A double victory for Jason Plato at Snetterton has propelled him to a 20-point lead in the 2010 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. Plato went into the event trailing Honda Racing's Matt Neal by 8-points but after the former double...
A double victory for Jason Plato at Snetterton has propelled him to a 20-point lead in the 2010 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. Plato went into the event trailing Honda Racing's Matt Neal by 8-points but after the former double champion suffered a puncture in race 1, it continued to be a tough day for the Honda man.
Neal did manage to salvage something from the day with a podium in race 3, which his Honda Racing team mate Gordon Shedden won.
Race 1 saw Plato's Silverline Chevrolet team mate Alex MacDowall line up and make history by becoming the youngest ever driver to take pole. MacDowall would have a day to forget however and unbelievably his only point from the whole weekend would be for that pole.
Race 1 would end very quickly for the youngster and he didn't even make the first corner. After an initial good get away MacDowall would instantly pull to one side and allow the pack through with a broken gear leaver.
This meant that he had to start race 2 at the back of the grid having to pass a number of drivers to get to the front of the grid. In his attempt to get past the midfielders in their older machinery, MacDowall made contact with Lea Wood in his Central Racing Group Honda Integra at the first corner, which sent the Chevrolet into a huge fishtail slide and even though he prevented the car going into a spin he bumped over the kerb and ripped a sump off. Although he would get to the finish in race 3 he would not pick up a point by finishing 13th.
So with MacDowall limping to the first corner in the first race, Plato inherited the lead, which he never lost. He didn't have it easy though as Mat Jackson in the Airwaves BMW kept him honest for the majority of the race before the 2001 champion pulled away slightly at the end. Third place was the LPG powered Ford Focus of Tom Chilton, although it was obvious just how big a speed advantage both him and team mate Tom Onslow-Cole had over the rest of the field.
Chilton lost two places at the start of the race to both Hondas but would just simply drive past both of them down the straights before even making the corner. Tom Onslow-Cole would do the same coming from the back of the grid after failing the ride-hight in qualifying due to making contact with the Vauxhall Astra Coupe of Martin Johnson. Onslow-Cole also powered past the Honda of Neal having already passed both Steven Kane and Tom Boardman after the pair had slowed him up coming out of the first corner on his way to 6th position. With the advantage that obvious the organisers had no choice and even fitted them a bigger restrictor in between the first two races.
Once Chilton had passed Shedden, Shedden had a pretty uneventful race from then on with no chance of getting near Chilton and with no one putting any pressure on the Scot; Shedden took 4th.
Behind him was the impressive James Nash in the sole Triple 8 Vectra. Nash was a real star in Free Practice with his acrobatics over the Esses and surely would have been higher had it not been for the rain in qualifying. Nash's highlight from race 1 would his taking advantage of Andrew Jordan and Neal battling into the Esses overtaking the pair on the run down to the Bomb Hole.
With Onslow-Cole finishing 6th everyone else would take advantage of Neal getting his puncture on the penultimate lap of the race. The first driver to be promoted was Kane in the second Airwaves BMW who finished 7th ahead of Tom Boardman in his Special Tuning UK Seat Leon.
Croft winner Jordan finished a disappointing 9th in his Pirtek Racing Vectra. Jordan had been running 6th but would slip down the field as the race progressed after his tyres went off.
Taking the last point would be the WSR BMW of Rob Collard. This was a remarkable point for Collard who passed Paul O'Neill on the last lap, as he had to do the majority of the race holding his door following early contact with Onslow-Cole.
Collard admitted after the race that he had to hold onto his door so that "the stewards didn't notice and send me into the pits".
But it was Plato's race and clearly the work that the RML team had paid off with the Chevrolet Cruze much kinder on its tyres and to prove this was the fact that Plato took fastest lap of the race on lap 14.
Plato would double his victory talley for the day in race 2 with a commanding performance and apart from a first corner challenge by Jackson; Plato would never look like he was in any danger of losing his lead.
The first lap did see a rather nasty looking incident similar to last year when Collard spun across the track and being collected by the then WSR driver Stephen Jelley.
This time it was Boardman who spun across the track after the slightest of touches from Nash, and as Boardman spun back across the track he was collected by both Team Sunshine.co.uk Honda Integra's of O'Neill and John George. All cars would be substantially damaged with the car of George even having its right rear wheel being ripped from the car. Both Special Tuning and in particular Techspeed worked miracles to get all cars ready for race 3.
This brought out quite a lengthy safety car period and when on lap 6 the safety car came in, the battle would be for second, which meant Plato was able to build up quite a lead.
Jackson held it for the time being but was being put under great pressure from both Fords. Chilton made an attack at the final chicane and got alongside the BMW out of the final corner, this also allowed his teammate Onslow-Cole to go the other side of Jackson to his right. Despite the restrictor the Fords would be the clear winner with Chilton sweeping around Jackson's left and Onslow-Cole getting past on the right towards the first corner. Jackson would also lose a further place later in the race to his team mate Kane after he ran wide coming out of Sear Corner.
