Jason Plato got the chance to step back in time earlier this week when he swapped seats with Jack Sears, the first ever title winner in the British Touring Car Championship, at Silverstone.
Plato, champion in 2001, was given the chance to take to the track in Sears' Austin Westminster A105 while Sears himself had the opportunity to head out onto the circuit in a 2008 SEAT Leon Cupra after the pair expressed a desire to sample machinery for each others era when they met at Silverstone back in June.
“It was fun actually,” Plato told Crash.net
afterwards. “The lovely thing about these old cars is when you get in them you can still smell wood and leather, that old smell, and you imagine that Inspector Morse's car will smell like that. In its day that was an iconic car; it was a rum old beast back then. It was interesting stuff.
“The nice thing was it was just good to be able to spend a bit of time with Jack, because he's a wonderful, very English man. Being out there with him on the track, it didn't take long before his eyes were back into seeing the racing line, and he was making little adjustments each lap. It was great to see. I hope I still have that passion and enthusiasm for driving cars quickly when I'm 78!”
Plato added that it was hard to try and compare the cars from the two different eras, considering that the BTCC back in the late 50's was for cars much closer to their road-going counterparts. Indeed a number of drivers – Sears included – used their race cars on the road.
“Modern race cars, with all of their aerodynamic accoutrements, lets' say, certainly add a little bit of aggression to it, whereas the Westminster is a fifties car and it's quite sculpted, quite smooth,” he said. “There is no comparison really, is there.
“Compared to a modern-day car, it doesn't stop, it doesn't turn and it doesn't go forward very well! It's very softly-sprung; even a modern road car now feels more of a racing car than that does. However, that said, I've raced at the Revival meeting at Goodwood a few times in some historic old beasts, and no matter that the cars are a lot slower and less reactive, it's still racing and it's still good fun. In many ways, because they are so roly-poly and don't do what you want them to do, arguably they're perhaps harder to drive on the limit.”
Sears himself admitted he has enjoyed the chance to drive the Leon Cupra on the day, which in itself presented a number of new challenges including slick tyres and the direct shift gearbox found on the machine.
“There were huge differences, not the least of which of course is that the SEAT had slick tyres, and I have never raced on those,” he said. “They do afford amazing grip, and that I think was the first, most noticeable thing when I was a passenger with Jason. The G-forces are quite formidable – I was surprised how great they were. He was really cornering quite fast, and I was fully aware of the need for the special seat to grip the side of your body, which I never had in the Austin of course.
“We didn't have roll cages, so we could get in and out of the car quite easily; I found it was quite an interesting experience getting in and out of the SEAT. Then of course it's got paddle-shift gear change, which is something I'm not familiar with and is a learning curve. The engine produces about 300 horsepower, whereas my Austin had about half that much!”