PLATO JOINS BTCC PARTY
SUBARU MAN WINS BIG IN SCOTLAND
It was a day for benchmarks at Knockhill. Jason Plato started from his 49th pole position for his 500th race in the opener in Fife last weekend. That was the launch pad for him to zoom to his first victory of the season.
Matt Neal took his 49th career win in the second round, to underline the strength of the old guard in the championship, while race three was taken by Mat Jackson (Ford Focus) and he became the driver to have won the most times this season.
Through it all, a sensible Sam Tordoff (BMW 125i M Sport) did a mature job to avoid being tempted into potential clashes to bring home the points. His determination to hang on to what he had was impressive and he deserves his nine-point advantage at the head of the table over Neal.
With the majority of the top qualifiers starting on the softer option Dunlop tyres, any strategy on rubber was negated, so it would be a straight fight between the men as they lined up.
The man probably most concerned about that would have been Tom Ingram, lining up second in his Speedworks Toyota Avensis. He had three rear-wheeldrive cars surrounding him, and he needed to nail his getaway.
He did, and was able to follow Plato into Duffus Dip, fending off Tordoff and Jack Goff ’s WSR BMWS.
That looked like that would be it for Plato, as Ingram bottled up the two German cars behind.
The WSR machines performed a gentlemanly swap in positions going in to Duffus Dip at the start of lap nine, but they were still in the wheetracks of Ingram’s Toyota.
Goff explained that he had been on the radio: “I asked if they wanted to let me have a go at Tom, but the place wasn’t gifted. I worked hard for that one.”
Once free, Goff tracked Ingram and pounced for second place on lap 11. Plato was already 2.1s up the road at that point.
“The car felt strong, and I was able to close easily,” said Goff. “I really thought I would have a chance of catching him.”
That chance was thwarted by a late-race safety car, which was prompted when Plato’s Subaru team-mate Warren Scott was spat on to the grass at Butcher’s after contact with Dan Welch (Proton).
Plato said: “It was pretty ironic that the safety car was caused by my team-mate, but I was hoping they would clear it as soon as possible. But that is racing. I am just delighted to put a win in the bank, not just for me but for the whole programme.”
Goff was disappointed that he couldn’t continue his charge as the rubber on his BMW was spent, and he was forced to perform a rear-guard action over the remaining four laps.
That might have been an easier job but Colin Turkington was a man on a move. He pinched fourth from Tordoff at Clark’s with three laps remaining, and scorched up to the back of Goff and Ingram.
The Northern Irishman took until the penultimate lap to wrest third from Ingram with a clean move at the hairpin, but Goff had enough of a buffer to hold on to second.
“My car just came alive,” said Turkington. “I was passed by Andrew Jordan’s Focus at the start and took a while to get that place back, but after that I felt like I could overtake anywhere. It was a delight.”
Ingram knew that he was in trouble too, running his front-wheel-drive car among the favoured rear-driven machines.
“The pace was too fast with the cars around me,” said Ingram. “I knew I couldn’t make it to the end with grip running like that, so I decided to bank what I could.”
Behind Ingram and Tordoff was Jordan, who had fallen away over the latter stages. He was well clear, however, of series returnee Dave Newsham in the Power Maxed Chevrolet.
The works Honda Civic Type R duo of Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden (on the hard tyres) ran carefully from a respective seventh and 11th on the grid for eighth and ninth, but were forced to fend off the feisty Rob Austin (Handy Motorsport Toyota Avensis) throughout.
Championship leader coming in to the event, Rob Collard’s WSR BMW 125i M Sport, was hampered by a poor qualifying session when he had his best lap removed for a track limits infringement to line up 18th. He was caught up in midfield scuffles and could only bring it home in 17th position.
The theory goes that Knockhill is a rear-wheel-drive circuit. That was certainly proved in race one, with a podium lockout.
With those finishing positions translated into starting slots for race two, it looked like another walkover. But that was factoring without the wily skills of Neal and the prowess of the soft tyres.
After 21 laps, things were going to script for the rear-motivated cars. Plato, with 75kg of ballast on, had fended off attack after attack, with first Goff, then Turkington then Tordoff trying to usurp the old master.
While Tordoff pressured Plato for the lead, Turkington and Goff came to sideby-side blows out of the hairpin at the end of lap 21. They both slid into the gravel, and allowed Neal to squirt up the inside on the way out of the corner.
His patience paid dividends. Tordoff attacked the limping Plato again with three laps to go, in a series of events that would put the Honda through to the lead.
“It was all going on,” said Neal. “I was held up behind Andrew Jordan [from half distance] and I thought there was no way could make it to the front, but once I had got in front of him, it was game on again.”
Once Neal had leap-frogged the Ford, and the battling Turkington and Goff, he was tracking the two in front.
“I could see that Jason was struggling with his tyres and backing Tordoff up, and I took my time,” he said.
