Pat Cranham, BTCC correspondent
Jason Plato and Andy Neate to race the new MG6 GT
After weeks of speculation and rumours it was today at last confirmed that the Triple 8 racing team have secured a works MG UK Racing deal to race an all New Generation Touring MG6 GT in this season’s Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. As expected leading their assault will be former double BTCC champion Jason Plato who departs Chevrolet and he will be partnered by former WSR and Team Aon driver Andy Neate. Sponsoring the car will be supermarket giants Tesco with their own fuel Tesco Momentum 99 and energy drink KX and will be known as MG KX Momentum Racing.
MG first entered the series run by WSR (West Surrey Racing) for the last 3 meetings of the 2001 season with Anthony Reid and Warren Hughes where they became the only non-Vauxhall team to take a win and pole position. For 2002 the works MG team was joined by another pair of MG ZS sponsored by pop group Atomic Kitten for Colin Turkington and Gareth Howell and once again the works pairing of Reid and Hughes were Vauxhall’s biggest challenger. In 2003 Turkington joined the works team and all 3 would score wins during the season although this sadly would be the last as an official MG entry.
The objective is to go out and challenge straight away.
WSR entered Reid and Turkington as Independents for 2004 and Reid went on to take the Independent crown following WSR switching from a 6 cylinder engine to the more conventional 4 while Turkington also impressed immensely which resulted in a Vauxhall deal for 2005. WSR ran just the one MG ZS in 2005 for Rob Collard who took his maiden two wins in the championship while Turkington returned to the team in 2006 with RAC sponsorship for a hugely successful season finishing 3rd in the championship. This was WSR last year with the MG however the cars were seen for one more year on the grid run by Jason Hughes a long term competitor of the car as an Independent driver for Kartworld Racing and he ran alongside Fiona Leggate in 2007.
MG are delighted to back in the champion with Guy Jones, MG Motor’s Sales & Marketing Director saying, “We are delighted that the new MG6 will be seen by millions of fans in Britain and beyond and this continues the famous sporting lineage of the brand.”
For Triple 8 race engineering this will mark the first time in their existence that they will race anything other than a Vauxhall having been set up in 1997 with the sole intention of running the works Vauxhall BTCC team. During that time they have become the most successful BTCC teams in the series history taking mover 20 drivers and team’s titles for Vauxhall between 2001-2009 while last year they secured Independent driver and team titles accumulating well over 100 victories in the series since first winning a race with John Cleland at Donington in 1998.
Ian Harrison remains the only one of three directors who set up the company alongside former F1 racer Derek Warwick and Roland Dane in charge today and he admits he wants to add to the success of the team straight away despite a 3 year deal and said, “We’ve got a three-year programme here – that’s not to say we want to wait until ‘year three’ to win. The objective is to go out and challenge straight away.”
Triple 8 certainly have their work cut out with just 10 weeks away before the start of the season on April while there are just 9 weeks until the official series Media day on March 19th and although Harrison admits there is a lot of work to be done at the factory he still has very high hopes for the season and finished off by saying, “We’re convinced that we’re going to be winning races very soon. There’s a lot of work going on back at the factory at Triple Eight in terms of design, build and construction of all the key elements of the car. “If I’m honest the car is a bag of bits at the moment. But by the time the first race comes along it will be complete. It’s a very exciting prospect and we have a very good combination of people from an engineering point of view and our drivers in the cockpit. The MG6 platform looks pretty good to us and I think we’ll deliver a car that looks the part and goes as well. Jason’s after his third championship, we’d like to add to our tally and I think we will.”
Plato’s switch to Triple 8 from RML Chevrolet certainly is a surprise to many although this won’t be the first time Plato has raced for Triple 8. Following joining the series in 1997 with the Williams Renault team Plato moved to Triple 8 then as a works Vauxhall driver in 2000 wining on his debut race for the team. Following the demise of the Super-Touring era Plato then went on to take his first BTCC title in 2001 driving a Vauxhall Astra Coupe. Plato however wasn’t retained by Vauxhall despite taking the title due to a number of on track collisions during the season with team mate Yvan Muller who was probably the preferred driver at the time.
