Words: Clive Goldthorp Photographs: BTCC Media Office
MG KX Momentum Racing’s Jason Plato took his 70th British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) win in Round 15 of this season’s campaign at Croft in North Yorkshire last weekend and so held on to third place in the Drivers’ Championship. However, victories for the Honda Yuasa Racing Team’s Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden in Rounds 13 and 14 meant that the two Honda Civic drivers still head the Championship – Neal now tops the table on 221 points with Shedden just one point behind in second on 220 points and Plato a further 29 points back on 192 points.
Andrew Jordan’s Pirtek Racing Honda Civic headed a Honda 1-2-3 at the end of FP1 on Saturday – his best lap of 1m 24.835s was an impressive 0.830s faster than Gordon Shedden’s Team Dynamics-run Civic. Jason Plato ended the session in sixth with a time of 1m 26.713s while Andy Neate’s best lap of 1m 28.456s was the ninteenth fastest.
Plato’s MG6 GT was on the top of the timesheets at the end of FP2 with a time of 1m 24.817s – the MG KX Momentum Racing crew had been able to explore some of the car’s single-lap pace during a Qualifying simulation run. Andy Neate spent FP2 attempting to improve the balance of his car – he completed 17 laps of the 2.16 mile Croft circuit and posted a more than 1.4 second improvement over his FP1 time with a 1m 26.994s lap but that still left him fourteenth fastest.
However, neither of the MG KX Momentum Racing drivers were satisfied with their lap times in the two Free Practice sessions. Plato told the BTCC’s website: ‘The set-up still isn’t quite there and there’s a slight problem with the engine’s throttle response in the high speed stuff so it’s not the perfect car yet.’ Andy Neate described his MG6 GT’s braking and handling as ‘unpredictable.’
Reigning BTCC Champion, Matt Neal, secured his first pole position of the year with a time of 1m 24.900s during Saturday afternoon’s Qualifying session. The similar Honda Civics of Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan and Neal’s team-mate, Gordon Shedden, were second and third fastest as Hondas filled the top three slots on the grid for Round 13 on Sunday.
The two MG KX Momentum Racing MGs both qualified in the Top Ten. Plato was denied a shot at pole when an electrical problem struck his MG and left the car stranded on the circuit – he therefore had to rely on his earlier best of 1m 25.221s which was still good enough for fifth position. Andy Neate recorded a best of 1m 25.580s and so started Round 13 from ninth on the grid.
Jason Plato’s day did not get off to a good start on Sunday – in a repeat of what had happened prior to the first BTCC race at Oulton Park a fortnight before, his MG6 GT failed to reach the grid because the electrical issue which had blighted his Qualifying session made an untimely return. The MG KX Momentum crew worked on the problem and Jason was able to do a few ‘shakedown’ laps in order to check that their efforts had been successful.
Andy Neate had a strong opening lap and took his MG6 GT up from ninth on the grid to an eventual sixth position – his best result of the season to date. However, the race was won by pole-sitter Matt Neal – his Honda Yuasa Racing Team Civic had been hampered by a clutch problem at the start but he soon passed the other Civics of Jordan and Shedden and then, after a three-lap Safety Car intervention, withstood relentless pressure from Rob Collard’s eBay Motors BMW 320si and took his fourth win of 2012.
Gordon Shedden took his sixth win of the year in Round 14 leading home Honda Yuasa Racing Team-mate Neal in a works Honda 1-2 and returning himself to the head of the BTCC standings. Plato, who had started from twenty-first on the grid because of his Round 13 problem, was not quite able to match his Oulton Park feat and put his MG6 GT on the podium but he did charge through the filed to seventh – that placed him neatly in the mix for Round 15’s reverse grid draw.
Andy Neate finished ninth and scored his second successive points finish of the day – he had, in fact, been running further up the order until a tangle with Tony Gilham’s Team-HARD. Honda Civic allowed Plato to pass the pair of them.
The reverse grid draw for Round 15 was kind to the Triple Eight Race Engineering-run MG squad. Andy Neate was on the front row in second position with Jason Plato directly behind him in fourth. The pole-sitting eBay Motors BMW 320si of Nick Foster led until Lap 5 when Neate pounced under braking for Tower Bend and then sought to consolidate his lead.
However, Andy’s efforts were thwarted when the Safety Car appeared on Lap 6 following a heavy accident involving the BINZ Racing Vauxhall Vectra of Lea Wood and Liam Griffin’s Redstone Racing Ford Focus, which caught fire in a rather spectacular fashion. The race resumed on Lap 12 and Plato immediately took Frank Wrathall’s Dynojet Toyota Avensis for third. Rob Collard’s eBay Motors BMW slithered wide at Tower Bend on the following lap and that promoted Plato to second. Plato then took Neate for the lead under braking at the same corner on the next lap but an MG KX Momentum Racing 1-2 still appeared to be on the cards.
Neate’s MG6 GT, though, was overtaken by Tom Onslow-Cole’s eBay Motors BMW and, thanks to his car losing some pace during the Safety Car period and a clash with one of the Honda Yuasa Racing Team’s Civics whilst battling for position, he slipped back to finish in ninth position. Plato, meanwhile, held on to secure the seventieth victory of his BTCC career and maintain the pressure on his Championship rivals.
The former double BTCC Champion commented: ‘When I got up to second I sensed that Andy was starting to struggle for raw speed, plus there were a lot of drivers starting to gang up behind us so I had to go for it. After a tough day, with problems in the first race that put us on the backfoot, it’s satisfying to finish off with a win.’
Andy Neate added: ‘It’s good to come away from Croft with three top ten finishes. It’s disappointing to have led the majority of Race Three and not won it, especially as I think I had the pace to do so. The Safety Car bunched everyone up and I lost some temperature and pressure in my tyres, which meant I couldn’t hang on, but it’s pleasing to have at least been fighting right at the front!’
Team Principal, Ian Harrison, summarised MG KX Momentum Racing’s weekend in North Yorkshire as follows: ‘It’s been a difficult weekend, with the technical problems that carried across from yesterday to this morning on Jason’s car. But he had a brilliant drive in Race Three, which is what I expect from him, he’s the stand out driver in this series. Andy had a solid weekend and it should have been even better, having lead the majority of the race, it’s just unfortunate that it fell away at the end, but at least he’s proved he can fight outright for wins.’
The BTCC now takes a seven week break until after the Olympic Games and the racing action will resume at Snetterton in Norfolk on the 11th and 12th August, 2012. However, as Jason Plato said, the MG KX Momentum Racing crew ‘can head into the summer break with optimism for the second half of the season. We made some changes to the set-up in that last race, which took the car in the right direction and with some testing and some development parts, we’ll be ready to fight when we get to Snetterton in August.’
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