Jackson did however hold off an attempt from Shedden, which resulted in the Honda driver losing a couple of places. Shedden tried a move into the final chicane but that only slowed him up allowing Jordan to take 6th. Collard, now not having to hold on to his door, would also quickly get past as well. Passing the Civic down the straight showing perhaps from race 1 why even with the power advantage why the Fords were so easily getting past the Honda as they were possibly a little down on power.
Collard had earlier got past both Neal and Nash in a move exactly the same as the one that Nash took advantage of in race 1, with Neal trying to overtake the Vectra into the Esses slowing the pair up allowing Collard to get down the inside, with Neal and Nash both taking the final two points scoring positions. This would also make up the front row for race 3 after number 10 was drawn out in the reverse grid lottery.
So with Nash on pole he hoped to emulate his performance last year by winning on the road before having it taken away from him after the race for his part in the earlier described incident involving Collard and Jelley. Nash had a really good realistic chance of taking victory after the car took two victories at the circuit last year and Nash himself had shown good pace all weekend.
The Triple 8 driver would have a dream first lap with a good start and built up a little lead by the end of the first lap leaping over the Esses in similar fashion as in practice.
However it all went wrong very quickly for Nash, as exiting the first corner he got fully sideways and although he corrected the original slide it then spun him back the other way with the Vectra ending up beached in the crop field.
This allowed Shedden to take the lead and one of which he never came close to losing after he overtook the poor starting Neal at the start. Neal also would lose a place to Collard but quickly fought back attempting a pass at the Chicane. The pair entered side-by-side and the BMW bounced off the Honda across the grass taking out a marker in doing so. Nevertheless Neal would be back past by the end of the lap and this is how it would stay until the final lap of the race.
Neal had struggled for a large section of the race without a left mirror, which proved particularly tricky to defend into the Esses. Controversy is often associated between the pair and this pass was much of the same, with Collard bumping the back of the Honda sending Neal sideways and having to take to the grass sending the BMW past.
Even though the stewards later reprimanded Collard for causing an avoidable collision this seemed like a small price to pay, as he was able to keep his second.
Chilton would take 4th but the third race would be a less than good experience for his team mate after contact with Jackson at the Esses, ripping off the hinges to Onslow-Cole's left rear door meaning he had to pit. This wouldn't be the only pit stop for the double winner this year, as he also had to pit later in the race for new tyres meaning he would finish well outside the points.
Fifth would be Plato having his by far best weekend so far this year, who finished just ahead of Kane with the trio of Chilton, Plato and Kane spending much of the race together.
Jackson would eventually finish a lonely 7th ahead of the hard charging O'Neill from the back of the grid. O'Neill passed the second WSR of Andy Neate, who had been as high as 7th earlier in the race, on the penultimate lap which also allowed Dave Pinkney through at the same time to take his only points of the day in his NGTC Turbo powered Vectra. There would be less good news though for the other NGTC powered Vectra of Jordan after the Pirtek Racing driver picked up a problem on the formation lap and had to be pushed away from his 5th place grid spot.
The day clearly belonged to the Silverline Chevrolet of Plato who manage to outscore Neal by 28-points to take a 20-point lead away to Silverstone. Plato was clearly delighted with the progress the team has made over the summer and now is just three race wins away from a BTCC record tally tie of Andy Rouse's all time wins.
"I expected us to be strong here and so it's proved," said Plato. "The team has used the summer break really well and dug deep into all the data. We've improved a couple of key areas and the result is a really fantastic race car now in the Cruze. This is where last year we really got our championship going and I have a sneaky feeling we're going to be very strong again from here on in. I'm feeling very confident for Silverstone."
This time it was Neal who had a mixed weekend and after losing his championship lead said, "I knew we were in for a tough weekend and it's been a case of damage limitation, whereas Jason has really gone and pulled a rabbit from the hat. That's an ominous sign for the rest of us."
Neal's teammate Shedden now lies just four points behind with 127 points while Onslow-Cole is a further 13 points behind Shedden on 114 closely followed by the two Airwaves BMW drivers of Kane at 109 and Jackson with 101.
Arena Ford had taken a 4-point lead into the third race of the day in the Manufactures/constructors championship but the Honda Racing 1-3 meant they left with an 8 point advantage.
Honda racing also still leads the HiQ team Championship from Airwaves BMW but Airwaves BMW are topping the independent team championship with driver Kane leading Onslow-Cole in the drivers' Independent category.
It now looks like Plato will be the new man to beat after building up some daylight at the top of the standings. The series will roll up to the home of British Motorsport at Silverstone in just two weeks time. So stay logged onto Motorsport.com for all build-up and coverage from the weekend to find out if Honda or Ford can draw Plato back or will the Chevrolet driver build up more of an advantage?
So please return for all the answers and more as the series slowly filters down, now towards the business end of the season.