LATO KEEPS BTCC LEAD AFTER BRANDS GREAT ESCAPES
Jason Plato avoided an 11 car pile up, a high-speed spin across the grass and another collision directly in front of him during the three Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship races at Brands Hatch today to score points in all races and retain his lead in the Drivers' standings.
A remarkable performance saw the SEAT Sport UK driver finish 2nd, 2nd and 5th, each time directly behind Championship rival Fabrizio Giovanardi (Vauxhall). It was an extremely hard-fought set of results, in which Jason had to drive at his most dynamic to overcome all the obstacles that were put in front of him.
Darren Turner challenged for the lead in the opening race and eventually finished 3rd behind his team-mate, but didn't have any luck in the remaining races -- having been wiped out in both, through no fault of his own.
Although SEAT Sport UK didn't win a BTCC race at Brands Hatch for the first time June 2005, the good points score sees SEAT Sport UK maintain its lead in the Teams' Championship and maintains SEAT's strong challenge in the Manufacturers' table.
Jason made a fantastic start from the second row of the grid to move into 2nd place behind pole-sitter Colin Turkington (BMW), while Darren tucked in behind in 3rd. Mat Jackson (BMW) in 4th ran onto the outside wet kerb at the bottom of Paddock Hill Bend, spun, and was hit by Matt Neal (Honda Civic). As most of the 23 car field was racing towards the scene of the incident, many unsighted by spray, more cars became involved and it soon developed into an 11 car pile-up.
The race was red flagged and after a 35 minute delay, 15 cars lined up on the grid for the restart. As the lights went out, Jason made a bad start and dropped from 3rd to 5th, while Darren chased Turkington and set the fastest lap of the race on lap two as he closed in on the leader. They crossed the start/finish line side-by-side starting lap six and Darren tried to go around the outside of Turkington through Paddock, but it was too slippery and he ran into the gravel and dropped from 2nd to 6th.
Conditions remained incredibly slippery, especially at Paddock, and on lap nine Tom Chilton (Vauxhall) lost 3rd place with a big slide there and on the next lap Turkington spun out of the lead at the same corner. This left Giovanardi with a big lead, followed by Jason and Darren -- with the Italian driver eventually winning by 3.119 seconds.
Darren's race lasted 10 seconds after he was hit by the BMWs of Tom Onslow-Cole and Turkington and the two orange cars kept pushing Darren's SEAT Leon until it hit the barrier on the inside of the track approaching Paddock Hill Bend -- where it came to a halt with broken front and rear suspension. "It was like sitting in a log fume," said Darren, with typical good humour. "I wasn't touching anything with my arms and legs, but I was pushed forward knowing something nasty was about to happen!"
Jason drove a truly amazing second BTCC race at Brands Hatch. On a damp track, he gambled on slick tyres all round (unlike Darren, who had slicks on the front and wets on the rear) and made a good start from 2nd on the grid -- but coming around Surtees on the opening lap he and Chilton touched. Both "went off like a pair of ice skaters" -- Chilton hitting the barrier head on and Jason spinning and rejoining the track in 13th place.
With his title rival Giovanardi in the lead, it looked dire for Jason -- but he had other ideas and began an astonishing fight back through the field. After some brilliant overtaking manoeuvres, Jason moved into 3rd place with a classic manoeuvre on Gordon Shedden (Honda Civic), in which he got up the inside at Clark Curve at the end of lap 18 and completed the overtake at Paddock Hill Bend.
Jason then closed in on Adam Jones (SEAT Toledo), overtaking the Team Air Cool driver at Clearways with two laps remaining. He eventually finished in 2nd place, 9.271 seconds behind Giovanardi.
With the top six from the previous race randomly selected to start the third and final race at Brands Hatch in reverse order, Jason started from 4th and Darren from 16th.
In the first full dry race of the day, Jason made a great start, but was forced wide at the opening corner by Shedden and completed the first of 27 laps in 6th. Yet again, Chilton hit Jason at Surtees on lap six, which forced Jason briefly down to 9th. Jason, now followed by Darren, who had overtaken four cars after a brilliant start, settled into a frustrating mid-field battle around the Brands Hatch Indy Circuit, which is notoriously difficult to overtake on and relatively easy to defend.
On the penultimate lap, Onslow-Cole and Jones collided at Graham Hill Bend, with Jones mounting the car in front. As Gavin Smith (SEAT Leon) took avoiding action on the grass, Jason nipped through to move from 8th to 5th, overtaking Onslow-Cole, Jones and Smith in one easy move. Darren was less fortunate, as the Toledo bounced back to earth and turned into the front of his Leon. Darren carried on to be classified 15th and score Manufacturer points.
Jason Plato (2nd/2nd/5th): "It's been a pretty hard day in the office! As a team, I don't think we did anything wrong, but sometimes the balls run against you. I made a good start and did everything I needed to do in race one and then the red flags came out. I made a mistake at the restart and didn't get off the line well and after that I had a good run through to second. I made another good start in race two, better than Fabrizio who started from pole, but not good enough to have a go around the outside of him at Paddock Hill Bend, so I thought I'd sit behind him for a bit. I made a mistake at Graham Hill Bend, I was on slicks on a wet track, and Chilton got a run on me down the back straight. I tried to give him a bit of space at Surtees, but bounced off the kerb; we touched and we both went off. After that, I had another good run back to second. In the last race I had another good start, but found myself in no-mans land where I couldn't go in low at Paddock and got pushed out wide and onto the dirty stuff and lost some places. I made a clean move on Chilton later in the race and he just wiped me out; he just tried to hook me off. But that happens sometimes. It should have been a great weekend, but it certainly wasn't a bad weekend. I'm still leading the Drivers' Championship, and we've maintained our strong challenge in the Manufacturers' and Teams' standings as well."
Darren Turner (3rd/DNF/15th): "I was happy with qualifying and I was happy with the opening race. I finished third, I had a challenge for the lead which didn't work, dropped to sixth and came back, so I was quite pleased with that. I didn't really have a second race, because I was pushed into the wall before I got to the first corner. The lads did a great job to fix the car and in the final race I got wiped out again through no fault of my own. I made a good start, but didn't have the ultimate race pace I was hoping for, and in the middle of the pack we just all bunched up. Tom Onslow-Cole and Adam Jones came together at the bottom of Graham Hill Bend and I overtook Gavin Smith on the inside by following Jason through. Unluckily, Adam bounced back right in front of me and there wasn't anything I could do to miss him. It was a reasonably large impact, but the team told me to get the car across the line to score Manufacturer points, so that's what I did."
Rounds 25, 26 and 27 of the BTCC takes place at Knockhill in Fife on September 1-2.