For the first time in BTCC history, four drivers were in a position to claim the title heading into the 2010 finale, and as such, the build-up was always going to be frantic. The showdown captured the imagination of the general public, with the event featured on the ITV
breakfast show Daybreak
, and ITV4
clearing their schedules to cover the whole event on Sunday. Indeed, arriving at the circuit on Saturday morning, it was apparent that there was a decent-sized crowd to witness qualifying even though the promised sunshine never actually arrived...
For RML, the free practice sessions proved to be a good indicator of how the weekend would pan out. Plato was comfortably fastest in both sessions, which was all-the-more impressive when you consider that he was carrying the maximum success ballast of 45kg. Indeed, qualifying was to confirm his earlier form, as despite the session being interrupted three times due to on-track incidents, Plato managed to secure his first pole position of the season. The good form of the Cruze was confirmed by team-mate Alex MacDowall who, after a promising morning, qualified fourth. From the team's perspective, this was a perfect start to the weekend, and to ensure that this continued, they were trying to ensure that their approach was to be as 'normal' as possible, with PR commitments being kept to a minimum to allow the drivers to focus on the race. However, an event of this stature meant that there was a constant throng of media and fans around the RML pit area.
After qualifying, I was able to get 'up-close-and-personal' with the Chevrolet Cruze. The amount of preparation that goes into running two successful cars cannot be underestimated. In essence, the body shells are delivered by Chevrolet – these are straight off of their production line. Once RML receives the cars, they then proceed to shed the weight, paint and prepare them. Certain components such as the door seals, headlights and windscreen wipers are original road parts, but what is created is a pure racing thoroughbred. As you might suspect, the demand for spare panels is usually quite high after a typical weekend, and Michell recounted the tale of a weekend where, having won, Plato clambered onto the roof of his car to celebrate, and very nearly caused some major damage due to his exuberance!
Sunday – race day – dawned bright and warm. The atmosphere in the paddock was filled with anticipation of the day's events. At RML, the feeling was optimistic, but tense. The paddock was buzzing, and whilst Team Aon had the greater visual presence, plenty of Chevrolet flags and banners could be seen around the track. For the manufacturers, there are few better ways of promoting your brand.
Everything to this point had gone to-plan, but anything could still happen. Despite the presence of numerous guests and representatives of Chevrolet UK, Plato was displaying an air of relaxed confidence. In eleven seasons, he had never finished lower than fifth – and was runner-up in three out of the last four years – and was focussed on the job in-hand. Behind-the-scenes, the team of mechanics, engineers and event staff were united in their efforts to ensure that the job was completed. The pressure was immense, but for RML this was normal – following success in the LMP series, the team are also heading the standings in the WTCC going into the final round in Macau.
Plato would start race one from pole position; at Brands, this can be seen as a disadvantage due to the camber of the track. However, as Matt Neal got too much wheelspin, 'JP' had the start he must have been dreaming of, as he leapt into a convincing lead that he would maintain until the chequered flag. The extra points gained from pole, leading and fastest lap meant the championship could be won in race two, despite the two factory Hondas finishing second and third – the team were hopeful this would be the case, before the lottery of the reverse grid in race three.
Between races, there were a few PR commitments to honour, including a Q&A in the team's hospitality unit. Meanwhile, there were no dramas from the team, ensuring that the normal checklists were completed prior to sending the cars out for race two. As it transpired, aside from a minor concern over tyres, Plato once again led from start-to-finish, to claim his seventh victory of the year and 60th career win – equalling the all-time record set by legend Andy Rouse – and become the 2010 champion.
As he climbed from his car in parc fermé
, it was evident how much this meant to both the driver and the team. It seemed that everyone from RML had arrived to greet their number one driver, and it is clear to see that even with the years of hard experience behind them, behind the slick exterior lies a team of dedicated people who are passionate about what they do. The only cloud was the retirement of team-mate MacDowall, who succumbed to damage sustained in a first lap incident with Neal.
“It's been a fantastic weekend and I'm just over-the-moon,” Plato said. “We really hit the sweet spot with the car. Sixty wins sounds nice, but not as nice as 61!”
Plato was equally as complimentary about RML, adding: “I've thought for a long time that RML is the best team in the paddock, and this is just proof of that. The BTCC is one of the very best championships in the world, so to win it is a very magical feeling. Everyone in my team, Chevrolet and RML who prepare the car, are the best in the business and also a great family of people, so it's a very joyous experience winning it for them.