This weekend sees the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship visit the home of British Motorsport at Silverstone for rounds 18, 19 and 20 with Jason Plato very much the man to catch. Jason Plato opens a gap over the field at ...
This weekend sees the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship visit the home of British Motorsport at Silverstone for rounds 18, 19 and 20 with Jason Plato very much the man to catch.
Last time out at Snetterton, Plato in his Silverline Racing Chevrolet was clearly in a different league following extensive work over the summer break taking two victories on his way to taking a 20-point advantage in the championship battle.
Plato now has Andy Rouse's all time BTCC win record in his sights needing just three victories to become the most successful driver in BTCC history.
Plato is quick to point out the work that the team has done in recent weeks. "I was expecting to be really strong at Snetterton. We had a very good break - the team did a really good job digging deep into all the data, they really worked it all out and as a result we were able to improve the aero balance of the car a bit and improve the suspension. That's enabled me to be just that bit more precise with my lines with how I modulate my braking. It's all tiny fractions here and they that all add up."
Looking back to last year Plato sees the start of this season almost as a mirror image where he didn't always get the results he wanted earlier in the year and said, "Last year we turned our championship around at Snetterton and at Silverstone we went and blew everyone's doors off. I have a feeling we can be in really good shape again there."
"Last year, of course, I was coming from behind so having to take a few risks, some of which paid off, some of which didn't and it cost us the title by a handful of points," Plato continued. "This year the situation is different. We're getting into our stride at about the same time but this time we've already got a decent championship lead. It means I'll have maximum ballast again going into the weekend and that will affect my car's qualifying speed but we showed at Snetterton we've got a handle on getting the car to work with a lot of ballast - I stuck it second on the grid with 36kgs on-board."
Finally the 2001 champion went on to explain the benefit of having built a healthy championship lead compared to Neal's earlier in the year saying, "Plus the lead is 20 points, not five or six. The beauty of that is even if the ballast puts me back down the grid and Matt wins race one I'll still be going into race two with the lead and then of course the ballast would in theory swing round in my favour. The key for us is Silverstone. If we get strong results there - wins or podiums - then we'll be in good shape for the final three meetings. Hopefully that should keep us in the lead and I can handle it from there."
Plato's Silverline Chevrolet teammate Alex MacDowall is also filled with confidence heading to Silverstone following his becoming the youngest driver in history to take pole for a BTCC race at Snetterton. Sadly for last year's Clio runner up his joy was short lived as he had mechanical trouble leaving the grid but hopes for big things this weekend by saying, "I'm really confident ahead of Silverstone National, It's a short track which mainly consists of long straights and the high speed right-hander at Copse which should suit the Chevrolet Cruze. I went well there in the Renault Clio Cup last year, taking a podium, so I'm looking to emulate my qualifying performance from Snetterton and come away with 15 to 20 points at least."
Following his puncture at Snetterton in race 1, Honda Racing's Matt Neal is now on the back-burner and isn't too optimistic this weekend either. "We knew Snetterton was going to be a tough weekend. We knew the Fords were going to be strong but maybe not as strong as they were but the one who really pulled a rabbit out of the hat was Jason. His pace at the moment is very ominous. The Civic's hatchback shape means I think we are in for another tough time at Silverstone. It's going to be damage limitation as it was at Snetterton. As I've said before this event could really alter the complex of the championship."
The double BTCC champion then went on to say he expects this weekend to be "damage limitations" but admitted the end to the season should be better and added, "If we can at least still take some decent points at Silverstone then we're in with a fighting chance. Those last three circuits will be a lot better for our car because they've got some proper twisty bits in them but it's really important we come out of Silverstone still in the hunt."
As normal the two Team Aon Ford Focuses should be well up there at Silverstone. Last time out however the Arena prepared cars were expected to blow the competition away at Snetterton but this never happened despite the team picking up three podiums and blowing the other competitors away down the straight.
After much winging throughout the year the Ford has now been fitted with two restrictors slowing the cars down. Tom Chilton feels that this is unfair particularly after Snetterton where he feels the car with the biggest advantage belongs to the Chevrolet.
