The fourth round of the 2007 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Croft marked a milestone in the series as the North East venue wracked up ten years as a fixture on the calendar.
From an inaugural meeting that at times looked like a sailing regatta more than a motorsport event thanks to the weather, the former airfield has played host to some dramatic moments over ten years of racing – with some memorable racing action both on, and off, the circuit (think back to the 'unique' line employed round Clervaux by Jim Edwards en-route to the Production Class win back in 2001 as a example...)
However, 1997 didn't just mark the first appearance of Croft on the BTCC scene, it also signalled the debut of driver by the name of Jason Plato, who had grown up in the North East of England and was making the step up into touring cars with the crack Williams Touring Car Engineering outfit – an offshoot of the Williams F1 squad that had clinched the 1996 Formula One title with Damon Hill.
Securing a double pole for his debut in the Renault Laguna at Donington Park, and then adding a third straight top spot in qualifying for round three at Silverstone, Plato would quickly make his on the BTCC – with wins later in the year at Snetterton and Silverstone helping him to third in the championship standings, just a point behind the outgoing champion Frank Biela.
Since that debut season, Plato has gone on (at the time of writing) to start nearly 230 BTCC races, with 36 wins putting him second on the all time winners list alongside former team-mates Alain Menu and Yvan Muller – the latter being the man Plato defeated in dramatic style to clinch his only BTCC title to date back in 2001.
The home circuit:
With Croft and Plato both celebrating ten years since their respective BTCC debuts this year, Crash.net
took the chance to sit down with the current points leader to look back at the last ten years – with the circuit itself being a good place to start, even if Plato's so called 'highlights' aren't necessarily choices that would be top of many peoples list...
“You mention that this is my home track and I guess it is as I was brought up and spent my formative years and misspent youth in the North East, but amusingly I'd never been to Croft and never came to watch a race here until we came with the BTCC in 1997,” the SEAT Sport driver recalled. “I remember it was new to the calendar and I remember very well that we came on a test before the first race with a view to finding out what was what.
“I was a new guy to touring cars and my voice was very small back then and it was interesting to come and see the effort that had been put in to get the circuit up to the scale needed to attract a series like the BTCC. However, it quickly became apparent that things weren't as they should have been as there were some trees you could hit - but I thought it was ace. However the big voices of touring cars kicked off and we went on a circuit walk with 20 odd drivers of international repute saying 'this isn't right, that isn't right'. I'd never experienced that before and overnight, they made the changes.
“It was apparent that Croft was going to be one of those special places on the calendar where they aren't a big corporate entity – they are people. It's always great to come back here year in, year out as they put on a great show and make everyone welcome in that Northern way – which I miss from having lived in this neck of the woods.