How Ja­son Plato, Team BMR and Subaru are en­ter­ing a new chap­ter in the BTCC. By Matt James

Motor Sport News - - Contents -

The tra­di­tional way of build­ing a Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship racer is to find a road car, strip it out, fit it with the ap­pro­pri­ate parts and then go rac­ing. That is sim­pli­fy­ing things, of course, but Team BMR and Ja­son Plato have taken a dif­fer­ent ap­proach this sea­son.

It has re­verse en­gi­neered its way to what it hopes will be a ti­tle-win­ning ma­chine. It has lured Subaru to join the grid with a quar­tet of fac­tory-backed Levorg mod­els. The estate-shaped car will cer­tainly make an im­pres­sion on the BTCC grid this sea­son.

It wasn’t a ques­tion of Plato ap­proach­ing the man­u­fac­turer and then mak­ing its prime model a race win­ner, he knew what he wanted. “I had looked at the Subaru for a num­ber of years, and spo­ken to [en­gi­neer] Carl Faux,” says Plato. “The way the car is laid out is per­fect for the BTCC. I was com­mit­ted to MG and so there was noth­ing I could do about it. It was frus­trat­ing, and I had my fin­gers crossed that no­body else was go­ing to have the same idea as Carl and I had.”

Plato made con­tact with Subaru and pulled the deal to­gether. From the ini­tial con­tact in Oc­to­ber, an agree­ment was made in Novem­ber and the green light was fi­nally given in mid-de­cem­ber.

While that is a boost for the cham­pi­onship, it meant that the time­frame for the build of an am­bi­tious four cars – for Plato, ex-cham­pion Colin Turk­ing­ton, James Cole and team owner War­ren Scott – was ex­tremely tight.

Faux was the tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor of Triple Eight Rac­ing and worked as the MG6 took 20 wins in Plato’s hands. He had done the ground­work on the Subaru.

Faux said: “I was on the BTCC Tech­ni­cal Work­ing Group when we de­vised the NGTC reg­u­la­tions [to which all cars are built now, which man­dates a num­ber of dy­namic fac­tors and stip­u­lates a high level of man­dated parts].

“I was work­ing for Triple Eight, which was run­ning the MG. The fur­ther we went down the NGTC road with the cars, I was ex­plor­ing the op­tions with dif­fer­ent cars, and the Subaru def­i­nitely stood out – but I was in the wrong place to do it. Then I joined BMR and, at the be­gin­ning of last sea­son, this op­tion came about.”

The rea­son that the Subaru is a stand out car is the en­gine. It is a flat four­cylin­der con­fig­u­ra­tion, which means that the pistons are hor­i­zon­tal as op­posed to ev­ery other en­gine on the grid, which have in-line four-cylin­der units. It means that the weight is low down, and that has in­her­ent han­dling ad­van­tages from its Moun­tune-de­vel­oped en­gine.

“The Subaru Levorg is es­sen­tially per­fect for an NGTC,” ex­plains Faux. “Within the rules, it is all about the en­gine and the po­si­tion­ing of its cen­tre of grav­ity. Pre­vi­ously when the rules in the BTCC were freer, it was pos­si­ble to en­gi­neer some­thing trick with the sus­pen­sion set-up or change some­thing else on the car to over­come any prob­lems. But, with the NGTC rules the way they are, there is lit­tle free­dom to do that be­cause ev­ery­one has the same sus­pen­sion. That meant that the boxer con­fig­u­ra­tion of the lay­out of the pow­er­plant played an im­por­tant part. It is a flat en­gine, and it car­ries the weight low down – its mass is low – which helps with the cen­tre of grav­ity.”

The team has been hard at work build­ing the car, but time­frames are tight – in­deed, only one car was ready in time for the me­dia day at Don­ing­ton Park last week, and even that didn’t run.

The squad de­cided that, while it could rush through amend­ments to get the car out on track at Don­ing­ton, it would pre­fer to per­fect the ma­chine and run at a pri­vate shake­down later in the week at Mill­brook.