Speaking to touringcartimes.com after Snetterton and remembering when Plato had the clear advantage back in 2008 in the diesel powered Seat Leon, Chilton stated: "He's done an awful lot of whinging over the last five weeks, they've put restrictors on us and we're a lot slower - there's only one mile an hour difference. We struggle naturally because of the turbo; I think we need a bit of a weight break, I think the car needs to a little bit lighter maybe by 15 kilos. The old BTC cars are 30 kilos lighter that makes a big difference. You look at Jason when he used to be in the old SEAT turbo diesel, they always were 2-4 mph faster because you know from a turbo how much you lose from engine braking and weight distribution. I'm quite surprised at what's been happening at Snetterton, and Jason admitted to me he wasn't even pushing at the end of the races, and he had full success ballast on. That's a second of a lap faster roughly he's quicker than anyone, and that's wrong - our racing should be within tenths or hundredths, and for his car to be a second of a lap faster, his car's completely outside the regulations, I think someone needs to look at it."
Making a welcome return to the series this weekend will be last season's Clio Cup champion Phill Glew.
Glew was meant to compete this season for Triple 8 and impressed greatly at the opening rounds at Thruxton, however after the departure of Uniq Glew was left out in the cold. This weekend now sees Glew at the wheel of an NGTC powered Seat Leon run by Tom Boardman's Special Tuning UK outfit supported by Your Racing Car (YRC).
YRC was set up a couple of years ago and has been seen within the support races in the hands of Fulvio Mussi in the Ginetta G50's and Clio Cup. The idea behind YRC is to give you, the fans, the chance to get closer to the action by paying a small fee and getting various privileges including having your name on the car.
Glew will also continue to have his personnel sponsors on board including WD-40 and is clearly delighted to be back on the grid by saying, "This is a big jump for YourRacingCar and it is a good opportunity for me to build a relationship with YRC for the future, as the BTCC is where I want to be. I have been successful in other championships and the BTCC is the next step."
This is the first time a car other than a Vauxhall has run the NGTC engine and as a result Glew remains realistic about the weekend: "The NGTC engine will be an unknown for us so we aren't completely sure where we stand going into the weekend. We know it isn't going to be easy, but it is good for us to be involved in the development of the NGTC engine as we will be the first people to run it in a car other than the Vauxhall. As a racing driver, I always go out on track to win, but it is important for us not to be unrealistic in our aims with what is an unproven package. Initially we want to be inside the top ten, but with hard work and some luck on our side, I believe that the top six is an achievable target. Our main aim for the weekend is to get good publicity for everyone - fans and sponsors alike - who are involved in the programme."
This weekend will also see WSR driver Andy Neate return to the circuit that almost claimed his life round about two years ago to the day. Neate was taking part in the Britcar 24hr in a TVR when he suffered a terrible accident off the start that left him fighting for his life and in a coma for many weeks and left him unable to work for six months.
Neate who has had a difficult start to his BTCC career is not bothered about returning to the circuit for the first time and hopes this time around the circuit will give him some good luck by saying, "The circuit looks a whole lot different now to 2008, in fact the concrete wall I hit has been removed and moved back some 100 metres to improve safety. I would like to think my accident had contributed to Silverstone improving safety there and to reduce the risks of anything similar happening again. I don't think my accident will play on my mind at all during the racing. Maybe as I line up on the grid for race one my mind will switch to it for a split second but that's all. The place owes me some good fortune but I think we'll be strong at Silverstone in any case. My target as with Snetterton will be three strong points finishes, and with the reverse grid in race three who knows? We deserved that at Snetterton but luck was not with us that day; maybe my return to Silverstone will be a happy one."
Fans heading to the circuit this weekend are in for a treat from a variety of air displays including the Red Arrows, the battle of Britain memorial flight and from the worlds only flying Vulcan.
For those who cannot sadly make it stay logged on to Motorsport.com for all reviews and images from the weekend.