BTCCTouring Cars

BTCC Knockhill Race Three: Plato Back On Top

4 Mins read

Having lost points to his long time rival Matt Neal over the course of the first two races at Knockhill Jason Plato reclaimed some of his advantage at the top of the championship with a win in the third race at the Scottish track.

The top seven finishers of the second race reversed for the grid for the final race Plato lined up fifth, which became fourth when Steven Kane pulled his Airwaves sponsored BMW into the pits at the end of the formation lap, the Ulsterman's Motorbase Performance team diving around the rear of the car to locate the problem. The team would diagnose differential failure but Kane's race was over before it had begun bringing to a halt a weekend that saw the Thruxton race winner's return to form.

Plato's fourth would become second over the course of the opening lap when the leaders crested the chicane for the first time. Battling with polesitter Tom Onslow-Cole, Mat Jackson arrived at the chicane sideways – turning left when the road goes right – the car light a top the hill to the point of briefly seeming to be airborne. Jackson demolished the marker at the apex with gusto before the tyres began to grip once more, his trajectory taking him wide and down to seventh when he rejoined.

Tom Chilton was another victim of the chicane, appearing at the top of hill backwards – potentially after unseen contact. He was lucky the car stopped before it could hit anything, and still avoided being marooned in the gravel trap to rejoin, though at the very back of the field as they streamed over the chicane.

Onslow-Cole and Jackson at the chican on lap one. That marker won't last long.

The misfortune at the chicane, and Kane's absence gave the top five at the end of the first lap an unexpected flavour. Onslow-Cole had maintained the lead with Plato moving into second ahead of Gordon Shedden, Andrew Jordan and James Nash, the latter two from eighth and eleventh on the grid. The quintet had made a break away leaving Matt Neal in sixth, the Honda driver receiving a reprieve after a poor start where his Honda left the start line in a pall of wheelspin.

Shedden in the other Honda had returned to the same corner-pinching tactics he used in trying to chase down Neal in the earlier race, but having been searching for the limit of time, speed and grip all day he finally found it on lap three.

Leaping across the chicane Shedden landed with all four wheels off the track, or only just clipping the inside edge of the kerb. It was enough to upset the car and is bounced its way into a spin to the inside of the track. Like Chilton and Jackson before him Shedden escaped damage and was able to rejoin, though, like Chilton at the rear of the field.

Neal was handed a further chance to close the gap by the safety car as David Pinkney's torrid weekend took another dive – or a rather a push as debutant Jeff Smith offed the 58-year-old at Scotsman Corner, an incident that would leave Smith in trouble with the stewards. Either way Pinkney returned to the same gravel trap as he ended his race two in, stranded on the very edge of the track, resulting in the most obvious safety car intervention of any of the day's races.

The bunching up behind the safety car reignited the battle for the lead, the top two able to pull away from Andrew Jordan, the Pirket Racing driver in turn leaving James Nash to frustrate Matt Neal at the head of an ever growing train that stretched to those running outside of the top ten.

After several aborted passing attempts – though none of the casual contact you might expect – Neal's pressure finally brought results. Nash became the latest to run wide at the chicane, ploughing through the gravel and paying the price for leading such a pack as he dropped from fourth to seventh in a few corners. Unfortunately, he would not stay in seventh as he continued to drop down the order, ultimately dropping out the points to finish eleventh.

Nash would not the last driver to run wide at the chicane, as Andrew Jordan's assured run came to an end on lap 24 when he made his own trip through the gravel trap allowing Matt Neal through to third and inviting Paul O'Neill to compound his problems by pushing him wide at Clark's, a second gravel trap excursion allowing Jackson past. Just like Nash, Jordan's drop was not complete yet as he was past by Rob Collard and Alex MacDowall at the hairpin a lap later, MacDowall following up the inside of the Vectra after Collard had created the gap.

It was a two lap period typical of Jordan's season. A drive that seemed destined for the podium, or at least a sizable points haul, spoilt by a single strike of ill fortune or a small error. Instead of celebrating a third, Jordan was left to mull on eighth, finishing ahead of Chilton and Shedden, who claimed the final points after their earlier spins.

At the front of the race it looked as if the Ford Focus speed – infamous at Snetterton and Silverstone – had returned for Onslow-Cole as he pulled away from Plato every time down the main straight, negating the Chevrolet's undoubted advantage around much of the rest of the lap.

But, despite the extra weight Plato was carrying he was able to pull alongside on the exit of the hairpin, taking the inside for the first corner. Now ahead Plato slid sideways through the corner, allowing Onslow-Cole a tiny window of opportunity to regain the initiative. But as Plato had squirmed sideways at turn one, Onslow-Cole replied around turn two as he tried to fling the Focus around the outside of Plato, hoping to inherit the inside line for Scotsman. But even this briefest of slides was enough to allow Plato to turn unchallenged into the right hander, pulling away from Onslow-Cole who ended the race having to defend from Matt Neal.

Paul O'Neill finished fourth having followed Neal through the field as those ahead erred. Collard and MacDowall finished sixth and seventh behind Mat Jackson, Collard finally scoring points after suffering two DNFs earlier in the day.

The win increased Plato’s lead in the championship back to 20 points over Matt Neal, Onslow-Cole’s second enough to move him back into third ahead of Shedden, the Ford driver four points behind Neal.

The Championship's most likely - Neal, Plato and Onslow-Cole

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James is our Diet-Coke fuelled writer and has been with TCF pretty much since day 1, he can be found frequenting twitter at @_JBroomhead
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