27 August 2009
Plato: It's win or bust from here on in!
Jason Plato is aiming to give his HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) rivals a bit of a hiding with what he describes as 'a comfy old show' at Silverstone this weekend – admitting that 'if the win is there then I'm going to risk having a shunt to get it'.
No driver has achieved a clean sweep – three race victories on the same weekend – since Dan Eaves did so for Team Halfords at Thruxton back in 2005, but Plato is determined to re-write history as the BTCC arrives at the celebrated 'Home of British Motor Racing', confident that in the RML-run Chevrolet Lacetti, he has not only the best car in the field, but also arguably the best he has ever driven full stop.
At Knockhill last time out, the 2001 BTCC Champion secured his third pole position of the season to-date in qualifying – no other driver has done so more than once – and went on to dominate race one ahead of local hero Gordon Shedden and Racing Silverline team-mate Mat Jackson.
All looked set for a repeat in race two, before a misfire cruelly saw to it that Plato didn't even go beyond the green flag lap – setting the scene for what has been described as one of the finest drives in recent memory in race three, when he came through from plum last to the runner-up spot at the chequered flag, 3.2 seconds adrift of Jackson but more than six seconds clear of 2007 and title rival Fabrizio Giovanardi in third. Fastest lap went without saying.
“What can you do?” the 41-year-old told Crash.net Radio, reflecting on his misfortune. “[It was] another weekend where we were the quickest and on for three race wins – I think that was realistic at Knockhill – and we had a bit of bad luck where we had an electrical problem with the car. That's been kind of the story of my season – we've put the thing on pole, been in a position to win and...we haven't. That said, a win in the first race with fastest lap, and to come from the back of the grid and finish second in race three was a great end to the weekend.
“It was a race that was fantastic to be part of, but you can only have a race like that if you've got a great car underneath you. I genuinely believe now I've got a feel for the car and with the day's testing we did midway through the year, arguably this is the best touring car I've ever driven. We've really got the thing working well now, I'm completely at one with it and it just feels like a comfy old shoe.
“The Lacetti has come on tremendously; we do have the fastest car at the moment, but it takes a little while for the driver to get in-tune with it and also to get in-tune with the engineers. Mark, my engineer, now knows exactly what I want out of the car, what I want it to do and how I want it to feel, and now I know how to communicate that to him. Even though I'm the guy that drives at the weekend, it is a team game in that we all have to work together to get the best out of the equipment. We now know where we are.
“That's happened from midway through the year, and if you look at our results and pace since then, we've been the benchmark. It's frustrating and a little bit of a shame that my deal came together so late, because had it not, I honestly believe we'd be leading the championship now, but hey, motor racing is always full of loads of ifs, buts and maybes. The main thing is we're winning races, we're competitive and in terms of a showcase for how I'm operating at the stage of my career I'm at now, I couldn't ask for more.”
Plato has no fewer than 49 BTCC race wins to his name from his eleven seasons in the hotly-contested tin-top series, and he reveals that the only thing that now interests him in the remaining nine outings of the present campaign – at Silverstone, Rockingham and Brands Hatch's GP circuit – is the top step of the rostrum.
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