PLATO JOINS BTCC PARTY

SUBARU MAN WINS BIG IN SCOT­LAND

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Matt James

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.

Race one

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.

Race two

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.

Race three

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

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