JELLEY & PLATO SHARE ROCKINGHAM WINS, TURKINGTON RETAINS LEAD AHEAD OF BRANDS HATCH TITLE-DECIDER Stephen Jelley and Jason Plato were the winners of today's three HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship races at the sun-soaked...
JELLEY & PLATO SHARE ROCKINGHAM WINS, TURKINGTON RETAINS LEAD AHEAD OF BRANDS HATCH TITLE-DECIDER
Stephen Jelley and Jason Plato were the winners of today's three HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship races at the sun-soaked Rockingham circuit in Northamptonshire. It was undoubtedly the best day of Leicester-based Jelley's career: he took his first-ever win in the series in race one and then added to it with another victory in race three, in doing so becoming the eighth different race-winner in the BTCC this season...
However, all eyes are now on his Team RAC BMW team-mate Colin Turkington who will go into Finals Day at the world-famous Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit in Kent on Sunday 4 October leading the championship standings and still on course for his first BTCC first Drivers' title. But he will arrive at Brands Hatch under intense pressure from two of the most successful names in the sport - Vauxhall's reigning champion, the Italian Fabrizio Giovanardi and 2001 winner Plato in his Racing Silverline Chevrolet.
Northern Irishman Turkington appeared to struggle to tenth and fourth position in today's first and second race while Giovanardi finished them in sixth and third and Plato second and first. Suddenly his lead over Giovanardi was down to just five points with Plato only 20 adrift having arrived at Rockingham 42 behind.
But in race three the tide turned back in Turkington's favour as he survived being pushed into a half-spin by Plato to finish fourth. In contrast, Plato needed a pit stop for quick repairs to his car and finished out of the points. Incredibly, so did Giovanardi whose car limped across the line with damage from a bash with former F1 star Johnny Herbert's Team Dynamics Honda Civic.
Herbert was one of several star performers in today's third race - the other being Tom Chilton who gave his Team Aon squad's new Ford Focus its first top-three result in the BTCC with a third-place finish. Significantly, it is the first time that the Ford name has appeared on the BTCC podium since 2000.
Up front, though, Turkington will go to Brands Hatch's title-deciding final round with a 13-point advantage over Giovanardi while Plato now has 28 points to make up.
Turkington, aged 27 and who has led the championship since mid-season, said: "For a moment in race three it looked like I'd be leaving Rockingham no longer the leader - it was a bit of a heart-in-mouth moment in the incident with Jason as the outcome could have been very different. But this time a bit of luck was with me while it was Jason's and Fabrizio's turn to suffer a bit of misfortune. So now this is it - just the final hurdle to clear but it's a very high hurdle. Jason and Fabrizio are world class drivers so I'll need to be at the top of my game to keep them where they are."
Giovanardi, champion these past two years and going for a third straight title, added: "I said before Jason could still come into it and here he is! I don't mind too much the gap to Colin - I am still quite close and he is maybe going to experience some new emotions. But he will be supported by his team-mate Jelley who has hit strong form at the right moment for his team. It is also good that there are three drivers who can win at the final round as it keeps it very exciting for everyone involved."
And said Oxford-based Plato: "I really thought I was right out of it before Rockingham and I still believe 28 points is too much to make up. Realistically, it is Colin's and Fabrizio's to lose - all I can do is try and win races on the day and the rest is up to them."
Meanwhile, today's double race-winner Jelly commented: "Crikey, what a day I've had! Awesome. I'm really proud because I achieved both my wins the hard way by catching and passing people. Days don't get much better than this..."
Elsewhere, Turkington has provisionally won a third consecutive Independent Drivers' title - Plato can still equal his points tally but will lose out on the number of privateer wins (he has four compared to Turkington's nine). However, the fight for the outright and Independent Teams' championships will very much go to the wire. VX Racing leads Team RAC in the outright Teams' table by 58 points with a possible 81 to be scored at Brands Hatch. And Team RAC leads the Independent Teams' standings by 38 points with a maximum of 45 to be had at the season finale. Vauxhall/VX Racing has already secured Manufacturer/Constructor honours.