Jason Plato has warned his HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship rivals that there is 'more to come' from the Racing Silverline-run Chevrolet Lacetti, after giving the team comfortably its best weekend of the 2009 campaign to-date in round four at Oulton Park.
Despite his eleventh-hour return to the starting grid for the opening meeting at Brands Hatch back in April, Plato now sits fourth in the drivers' standings twelve races in, just 24 points behind early-season leader Matt Neal – and undeniably a genuine title contender.
The 41-year-old proved as much in qualifying around the undulating and demanding Cheshire circuit, storming to a lap record pole position by the commanding margin of more than four tenths of a second from team-mate Mat Jackson, with the nearest non-Chevy contender the BMW of Colin Turkington almost half a second in arrears in third.
The Irishman's rear wheel-drive advantage would prove telling when the lights went out, however, as he darted between the two front row-sitting blue machines to grab the lead – and from there on he was never headed, consigning the pursuing Plato to the runner-up spot at the close.
The Oxfordshire ace would add to that with a second successive rostrum finish for a distant third place in race two after drawing upon all of his guile and experience to expertly fend off the earnest challenges of Neal and Jonny Adam throughout, and he subsequently took the chequered flag fifth in the final encounter, having misguidedly allowed the chasing Rob Collard past late on to see if the BMW man would have any more luck in unseating Neal than he had done. All-in-all, he concluded, despite the absence of a win, it had not been a bad weekend.
“I'm pleased with the day and with the weekend,” he told Crash.net Radio
. “For the majority of the weekend we were the fastest front wheel-drive car. We showed our form in qualifying – and there's more of that to come, because I think we've really unlocked some performance from the car – but with the temperatures that we had on race day and the BMWs being where they were on the grid for race one...
“Had Colin not come past it would have been a win absolutely, and that might have changed the weekend a little bit. All things considered, a second, a third and what was a fourth – but I conceded a place to Rob thinking he might be able to unsettle Matt, which made it a fifth – I'm pleased with that. The target was to score 30 points this weekend – that would have been a great result – and we got 29, so yeah, I'm pleased. On a hot day when it was BMW territory, I think we did alright.”
Indeed he did, and for a driver who had looked not to even have a seat at all until shortly before the Brands curtain-raiser, it has been a remarkable start to proceedings. Displaying characteristic fire, commitment and determination, Plato contended that Croft next up on the calendar should play even more to the Lacetti's strengths – a situation that he argues should enable the RML-run outfit to add to the brace of triumphs he and Jackson have already notched up this season.
“We're learning all the time,” underlined the 2001 title-winner, “and the car has taken a big step. It wasn't designed to work on these tyres; that's not a cop-out, but the cars are so finely-tuned nowadays that we need to understand the tyres. We're still not there yet – I've still not got the car underneath me the way I want it to be, and in qualifying out of every five laps we do we might get one right, but we're getting closer and I think we'll be even stronger at Croft relative to the opposition.
“I think that's very realistic. [At Oulton] there was a win on the cards. Had the BMW not beaten us off the line – and there's no skill in that, it's just the rear wheel-drive advantage – then I was quicker than Colin for most of that race. I think it's very close, so I think if we can have a good, strong qualifying at Croft and there's not a BMW behind me on the grid, then yeah, we can win.
“I'm confident of my abilities and I'm confident in the abilities of the team I'm with, and I knew that the car was good and that we just needed to get to the bottom of what made it tick. Every time I'm not on pole I'm p***ed off! We're here to win – we're not here to make the numbers up.”
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