- 2010 champion joint second, five points off championship lead
- High drama promised at Silverstone
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.”
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.”