On what he describes a “dream weekend” Jason Plato wrapped up the BTCC title with a race to spare with another assured performance in another lights to flag victory around the Brands Hatch Indy circuit.
“To be honest it's been a dream weekend for us,” said the newly crowned champion. “I knew when we arrived yesterday, when I got my bum in the car yesterday [that the car was fast]. In fact prior to that, I had a good feeling because of the set-up, the engine we come into meeting know. Feeling the confidence the engineering team had in the set-ups we had, feeling out what we felt in the car from the last few races, particularly Donington. Especially when I got in the car yesterday morning I though “aye, here we go, we've got ourselves a rocketship here”.
“To be honest we knew it would be,” he added when asked whether the car had been in this dominating form since it was unloaded. “But also we had four key tests to do yesterday with set-up, which would then give us information about our race pace and our qualifying pace. And we completed those tests and they gave us the answers we wanted them to give. That's the key really.”
“If you can understand the car towards the end of the year you have your toolbox and you know that does that, that does that and that does that, so any areas you need to improve on the day depending on the weather conditions you get, or whether the track's stickier. All those things. If you know what to bolt on and what to change you're in good shape.”
Initially Plato was helped by Gordon Shedden pulling out of second on the grid at the end of the second formation lap to come into the pits with a driveshaft problem. The Scot was able to rejoin the race – albeit four laps down and out of contention for points, his title challenge over.
But what luck gave Plato he took with both hands leading off the line from fom Matt Neal and Rob Collard, Alex MacDowall had briefly threatened to play his own role in the title battle, challenging Matt Neal for second around the opening corners before Neal eased the rookie wide at Druids, sending MacDowall tumbling down the order though still in race. It was the start of troubled race for the Chevrolet driver which ended with damage from an incident at Paddock Hill Bend with Lee Wood on lap ten, MacDowall over eager in his charge back up the field.
A few corners further on from MacDowall’s incident on the first lap, two drivers – James Kaye and Martin Depper tangled at Clearways, Kaye's Honda Intergra being thrust up a gap on the inside that never existed, both cars skittering into the gravel. Kaye ended his journey in the tyre wall, bringing out the safety car.
Neal, for whatever reason, squandered perhaps his best chance of getting on terms with the pace-setting Silverline Chevrolet, allowing Plato to enjoy a seven-tenths of a second lead as the green flag went back out. Neal's main concern may have been keeping Rob Collard behind him, the race's top independent runner setting fastest lap on lap six to pull onto the rear bumper of the Honda Civic.
Even when the pressure was relieved – Collard running his left side tyres through the gravel at the bottom of Paddock Hill and dropping to nearly two second s behind – Neal was unable to catch the rapid Cruze the lead stable at just over a second, until the closing laps. Plato finished 0.887 seconds ahead of Neal to take the title and his 60th BTCC win – tying the overall record of Andy Rouse.
“It's a lovely thing, but I'm still tying,” said Plato of the record. “I'm confident because I plan to be in Touring Cars next year that that record will go and it will come my way. I've got a good chance to make it happen today, or I've got a sniff to make it happen today.”
“We're now going to put a slightly more aggressive set up on the car. For those two races we were a bit conservative. We were conservative because we had a job to do. Now we can unleash the beast and make it slightly more difficult to drive but make it faster. Yea, it would be nice to win another one.”
Behind the lead pair in lock step, there was the normal Touring Car fare for the huge crowd spread around the Kent track, and much to the happiness of some of them (certainly) the best battle was Ben Collins' introduction to the BTCC. Continually improving Collins had fought to the fringes of the top ten and a fight with Tom Boardman, Andy Neate and Sam Tordoff.
Collins was the first to get physical, nudging Boardman's SEAT wide at Druids, shuffling him to the rear of the foursome. Neate then gave Collins a turn on the receiving end – pushing him wide through Clearways and Clark on his way to passing the Airwaves BMW driver down the pit straight.
Neate would win the battle, and the final point, Tordoff, Collins and Boardman following in that order.
Behind the top three Paul O'Neill finished fourth ahead of Tom Chilton – who spent much of the race lonely, 2 seconds away from anyone – Steven Kane, Andrew Jordan, Mat Jackson and James Nash were the other points scorers.
Tom Onslow-Cole suffered another DNF to join his race one disappointment. However, he with his Team Aon teammate Chilton and Steven Kane are all in contention for the Independent Drivers' title – the trio covered by only six points.
That championship will be settled in the final race – and Plato is yet to “unleash the beast”.
Brands Hatch Indy BTCC Race Two Result
1 No. 2 Jason Plato – 26 laps in 22:11.749
2 No.4 Matt Neal – +0.887
3 No.6 Rob Collard – +4.783
4 No.29 Paul O’Neill – +5.671
5 No.23 Tom Chilton – +8.314
6 No.11 Steven Kane – +9.485
7 No.77 Andrew Jordan – +16.022
8 No.5 Mat Jackson – +16.333
9 No.14 James Nash – +16.848
10 No.44 Andy Neate – +20.094