After an action packed start to the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch, the series will return this weekend for rounds 4, 5 and 6 at Donington Park where two of the series leading figures in the championship will both celebrate major milestones.
Three weeks ago at Brands Hatch it was Jason Plato in his MG KX Momentum Racing MG 6 dominating the opening event taking his 75th and 76th career victories. He now heads to Donington where he will celebrate his 400th career start with a 9 point lead at the top of the standings.
Ironically it was at Donington Park back in 1997 where it all started for Plato when he shocked the paddock by claiming pole position on his debut meeting, out qualifying his more illustrious team mate Alain Menu in his Williams prepared Super Touring Renault Laguna.
Since then Plato has also been a works driver with Vauxhall, Seat, Chevrolet and now MG taking two BTCC titles along the way.
It’s my home circuit and it’s where I got my first win.
Plato will now hope to build on his superb opening meeting of the season and claim his third BTCC championship; although he doesn’t have the best of recent records at Donington Park, having not won there since 2008, and having ended in the barriers in at least one race from the last 3 meetings which included a spectacular barrel roll in 2011 when driving for Chevrolet. Nevertheless he did manage pole there last year for MG where he also produced a stunning recovery drive in race 3 driving from the back of the grid to claim second.
Going one better than Plato, or should we say 100 better, is his long time arch-rival Matt Neal who will start his 500th BTCC race in race 2 of the weekend in his Honda Yuasa Racing Civic. Neal made his first BTCC start at the 1991 British GP support race at Silverstone behind the wheel of a BMW. Since then Neal has driven for Mazda, Vauxhall and had a very brief spell with Peugeot; however he has spent most of his career driving various cars for his family run team, Team Dynamics, who have guided him to all 3 of his BTCC crowns all at the wheel of Hondas. Team Dynamics continue to prepare his and team mate/ reigning champion Gordon Shedden’s Honda works cars today.
Neal also heads into the weekend hoping to claim his 50th BTCC victory at the circuit where he took his famous maiden series victory; arguably one of the highlights of his career when he became the first Independent driver ever to win a race outright in his Team Dynamics prepared Super touring Nissan Primera back in 1999 and claim £250,000 in doing so from series director Alan Gow.
Neal admits that this weekend will be a special occasion and hopes for more success and said, “It’s my home circuit and it’s where I got my first win so I’m looking forward to it. I stopped counting the number of races I’d competed in a while ago! Hearing that it’ll be my 500th race at Donington means it’s going to be a special moment for me and I hope we can get some good results.”
At the other end of the scale is Plato’s MG KX Momentum team mate Sam Tordoff who will start just his 7th BTCC race, but he nonetheless impressed immensely during his debut meeting as a full time BTCC driver at Brands Hatch claiming a 3rd, 4th and 5th finish. Tordoff made his debut at the wheel of a Triple 8 prepared Vauxhall Vectra in 2010 during a one off end of season meeting, but now returns to the team as a fully fledged works driver under the guidance of team mate Plato as part of the KX academy in which his team mate is mentor.
The former Clio and Porsche race winner, who turns 24 a day before the start of the event on Friday, admitted that his first meeting for MG had gone better than expected and that his results had increased his expectations by saying, “We would have settled for some top ten finishes at Brands and that would have been a good solid start for us. Now, though, we have scored three top five finishes and we have raised the bar. The car is good and I have settled in to the team really well. We have got to be going to Donington Park looking for podiums at least.”
Triple 8 team boss Ian Harrison who has worked with the likes of Yvan Muller, James Thompson, Fabrizio Giovanardi as well as Plato was also hugely impressed by his debut and believes wins will come soon and said, "He was fantastic. A couple of the moves he pulled at Brands made it look like he'd been doing it for years. Any rookie who comes in and scores those results is someone you've got to sit up and take notice of. He's under no illusions about where he is, he's great to work with, and he's fast. If he keeps it simple and carries on the way he's going there's no reason he can't win a couple of races,"
Leading the charge to the works MG’s and Honda’s will be reigning Independent champion Andrew Jordan, driving an identical Honda Civic as to the works Honda Racing team for Pirtek Racing. Jordan claimed pole position for the opening race of the year at Brands Hatch and went on to take a pair of second place finishes whilst he also topped the official testing at Donington Park during media day.
Jordan heads into the weekend second in the standings to Plato and hopes to continue the pace shown a few weeks ago at the circuit that he has high regard to and said, “I love driving at Donington. It’s a proper old school track with great elevation changes and fast corners. We were quick there on Media Day a few weeks ago, but we’ll be going with 36kgs of success ballast which will make it a bit more of a challenge!”
One man that we won’t sadly see this weekend is Andy Neate, who was expected to make his debut at the wheel of his newly set up IP Tech Race engineering, Team Club 44 Chevrolet Cruze.
Neate has announced now that he will not be able to make his debut until the Oulton Park round and said, "We fully understand that there will be some disappointment from the fans that were looking forward to seeing the Team Club 44 Chevrolet on track at Donington Park but Circumstances beyond our control have conspired against us.”
“It’s meant that we weren't able to get on track to complete the running we had planned prior to Donington. I've been in the position before where I've gone into a race weekend with a car that I hadn't had the chance to gel with properly, and it isn't something I want to do again. Everyone involved is hugely excited about what is to come in the next few weeks as we embark on the testing programme we have planned and we can't wait for Oulton Park.”
One man though that we are pleased to report who will definitely be at Donington Park, following his huge crash at Brands Hatch, is Rob Austin in his Wix Racing Audi A4. The day had started brilliantly for Austin with a third in race 1 that included the honour of leading the first lap of the season which Austin described as “possibly the best of my career”.
But after an unfortunate incident in race 2 with Frank Wrathall, disaster happened for Austin in race 3 when after he went from 20th to 10th on lap 1 before being tagged by a spinning Dave Newsham, sending the Audi off at high speed causing a massive amount of damage.
However the car, which is affectionately named Sherman, is now fully rebuilt and, speaking of the work that has been untaken since Brands Hatch, Austin said, “There've been a few tears along the way, during the rebuild of the car when a few setbacks left everyone wondering if we'd make it. It has been amazing to see it unfold and to be a part of it, what my boys have achieved. We don't have anywhere near like the number of people of the works teams, yet they've still managed it. When I think back to how the car looked when I first got out after the crash... it's just incredible and we really can’t wait to get to Donington and go for some more big results.”