'FAB FOUR' FEELING 'RELAXED BUT HUNGRY' AHEAD OF BRANDS HATCH TITLE-DECIDER
All four title protagonists say they are feeling "relaxed" ahead of Brands Hatch's Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship decider this coming weekend (9-10 October).
Jason Plato, the clear series leader heading into the event, and the chasing trio of Matt Neal, Gordon Shedden and Tom Onslow-Cole all claim to be calm just three days before they arrive at the world-famous Kent circuit for their eagerly-anticipated title showdown.
Intriguingly, both Oxford's Plato and Worcestershire's Neal have tasted BTCC title success before - the Chevrolet ace won it in 2001 and his Honda rival in both 2005 and 2006. Furthermore, Plato has finished runner-up three times in the past four years. By contrast, this will be the first time that either Neal's team-mate Shedden, from Fife, or Team Aon Ford young gun Onslow-Cole, from Surrey, will have experienced title pressure on Finals Day.
The Silverline Chevrolet team's Plato told btcc.net: "I think I'm old enough and wise enough to know what to expect - so long as my team and I both give everything possible then, win or lose, I'll be able to lie flat in my bed on Sunday night. What will be will be…
"But the hunger is exactly the same as it always was to win this championship. It's a super important championship. It's one that everyone wants to win and it's not easy to win - God knows I know that! It's the biggest and best championship in the UK and arguably in Europe."
Neal, even more experienced than Plato having first raced in the BTCC in 1991, added: "I'm surprisingly relaxed about it - it may be a different story come the weekend! - but at the same time I'm very determined to give it my best shot. I don't have the same nerves as I did when I first went into it with a chance, so I sort of know what to expect but it's just as exciting as ever. I want it just as much as I did the first time.
"Jason's got a lead on the rest of us so it's going to need him to have a bit of a problem and it could happen - we've all had at least one bad day this year. But even if that happens we still need to score a big chunk of points."
Shedden, Neal's Honda Racing Team team-mate, is aiming to add his name to the list of past winners on the Champion's trophy including those of fellow Scottish greats Jim Clark and John Cleland. The Dalgety Bay racer said: "There is no pressure on me. My mindset is that I have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.
"Saturday's qualifying session could really have an affect on what happens in the three races on Sunday - Brands Indy is a short lap and it'll only take a tenth of a second to make the difference between starting on the front row and row five. Bear in mind Jason in particular will have a lot of success ballast in that Chevrolet. That could be those vital fractions of a second…"
Onslow-Cole will arrive at Brands the big outsider in his unique LPG turbo-powered Team Aon Ford Focus. The 23-year-old, from New Malden, has shown great maturity in only his third full season in what is one of the world's most competitive motor racing championships and is in a similar frame of mind to Shedden.
Onslow-Cole commented: "I'm pretty chilled out about it all as I have nothing to lose and I certainly won't be settling for cosy points finishes. I'm in a situation where I need to take the risks and stick my nose in a bit. I've not knocked people about this year whereas maybe the others have got involved in a few tangles, so hopefully I've got a few more friends out there on the track.
"I think I can play with these guys and take it to them. But above all, it's just fantastic to be coming into the final round in with a shout of what is one of motor sport's most coveted titles."