Words: Clive Goldthorp Photographs: Simon Davies/Pegasus Photographics
The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship rolled into Donington Park for Rounds Four, Five and Six last weekend and, after three action-packed races, MG KX Momentum Racing’s Jason Plato retained his Championship lead – he left the East Midlands track with 84 points while Honda Civic-driving Matt Neal and Andrew Jordan are hard on his heels with 80 points and 76 points respectively.
Plato had put the Triple Eight Race Engineering-run MG6 GT on pole position for the first time during Saturday’s Qualifying, setting the fastest time before rain precluded his rivals from challenging him. Plato said that this, his thirty-sixth BTCC pole, was ‘one of the most satisfying of all. We knew the rain was coming so popped in a fast lap early on, but what a result for the team and this car. It is still very new to racing but we got a win out of it at Brands Hatch and it just gets better and better.’
However, come Sunday, Plato was beaten off the grid and into the first corner of Round Four by the eBay Motors BMW 320si of Rob Collard, who led for the first five laps. Plato was just shaping up to take Collard under braking for the chicane on the fifth lap when a tap from Mat Jackson’s Redstone Racing Ford Focus ST delayed both of them and resulted in Jackson taking the lead. A frustrated Plato crossed the line in fourth behind reigning BTCC Champion Matt Neal’s Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civic.
Round Five saw more drama as Plato and Collard clashed again with the MG KX Momentum Racing MG6 hitting the barriers as the pair exited the chicane at the end of the opening lap. The MG6 sustained rear end damage and Plato made several pit stops to repair the battered car but only completed 13 laps and was not classified as a finisher.
Plato therefore started Round Six from seventeenth on the grid but, in a typically determined drive, he picked off the cars ahead of him and was up to ninth when the Honda Civics of Matt Neal and Andrew Jordan touched on the entry to McLeans corner on the fifth lap and the Safety Car came out whilst Neal’s stranded car was removed from the gravel trap. The Safety Car allowed the field to close up and so, after the re-start, race leader, Mat Jackson, in the Redstone Racing Ford Focus ST soon found his mirrors full of both the Civic of Neal’s Scottish teammate, Gordon Shedden, and Plato’s MG6.
The three-way battle for the victory came to a head at the chicane on the last lap – Plato’s and Shedden’s cars controversially touched and the latter was forced off the track but recovered to take third behind Plato and Jackson. However, the Ford Focus ST was subsequently excluded from the Round Six results when the Scrutineers found that the car had exceeded the permitted turbo boost limits. Plato received a two-second time penalty from the Race Stewards for the incident with Shedden but re-gained second place behind the Scot as a consequence of Jackson’s exclusion.
Plato reflected on his weekend at Donington Park: ‘It always seems to be a roller-coaster ride of a day for me here at Donington and we’ve had that sort of day again today. Yesterday’s pole position was fantastic, but today’s been up and down with the results, but overall a fourth and a second from the back in Race Three is solid. We will, of course, look to come back stronger again for Thruxton in two weeks.’
Andy Neate, Plato’s MG KX Momentum Racing teammate, had a ‘character-building’ weekend – he was unable to set a time in Qualifying on Saturday because of a transmission problem with his MG6 and so had to start Round Four from the back row of the grid. AROnline spoke to Andy at the end of the Race Meeting and he reckoned that, based on his Free Practice One and Free Practice Two times, he would have otherwise been on for a Top Six slot or better. The MG KX Momentum Racing crew worked an allnighter to resolve the issue and the car made the grid for Round Four. However, having gained five places by Redgate corner on the first lap without any contact with the other cars, Neate and his crew’s efforts came to nought – BTCC rookie Adam Morgan’s Speedworks Motorsport-run Toyota Avensis collided with the MG6 and, as a result, Neate finished sixteenth.
Round Five saw Neate make what he felt was a great start – he was into the Top Ten when the Safety Car came out. Unfortunately, MG KX Momentum Racing was not told when the Safety Car was coming in and so he missed the jump on the re-start but battled on to finish twelfth and score four valuable points. Andy reckoned that, but for the issue on the re-start, he would have been ‘in the mix for sixth.’ Neate’s race in Round Six came to an early end when he retired after three laps following a 140mph touch from Irishman Aron Smith’s Redstone Racing Ford Focus ST on the approach to Redgate corner.
Third year BTCC driver Neate commented that the driving standards at the tail and midfield of this year’s BTCC grid had deteriorated in comparison to his two previous seasons in the Championship – in particular, some of this season’s BTCC rookies lacked visual awareness and seemed to ‘have a couldn’t care less attitude.’
However, despite a tough time on track, Neate was still able to take a real positive from the weekend, commenting that, since Brands Hatch, ‘the guys [at Triple Eight Race Engineering] have done a great job on the MG6 – the car now feels more refined and we’ve got a greater understanding of it. It’s definitely fast and we’ve now got a good baseline package.’
MG KX Momentum Racing’s achievements to date seem to have exceeded the expectations of not only everyone involved with the project but all those who have been following the SAIC Motor-led re-birth of the MG marque. AROnline spotted Richard Burden MP (Lab., Birmingham Northfield) – probably the House of Commons’ leading Automotive Industry champion and a keen Motor Racing enthusiast – in the Donington Park Paddock and so asked him for his take on those achievements. Mr. Burden commented: ‘MG’s return [to the BTCC] has been phenomenal. The race win at Brands Hatch, the pole position here at Donington Park and the podiums – it’s astonishing! They just show what a good series the BTCC is and Jason’s drives have been phenomenal, if controversial. [The MG6’s first] pole on the same day as the Pride of Longbridge event will give everyone at Longbridge a real lift.’
Jason Plato, writing in his column for The Sun prior to last weekend’s BTCC Meeting, said that he and the Engineers at Triple Eight had compiled a job list of 280 items after Brands Hatch – the rest of the BTCC pitlane must now be wondering how quick the MG6 will be once all those jobs have been ticked off the list…
[Editor’s Note: AROnline Photographer Simon Davies’ selection of his best images from last weekend’s BTCC Meeting at Donington Park can be viewed in the Gallery below.]
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