Thursday, 13 October 2011

BTCC teams head to the Finale

Two teams head to Silverstone's round of the BTCC with very different approaches to the event. One's got a shot at the championship (for the second year running), and the other is looking to round off a successful season with more success, if not necessarily a title. So here's how Chevrolet's Jason Plato and the Toyota teams are preparing for the event

Plato: “We’ll give it our best shot”

Jason Plato
 Less than a month ago, Silverline Chevrolet driver Jason Plato’s chances of winning the 2011 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship were looking slim. Very slim, in fact.


But when life’s full of opportunities, the last thing you do is give up, and as the most exciting racing formula in the UK builds up to its inevitably dramatic climax at Silverstone on Sunday 16 October, Plato finds himself just five points adrift of championship leader, and his historic arch-rival, Matt Neal. Plato is also tied on points with Neal’s Honda team-mate, Gordon Shedden.
Whatever happens when the series takes to the Silverstone National circuit for its curtain call, the 2011 season will be one of the closest on record, a fitting finish to one of the most dramatic and controversial seasons on record, and one that has seen viewer numbers on ITV4 increase by over 45 per cent since last year.
Heading into the final meeting, Plato reflects on a season in which his hopes have been kept alive by a combination of gritty determination, hard driving and teamwork.
It’s been one of the toughest seasons ever,” reflects the Oxfordshire-based driver. “On the one hand, we’ve won eight races, broken lap and race win records and the car has got better and better as the season has gone on. On the other, we’ve had politics and some spectacular low points. The dramatic roll at Donington back in April was probably the biggest shunt ever in my entire career, we had a miserable weekend up at Knockhill and it’s impossible to overtake with a normally-aspirated car on some of the circuits. It’s astonishing that we are where we are, that we’ve even got a fighting chance going into Silverstone.”*
Silverline Chevrolet is up for a second title in as many years.
But Plato isn’t the kind of guy to roll over, and nor are the team behind him. In 2010, when the BTCC went into its mid-season break, Plato was the outsider in the championship thanks to some bad luck at Oulton Park and Croft. He went on to take the driver’s championship, an achievement he immediately dedicated to his team.
“The Chevrolet Cruze is without a doubt the best Touring Car I’ve driven,” said JP. “And that’s entirely down to the guys that build it at RML. We’ve worked together long enough now to have a real understanding of each other, and that helps us set up the car perfectly. At Brands Hatch last time out, the car was mint – it could not have been better, and that was reflected in the results we got against cars that, on paper, are much quicker and more powerful.”
Heading into the last meeting, Plato is under no illusion that he remains the outsider. The fast, wide Silverstone circuit is expected to suit the turbocharged Hondas, whereas the Chevy excels on the more technical, handling-oriented tracks where driver skill and experience is critical. The five point deficit to Neal will be a massive challenge to overcome, but Plato is in the right mindset.
A month ago, we had nothing. We were 40 points adrift, with three race meetings left – you’d never have thought we’d have clawed it back this far. At Rockingham and Brands, we got some amazing results, driven mostly by a desire among everyone in the team to not roll over and not give up. It runs deep through the team, from the team manager to the truckie, the drivers to the caterers. Remember, these are the guys that got my wreck of a car back out on track at Donington, when I was changed and ready to go home.”
The points Plato scored at Donington in that infamous third race could end up crucial in the final meeting of the season, almost as much as the huge points haul the team has racked up in the past two meetings.
“To be where we are now is a remarkable achievement, and if it rains at Silverstone we’ll grab the bull by the horns and give it our best shot. Even if it’s a perfect track, where on paper our chances are slim, we can’t give up without a fight. Absolutely anything can happen in motorsport, and with the championship this close, all it takes is a puncture or a simple driver error to turn the whole thing on its head.
But even if it doesn’t come off, if I’m to take one thing from this season it’s the fact that against all odds, we gave it our best shot and we took it to the wire, where weaker teams would have given up. That’s because the Silverline Chevrolet BTCC Class of 2011 are amazing, and it’s absolutely my belief that RML are the best Touring Car team in the world – that’s why I’m proud to drive their car.”
To read the interview in full, and to keep up with the Silverline Chevrolet BTCC team ,visit www.chevroletbtcc.co.uk


TOYOTA INDEPENDENTS LOOKING FOR STRONG END TO BTCC SEASON
Hughes is looking to round off a successful season in style
Toyota’s independent BTCC racers, Frank Wrathall and Tony Hughes, will bring their maiden seasons in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship to a close at Silverstone this weekend (15/16 October), and each is looking to end the year on a positive note in preparation for a renewed assault on the UK’s most popular race series in 2012.
Wrathall and his Dynojet Racing Team are hoping for further podium success for their ‘Next Generation Touring Car’ Toyota Avensis.
Last month, at Knockhill and Rockingham, the Dynojet Toyota claimed four top-three finishes on the trot and came within 0.4s of an historic race victory when it crossed the Round 25 finish line right in the wheeltracks of championship frontrunner Gordon Shedden’s Honda.
Wrathall, who celebrated his 25th birthday last week, is keen to return to that sort of form: “We were on the crest of a wave at Knockhill and Rockingham, and that made it all the harder to take a weekend like Brands Hatch…” Earlier this month at the Kent track Frank posted two non-finishes, his first retirements since Snetterton.
“Everyone within the team is determined to make up for last time and put everything into getting it right and finishing the season on a high,” adds Wrathall. “Fortunately the damage suffered at Brands Hatch was mostly cosmetic and easily fixed, and we have had a good, relaxed time in the workshop getting everything prepared. We will shake the Toyota down at Donington on Thursday and hopefully arrive at Silverstone with everything well prepared and in good shape.”
The track in use at Silverstone will be the triangular 1.6-mile National Circuit with its three long straights, which should provide some speedy and breathtaking action. “The Toyota has the potential to go well there,” says Frank, “although I have been caught out before with my predictions – circuits where I have thought we might struggle we have gone well, and vice versa.”
Wrathal has proved to be very impressive this season
For Tony Hughes and the Speedworks Motorsport team the hope is for a trouble-free weekend. Last time out, problems with the TOCA ‘stock’ engine of their Avensis washed out their qualifying hopes and left the squad on the back foot. “We want to get through this weekend solidly and reliably,” said Tony. “I want to be able to come away from Silverstone with everything in one piece so that we can crack on and get as much set-up and experience as possible to start 2012.”
The weekend’s action will decide which of five drivers – Matt Neal, Jason Plato, Gordon Shedden, Mat Jackson or James Nash – will wear the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship crown. It’s the first time in the 53-year history of the BTCC that so many drivers have taken the title fight down to the wire.
The weekend’s BTCC action kicks off with two free practice sessions and qualifying on Saturday followed by three races on Sunday – at 1135, 1435 and 1715 – all of which will be live on ITV4.


*We're bored with the whole NA vs Turbo argument now, Mr Plato.