Former British Touring Car Champion Tim Harvey has admitted that he would be 'absolutely amazed' if fellow title-winner Jason Plato does not turn up on the grid for the season curtain-raiser at Brands Hatch in April - but even if he does, the reigning Porsche Carrera Cup GB Champion argues Fabrizio Giovanardi will still be hard to beat.

Plato lost his drive in the UK's premier tin-top series when SEAT suddenly and unexpectedly pulled the plug on its works effort at the end of the 2008 campaign, leaving the 46-time race-winner with no seat - a situation that persists today. A new Volvo entry has been mooted as a possible haven, however, as has a potential third car at WSR, and Harvey is sure his fellow Englishman will land on his feet in one way or another.

"There are plenty of rumours flying around at the moment," the 1992 champ admitted in an interview with Radio, "so we'll have to wait and see. I'd be absolutely amazed if Jason doesn't turn up somewhere on the grid.

"I think there's a little bit more to play out in the driver/car scenario between now and the start of the season, so we'll have to see what sort of combinations turn up for the first race, but whatever happens I think we're going to have some fantastic racing. We may have lost two SEATs, but the strength-in-numbers with West Surrey Racing, Dynamics, Motorbase and Vauxhall means there are plenty of very quick cars out there."

Be that as it may, Giovanardi has claimed the crown in both of the past two campaigns up against opposition that - on paper at least - has been somewhat tougher than what he looks likely to face this year. Whilst predicting a third straight success for the Italian, Harvey warned the multiple touring car king to be wary of both his new young VX Racing team-mate Andrew Jordan, as well as Mat Jackson - provided the 2008 runner-up manages to put a deal together following the withdrawal of his chief sponsor Accident Exchange.

"I think in terms of looking at the odds at the moment with no regulation changes, you'd be hard-pressed to bet against him," the 47-year-old mused of Giovanardi's chances. "He often didn't have the quickest car, but that was often the SEAT and that won't be on the grid. I think in terms of ability, car, consistency, team and everything else, you'd really be hard-pressed to bet against him.

"I wouldn't underestimate Andrew by any stretch of the imagination, though. He is an immensely talented driver who was really only in his second season of car racing last year and massively impressed. Certainly in terms of bravery, commitment and car control he's got all of it, and as last year showed with Tom Onslow-Cole, the third Vauxhall is every bit as capable as the other two of winning. I think he'll surprise a lot of people.

"It's a difficult situation for Mat. I hope obviously that the money can be found for them to run that team as well as they did last year, because he's going to be a championship contender. If not, then I hope he finds a seat somewhere else on the grid."

On a more personal level, meanwhile, aside from his commentating duties for ITV's coverage of the series, Harvey confirmed that he will be endeavouring 'to defend and hopefully retain' his Porsche title - and insisted that he is not likely to return to the BTCC, notwithstanding his impressive test outing for David Bartrum's Motorbase outfit late last year.

"Naturally so!" he quipped, when reminded that he had been quick on his 'comeback'. "I got in a BMW touring car and couldn't help it! It was a little bit of idle curiosity on my part, though - I wanted to see what the cars were like; obviously I'm commentating and I hadn't driven one for a little while.

"It's always nice to know that you can still do it, but I was also there in my BRDC capacity to oversee Jonathan Adam's test, which at the time was more important. I'm happy racing in the Porsche Carrera Cup, I've nothing to prove in touring cars and I enjoy doing the commentary, so I think I'll stick with that combination!

"There's definitely less pressure this year, because having come second three times and lost it at the last race, it was a case of a lot of pressure to finally get it done [in 2008]. Having actually done it now, I think it'll be a lot easier to defend it than it was to try and win it for the first time."




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