PREVIEW: BTCC Rivals Look To Stop Jason Plato At Croft


Jason Plato leads the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship to the North East this weekend, as North Yorkshire’s Croft circuit moves the 2015 season into its halfway stage.

The 2.1-mile venue will see a 31-strong field battle for honours as Croft prepares to reach its 50th BTCC race come Sunday’s conclusion, marking the midway stage of a thoroughly unpredictable season that has seen seven different winners from 12 races so far.

One of those celebrated from the top step of the podium twice last time out at Oulton Park, that being championship leader Plato, who moved to the top of the championship standings heading to the Tyneside-born driver’s ‘home’ circuit.

The BMR Racing man enjoyed the third and fourth triumphs from his still-young chapter with Team BMR, three points clear of Honda Yuasa Racing‘s Gordon Shedden and eight ahead of long-time sparring partner, Matt Neal.

Plato’s confidence at Oulton Park was visible by his dominance throughout the weekend in Cheshire, the points leader saying: “We had real confidence. The car was just where we want it and when you’re in the groove with both the car and the circuit it makes the job a whole lot easier.”

Honda Duo Confident Of Payback

Both of Plato’s main championship rivals should feel similar confidence vibes heading to Croft this weekend, what with Honda’s record of 13 wins and counting from the 47 BTCC races held at the North Yorkshire venue since 1997.

Oulton Park 2015 finish
Plato got the better of Honda at Oulton Park

Victories have come in various models from the Japanese marque, although the move to a Civic Type-R machine already holding four wins to its name in 2015 will give Shedden and Neal much more confidence than the Tourer previously did 12 months ago.

Both are expectant of overpowering their Volkswagen rival in North Yorkshire, six-time Croft race winner Neal hopeful of trimming the eight-point buffer at a circuit he thrives at, saying:  “I’m looking forward to Croft next; I love that circuit and I love driving this car.”

Shedden and Neal will be grateful they are not entering with top ballast in the passenger seat of their cars, the 75kg heading the way of Plato’s CC.

2012 champion Shedden was left satisfied to keep Plato in sight at Oulton Park against his own expectations, saying: “It was a solid weekend. It’s fair to say we outperformed our expectations in qualifying given the ballast we were carrying.”

BMW’s Best Circuit?

Behind Honda’s 13 wins at Croft sit BMW on nine, all coming via reigning champion, Colin Turkington, since their return to BTCC in 2007.

West Surrey Racing and Sam Tordoff gave the German marque a welcome Oulton Park victory last time out, although the visit to Croft has always been one that BMW hold fond memories of. Tordoff echoed the anticipation, saying: “we should be strong at Croft and it’s my home track, so I can’t wait to get racing again!”

Turkington and BMW’s rapid pace in recent seasons is reiterated when you look at the current lap records around here, the Northern Irishman’s 1m24.465s effort in qualifying two seasons ago (2013) clocking an average speed of 90.57mph as he claimed a pole position he would repeat in 2014.

Volkswagen meanwhile will hope to open their Croft victory account this weekend, Turkington holding the most success of all in the field with no fewer than 10 wins ahead of Neal on six and the former’s team-mate Plato on four. Turkington – now in Volkswagen machinery – has in fact won races one and two of his last four visits to Croft, so will more than fancy his chances of slicing into Plato’s 37-point advantage.

MG have three wins to their name, but only one of those came in an MG6 GT – that being Plato’s success in 2012 with Triple Eight. Local circuit to County Durham-born team boss, Ian Harrison, the squad left Oulton Park admitting they are “fully in the title fight” after Andrew Jordan‘s brace of podium finishes in Cheshire.

Coates, Hamilton To Debut

An added spotlight will be roaming the paddock at Croft, hovering over BTCC debutant, Nicholas Hamilton. The brother of current Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton will put his testing miles into fruition for the first time with AmD Tuning at Croft, as he makes his BTCC bow in an Audi S3 formerly driven by Robb Holland.

Hamilton told TCF“It’s about developing me as a driver; I haven’t been in a car for a year and a half, plus I don’t have a lot of experience compared to the people that I’m going to be racing against. Some of them have been in the championship for 10 years alone.”

Nic Hamilton car profile

Welch Motorsport finally got off the mark in 2015 thanks to Dan Welch‘s sterling points-paying effort at Oulton Park, while Support Our Paras Racing stated their intentions to fill their second Q50 alongside Derek Palmer Jr for the visit to Croft.

They have since done just that, as on Wednesday morning it was announced that former Ginetta and Porsche Carrera Cup GB stalwart, Max Coates, will make a popular step up to the BTCC for the Infiniti squad.

After another sublime rebuild effort paid off post-Thruxton, Simon Belcher admits that he could be absent following this weekend’s Croft visit for three meetings, although a replacement to fill the seat of the Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis is yet to be announced.

Weather And Timetable

Turkington Shedden croft 2014 BTCCCroft is no stranger to mixed conditions, qualifying rained off in the BTCC’s debut visit to the circuit back in 1997, although the summer placing means that soaring temperatures are often expected.

Weather reports currently point towards a dry Saturday, with temperatures potentially as high as 20℃ across the weekend.

However, those travelling on Sunday will hope that the expected showers hold off, reports indicating that we may see the first wet race of 2015.

Saturday:

Free practice one – 09:30
Free practice two – 12:00
Qualifying – 15:45

Sunday:

Race one – 12:02
Race two – 14:39
Race three – 17:06

(All times provisional)

TCF’s Dan Mason and Simon Paice will bring you all the action from the BTCC and support championship paddocks at Croft circuit, which you can keep up to date with right here at www.thecheckeredflag.co.uk, or via Twitter at @tcfBTCC.