The move for the lead was perfect opportunism, sprung as Tordoff tried to go around the outside of Plato at the hairpin. “The soft tyres were monstrous,” said Neal.
As for Tordoff, he was pleased with second place after the topsy-turvy race that he had endured. “When I was attacking Plato, I didn’t know which way to go,” said the BMW man, who was happy to collect points as the championship leader. “Once Neal had got in front of me, knew that he would be prepared to stick his nose in so I let him get on with it.”
Plato, for his part, had concerns of his own. An early brush with Turkington had left him worried about his chances of making the finish.
“I was enjoying the race, but at about half distance I had a huge wobble into the hairpin,” he said. “I thought I had a leftrear puncture, but I got on the radio and they told me that everyone was struggling. I think that maybe that early touch had done something to the car, and
was battling it everywhere. Still, with 75kg on, that is a good result.”
Turkington survived his troubles to bank fourth knowing that he had been circumspect in his pursuit of Plato earlier on. “Jason wasn’t going to give up the place and I wasn’t going to do anything stupid,” said the Subaru man.
Behind the top four, one of the drives of the weekend came from Collard. He was not on the soft tyres, but used the durability offered by the harder Dunlops to slice up the order to finish in a hugely impressive fifth spot.
Mat Jackson (on soft tyres) and the battle-scarred Goff rounded out the top seven, from the similarly scruffy car of Jordan, Shedden and local hero Aiden Moffat (Mercedes-benz A-class).
Ingram should have been in the mix, running strongly in the top 10 early on until the weight took its toll on the front Dunlop tyres and he was a sitting duck.
He was roughed up as he dropped down through the order and ended up with a front wing hanging off. He tried to remove the dragging items by clipping a polystyrene barrier on the side of the track but that failed and he was called into the pits.
With Collard on the front row and on the favoured soft tyres, the third race looked like it would be a shoo-in for the German rear-wheel-drive car.
However, that was figuring without a highly determined Mat Jackson, who was the one car starting ahead.
He powered the Focus to the top of Duffus Dip ahead of Collard and didn’t look back. Well, actually, that’s not true. He did a great deal of looking back as he put in a superbly defensive performance to remain on top for the duration of the 27 laps – even despite an early safety car.
Firstly, Collard and Turkington were nipping at his heels. The BMW looked strong, but the Subaru behind was giving Collard all kinds of problems.
The Northern Irishman looked up the inside of the WSR machine in to Clark’s on lap three, trying to force an opening, but had to back off because of yellow flags for Ash Sutton’s stranded MG. That prompted a safety car, and a brief respite for the lead battle.
The battle resumed on lap seven, and the pressure cooker environment boiled over two tours later.
Turkington got up the inside of Collard again into Clark’s, just as the BMW man tried to take the apex. The pair made contact and were both shoved on to the grass on the exit of the corner, and both drivers, predictably, blamed each other for the melee.
“That was a completely crazy move for Colin to try,” fumed Collard afterwards. Turkington countered: “I had done that move before with other drivers, but I always seem to have problems when it’s Collard.”
Whatever the rancour, it meant they were both out and the bigger picture shows the clash has seriously damaged their championship hopes.
It didn’t give Jackson any breathing space. As soon as one BMW and Subaru had disappeared from his wheeltracks, a mirror image appeared in the form of Tordoff and Plato.
Once clear of team-mate Neal, the softtyred Shedden raced up to the back of the queue for the lead but was not able to make any progress. It was four of the top drivers fighting cleanly and closely. No positions swapped, but it was a nail biter.
“There was no way they were having that race from me,” said Jackson. “It was hard work but I was able to get a gap on the others in sector one, but they were all over me in the last two parts of the track.
“I was relieved when I saw Collard go off because he had the soft tyres, but the others gave me a real work out.”
Behind Shedden, Neal capped a solid weekend with fifth ahead of Austin and Morgan, who had raced side-by-side with the Toyota prevailing. Moffat, a lacklustre Jordan and Goff, who had been nerfed off the track in the early scraps, completed the top 10 finishers.
As much as Jackson was delighted with a win, Tordoff ’s second place was perhaps the most significant result of the weekend. It has given him a slight edge at the top of the points and with just nine races remaining.
Tordoff said: “This weekend couldn’t have gone a lot better. It’s only Oulton Park where we scored higher than here.
“Two seconds and a fifth place on a BTCC weekend is a great weekend.
“I would happily have taken that ahead of the weekend. We’ve maximised our rear-wheel-drive advantage. Things are looking good, we’re fast, the car is reliable, carries the weight well and we’ll need this to mount a serious title challenge.”
Jason Plato won his 500th race
Sam Tordoff is nine ahead in the points standings
Honda Civic racer Matt Neal took a cheeky win in the second encounter
Jackson worked hard for race three victory
Collard and Turkington clashed in race three