Following a couple of years out trying to achieve his dream of driving in NASCAR racing by driving in the UK equivalent Ascar, Plato returned to the series for the newly formed Seat factory team in 2004 where he enjoyed huge success until Seat pulled out at the end of the 2008 season. It looked like another spell on the sidelines for 2009 until a late deal just days before the start of the championship saw him drive for RML at the wheel of a Chevrolet Lacetti. Originally just a one race deal Plato was then helped after securing sponsorship from Silverline and completed the season eventually just missing out on the championship by a handful of points after becoming only the second driver in history to win all 3 races in a day at the final event of the year at Brands Hatch. For 2010 Plato got the Chevrolet Cruze from the WTCC and this time with full Chevrolet backing he took his second BTCC crown. He couldn’t defend his title in 2011 with his normally aspirated Chevrolet no match for the Turbo powered cars although he did take the most victories during the season which included winning the first two races of the year at Brands Hatch overtaking Andy Rouse’s all time BTCC win record which now stands at 68 victories. Plato who will be aiming to take his third BTCC crown and increase the all-time wins talley is also clearly excited by the programme and described it has a “dream team” and said, “It’s really exciting to be involved in a brand new all-British team and it’s just brilliant that the iconic name of MG will be back on the track.”
Joining Plato at MG will be Andy Neate. Neate joined the series for his first full season in 2010 with WSR despite a one of drive for Daniels Motorsport in 2005 in a Vauxhall Astra Coupe. During those years trying to secure a full time series drive Neate suffered a life threatening injury in a TVR during the start of the Britcar 24hr race at Silverstone in 2008. He miraculously survived that and incredibly made it back into the BTCC for 2010 although he didn’t have a season to remember scoring just a number of points as he struggled in the BMW which was clearly not the same as the year before when Turkington took the title. For 2011 he switched to Team Aon but once again didn’t take the results he would have hoped with the team struggling at times to get the best out of the new ‘Global’ Ford Focus. Despite this Neate showed some good pace at times which included a terrific 3rd place qualifying at Oulton Park although mixed conditions during race day prevented him from taking a good race finish. He also at times managed to mix his more illustrious team mate Tom Chilton and Tom Onslow-Cole on more than one occasion and was unlucky not to get on the podium at Brands Hatch until he got caught out by the bright autumn sunlight.
Neate knows now for 2012 he has now where to hide and is looking forward to linking up with the best people in the business and said, “Jason is probably the most successful driver in touring cars and, with the most successful engineering team in BTCC history behind me, I haven’t got much of an excuse not to do well. I’ll try to push Jason as much as I can… what a benchmark to have. Being Jason’s team-mate was integral in deciding to join MG KX Momentum Racing for this year and it’s a fantastic opportunity.”
This news has to be one of the biggest announcements made in recent BTCC times and clearly shows the impact the new NGTC rules is having on the championship as it continues to grow. The new regulations were drawn up by Toca boss Alan Gow and he is more than happy to welcome MG back to the grid and said, “This is fantastic news for all the fans who follow the BTCC, either in their hundreds of thousands trackside or in their vast millions watching on TV in both the UK and many other regions around the globe. MG is one of motoring’s truly evocative names so its BTCC campaign will, I’m sure, really capture the public’s imagination. This high-profile return to the forefront of competition in the BTCC is also certain to prove highly effective in terms of marketing for MG and all of its partners, as well as delivering some great results for them on the track. This news has again underlined the great success of our NGTC regulations, enabling teams and manufacturers such as MG to embark on a major BTCC programme in a far more cost-effective and competitive basis than before – hence the reason we have such a fabulous diversity of makes and models in our championship.”
...we have such a fabulous diversity of makes and models in our championship.
With MG returning for 2012 this certainly is one of the most exciting times in the BTCC history. More teams are expected to follow in Triple 8 and MG’s footsteps including Plato’s former team Chevrolet who are believed to be working on an all new NGTC car themselves. So who will replace Plato at Chevrolet? What new teams and Manufactures will enter the series in 2012? For all these answers during the buildup to the 2012 season be sure to keep logging back to Motorsport.com.