It was the next land­mark in a project that has been full of twists and turns. One of the first ob­sta­cles to over­come was the rule­book. Four-wheel-drive cars are out­lawed from the BTCC, so an amend­ment was needed. Teams voted in favour of the tweak that al­lowed a four­wheel-drive road car to run as ei­ther front-wheel drive only (if the en­gine is trans­versely mounted in the road car) or rear-wheel drive if the en­gine in the road car is lon­gi­tu­di­nal. It was un­usual to get a con­sen­sus from ri­val team man­agers in the BTCC, but Faux thinks he has spotted a rea­son why the num­ber of pri­va­teer teams might have had an­other rea­son to push through the change

Faux says: “The other teams agreed to this tweak – I think it was a lot of the smaller pri­va­teer teams that didn’t want us be­ing a pri­va­teer any­more and steal­ing all their prize money [from the In­de­pen­dents Tro­phy]!”

The fact the Levorg is rear-wheel drive was cru­cial for Faux. He’d looked over the garage and seen what Team Dy­nam­ics had done with the estate-shaped Honda Civic Tourer in 2014 and the strug­gles it had ini­tially to make it work with trick han­dling from the rear of the ma­chine.

But the driv­e­train con­fig­u­ra­tion in the Levorg means that he is con­fi­dent he won’t have such a strug­gle: “The aero­dy­namic num­bers that we have from Subaru are very strong and, even though it might not look it, it is a small car. It is nar­row. And you have to re­mem­ber it is rear-wheel drive too – when Honda did its estate BTCC car that was front-wheel drive. Car­ry­ing more weight over the rear of the car is ac­tu­ally go­ing to be more of a ben­e­fit to us. We wouldn’t have tried this pro­gramme if it had been based on a front-wheel-drive car.”

Now the car is up and run­ning, there are still con­cerns be­fore it gets to the open­ing race at Brands Hatch. Plato has been through a num­ber of new man­u­fac­turer pro­grammes and knows what it takes to get the most from a pro­gramme. How­ever, even for the veteran of 94 race wins, the Levorg is some­thing new.

“We have just got to get the car run­ning straight, do­ing the right sort of thing, and un­der­stand­ing what we have. That will be the aim for Brands Hatch,” says Plato. “It is go­ing to take a lit­tle bit of time to hone the car but ac­tu­ally, as a pack­age, its maths and its physics should be spot on and it won’t take long to get right.”

As usual with en­gi­neers, Faux is cau­tious about mak­ing any bold claims for the 30-race cam­paign ahead.

“It is go­ing to be hard for us: this is a new team, we are build­ing a new car,” he says. “There are lots of peo­ple at Team BMR who have not been through this process be­fore. But Subaru has shown its com­mit­ment to the pro­gramme for three years and that means it is im­por­tant that we get it right. So if that means that the first part of 2016 is spent nail­ing any re­li­a­bil­ity is­sues we have, then so be it. We want to get this thing ab­so­lutely right.

“It is un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect us to be win­ning right from the out­set. We want to im­prove as a team. This is the first new car BMR has built and that, in it­self, is a huge step. But, with the sup­port we have from Subaru and the level of sup­port from the pub­lic too, then this is go­ing to be a very ex­cit­ing and re­ward­ing pro­gramme.”

But Plato is ex­pect­ing much big­ger re­wards to come right from the out­set. He is aware that there is a great deal of work to do, but that hasn’t stopped him tar­get­ing the big­gest prize of all.

“I will put my neck on the line and say that we will be win­ning races be­fore half way though the sea­son, and the cham­pi­onship is on my agenda this year,” says Plato. “If I don’t win the ti­tle, I will be pissed off.” ■

“I am aim­ing for the ti­tle” Ja­son Plato

Scott, Turk­ing­ton, Cole and Plato will drive the Levorgs

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