North-East next stop ..

The countdown has begun: there are less than two weeks to go before Britain’s premier motor racing series – the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship – makes its only trip of the year to the North-East at the Croft circuit on Sunday 1 June.

Croft never fails to draw a huge BTCC race day crowd and in 2008 – with the championship at its most competitive and exciting for a decade – tens of thousands of fans are expected to file through the gates to see their heroes including Newcastle’s own Jason Plato, Fabrizio Giovanardi and Matt Neal do battle.

Rounds 13, 14 and 15 of the BTCC headline the bill on 1 June which includes a further seven races from supporting categories to keep the fans entertained.

Croft’s location, just off the A1 motorway near Darlington, means it is within easy reach of North-East BTCC fans – regarded as some of the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable in the UK.

The circuit’s pricing strategy also means great value-for-money entertainment for not just enthusiasts but also families. Adult tickets cost just £22.00 and admission for children aged 15 and under is FREE. More details are available from the Croft circuit’s website or by calling 01325 721815.

The price includes entry to the paddock and popular morning Pit Lane Walkabout session when the public can meet the BTCC stars for autographs, photos and give-aways.

Meanwhile Plato, who was raised and went to school in Newcastle, is very much the local hero whenever the BTCC visits Croft. The 2001 Champion took his second win of the season at Thruxton in Hampshire yesterday and will be looking for more of the same in front of his home audience.

Driving SEAT’s new diesel-powered Leon TDI, the 40-year-old currently lies second in the standings to Vauxhall’s Italian superstar Giovanardi who pipped him to last year’s crown. But with eight different winners from the season’s opening 12 races, predicting a winner will be nigh on impossible.

There will also be plenty of cheering trackside for the Boldon-based team Robertshaw Racing which fields a Chevrolet Lacetti for Newcastle’s Harry Vaulkhard and a Honda Integra for Whitley Bay’s Alan Taylor who runs several top-line seafood restaurants in the city. Vaulkhard, aged 22, will go into his home event off the back of his first points-scoring finish in what is his first season of racing in Britain’s toughest race championship.