Frank Wrathall’s family-run Dynojet Toyota Avensis.
Gordon Shedden therefore still led the Drivers’ Championship standings heading into Round 29 – the penultimate race of the 2012 BTCC season – later that afternoon. Shedden had increased his lead over Plato to 18 points while his team-mate and defending Champion, Matt Neal, had reduced the deficit to him from 31 points to 20 points.
However, any thoughts of the three-way Championship battle going right down to the wire in Round 30 were soon dispelled. Round 29 was won by the Redstone Racing Ford Focus of Dubliner, Aron Smith, who claimed his first BTCC victory. Matt Neal finished third in his Honda Yuasa Racing Civic while MG KX Momentum Racing’s Jason Plato was fifth and so Gordon Shedden’s second place and fastest lap were enough to give him the 2012 BTCC Drivers’ title - Shedden thus became the first Scottish driver to lift the BTCC crown since his hero, John Cleland, back in 1995. Andrew Jordan’s fourth place was all he needed to clinch the Independent Drivers’ Trophy for the first time after his only remaining rival, Robert Collard, retired his eBay Motors BMW 320si early on. Plato’s team-mate, Andy Neate, had a few close battles during the race and brought his MG6 GT home in twelfth.
The weather and track conditions deteriorated again for Round 30 which was run on a soaking wet track and won by Preston’s Frank Wrathall in his Dynojet Toyota Avensis – his maiden BTCC victory and the first Toyota triumph in the BTCC since Julian Bailey’s win at Knockhill in 1993. The three Honda Civics of factory Yuasa-backed pair Matt Neal and newly-crowned Champion Gordon Shedden and Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan took second, third and fourth places in a line-abreast, formation finish while MG KX Momentum Racing’s Jason Plato was eighth in his Triple Eight Race Engineering-run MG6 GT. Andy Neate’s season ended on a low note when technical issues forced him to bring his car into the pits on the first lap of the race and the MG KX Momentum Racing crew were unable to solve them.
The top three final postions in the BTCC Drivers’ Championship for 2012 were therefore: first Gordon Shedden – 408 points, second Matt Neal – 387 points and third Jason Plato – 376 points. Plato admitted to being disappointed by the outcome and added: ‘I came here to win the Championship and it hasn’t happened but we gave it a good go this year and ran the Hondas close, which is an incredible achievement considering the late start we had to the season with this project. I’m very proud of every pole, podium and win we have had this season and we couldn’t have done it without the fantastic support of all of our partners and the superb Triple Eight team.’
MG KX Momentum Racing team-mate Andy Neate finished sixteenth in the final BTCC Drivers’ Championship standings for 2012 with 79 points and commented: ‘A tough end to a tough season, it has been character building. I managed to score some points in the first two races and the car was improving throughout the day and so to not get to fight it out in the final race of the season is a little disappointing, but that is motor racing.’
Triple Eight Race Engineering Managing Director and MG KX Momentum Racing Team Principal, Ian Harrison, reflected on the MG marque’s first season back in the BTCC as follows: ‘As I sit here now I’m very disappointed. [However,] looking back, we’ve won six races and had five poles so a great season - we’ve just come up a little short at the very end. All the guys in the team have worked so hard in this first year of the MG KX Momentum team to give us a shout of winning the Championship today - it hasn’t quite happened but I’m very proud of what we have achieved and look forward to rectifying the situation in 2013.’
However, the last words on the MG marque’s return to the BTCC this season should really be left to the man who worked so hard to put the MG KX Momentum Racing Programme together, MG Motor UK Limited’s Sales and Marketing Director, Guy Jones – speaking to AROnline at Brands Hatch last Saturday, he said: ‘This season will have been a success for MG whatever the outcome tomorrow. We have successfully raised awareness of MG and the MG6 product with BTCC fans at the events and in the media coverage while, in terms of the Championship, we have challenged for the top position from day one to the final race meeting of the season. We have far exceeded our expectations during MG’s first season back in the BTCC and will return much stronger for 2013.’