Five men will begin this weekend's British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) finale still with a mathematical chance of taking the title.
In the immediate build-up to the race weekend The Checkered Flag look back at the journey the five drivers have made through 2011 to arrive at Silverstone chasing the championship.
Looking way back to the start of the season I personally believe Jason Plato was always expecting a successful title defence to be a very tough proposition. Speaking before the opening meeting Plato emphasised the importance of the opening three rounds, round he could dominate before the turbocharged teams fully got a handle on their new equipment.
How his heart must have sank when Matt Neal's turbo-propelled Honda dominated qualifying for the opening round. Still Plato took two wins from the opening round, but the third race, where Plato started in the pack showed the way the season was set to develop as he battled in vain against the turbocharged cars.
After leading into the weekend Plato left Donington behind the curve after an eventful weekend at the crash-filled meeting. After suffering race one puncture Plato barrel rolled away from The Craner Curves in race two after contact with Liam Griffin. Miraculously, the RML were able to rebuild the battered Cruze in time for the final race allowing Plato to pick up five potentially crucial points.
Somewhat obviously Plato's fortunes have swung back and forth depending on the track and the restrictions placed on his turbocharged rivals. He struggled at Croft, yet excelled at Snetterton on a weekend where all the normally aspirated Chevrolet Cruzes were firmly on pace, before struggling again at Knockhill.
Most recently he picked up two wins around the Brands Hatch GP circuit to bring himself back to centre stage in a points race he had given up as over at he was punted out of the lead by Tom Boardman at Knockhill.
Despite his high-profile, and very opinionated (agree or not) musings on the balance of performance by the number of wins and pole positions Plato has been the most successful driver this season, yet still – the stats tell us – has the same number of overall podiums as both Shedden and Neal. That fact, in numbers, shows the wildly swinging nature of Plato's fortunes this season. When the circumstances have allowed it Plato has taken full advantage – that's why he's still in contention.
Just as with the rest of the season Plato's chances of championship success will depend on how his Chevrolet can perform around the track compared to the turbocharged cars all around him. In 2010 the Silverstone National circuit was one that benefitted the turbos – or at least the LPG fed team Aon Ford Focuses – leaving Plato looking at their rear bumpers for the first and second races.
If, as predicted by many the turbocharged cars are again the dominant force in Northamptonshire than Plato could struggle to retain his title at the very last hurdle.
Jason Plato 2011 Results:
Wins: 8 (Brands Indy R1, 2; Thruxton R3; Oulton R2; Snetterton R1; Rockingham R1; Brands GP R1, 2)
Podiums: 11 (Brands Indy R1, 2; Thruxton R3; Oulton R1, 2; Snetterton R1, 2, 3; Rockingham R1, Brands GP R1, 2)