The BTCC this weekend makes the trip down to Norfolk and the Snetterton 300 circuit, a venue that has always been one that produces a classic touring car race almost every season it seems. So we at thecheckeredflag decided to recap some of those thrillers to whet your appetite for this weekend’s action…
Earlier this week we kicked off with our pick of the Snetterton classics – 2006 – and now we will jog your memories once again as we select a handful of entertaning encounters from the same circuit from down the years, including the first win for a BTCC giant, Vauxhall altercations and ingenious ways to overtake your championship rival…
1997 – Plato becomes a winner, Menu a champion
The 1997 visit to Snetterton was one that proved more iconic than it was at the time, in a season dominated by Alain Menu in the Williams-backed Renault Laguna that proved at times impossible to topple from the front of the field, although he had a determined young team-mate looking to prove a point…
That youngster was a certain Jason Plato, the now double BTCC champion having secured his break in the series alongside Menu in the works squad prior to the ’97 campaign, after which he showed high promise all season with flashes of pace that often challenged Menu.
Plato took the challenge even further to his experienced team-mate at Snetterton, a weekend which could see Menu clinch his first BTCC crown. He won the first race comfortably in typical 1997 fashion, before Plato got the better of his team-mate in race two following a lightning start.
The pair quickly made a break, Plato keeping his team-mate at bay while Menu began keeping him honest in the closing stages. Plato was not flustered however, and finally broke his BTCC duck in his maiden season, the joy overshadowed by Menu behind him claiming a second place that was enough to grab the 1997 BTCC title.
The win proved to be the first of what currently stands at 83 wins in the series for Plato (mid-2014), the most winning BTCC driver of all time going on to add two titles to his name – the same as his then team-mate Menu.
2001 – Tempers flare in the night for Vauxhall
The 2001 season had been a straight fight between the works Vauxhall team-mates for the overall title, Jason Plato and Yvan Muller both picking up 19 of the 26 race wins during that season as they locked themselves into a championship scrap that soon began to turn fiesty as it edged closer to the climax.
The series headed to its 15th and 16th rounds of the season at Snetterton, where Sunday also featured a night race later that evening. Plato beat the Frenchman in the day’s opening race but narrowly missed out on the outright win to Production class winner, Simon Graves, the Barwell Honda Accord driver hanging on on the run to the line to claim victory – Production cars having been given a lap’s advantage to start with.
When darkness fell for race two, the action became fiery despite the wet conditions, Plato and Muller finding themselves in a dogfight all race. The controversy started early when Phil Bennett‘s Egg: Sport Astra was turned around at Riches by Plato, Bennett venting his frustration publicly over the radio as he continued.
The works team-mates then locked themselves in battle, Plato losing out to Muller at the Complex as they fought over the same piece of track before Plato returned the favour at the same bend later in the race, Muller taking to the grass as James Thompson drove by the pair of them to go on and claim the victory.
The race ended prematurely after a big crash for Dan Eaves at Coram, which was followed by Muller showing his ice racing car control to avoid the stricken Peugeot as he spun through the grass at the same bend.
That encounter really put the Plato-Muller rivalry on the BTCC radar from then on, the former going on to claim the title in a dramatic finale at Brands Hatch that year.
2007, race three – Championship rivals go off-roading
The brilliant 2007 fight for the championship was raging by this point between Fabrizio Giovanardi and Jason Plato, and the third race at Snetterton was an eventful one for the Italian, having saved a huge sideways moment when tagged by Matt Neal at Riches on the 10th lap of the race.
The race will be well-known for being the first win of then-rookie, Tom Onslow-Cole, who drove a superb race to keep Plato behind him, taking the first win of his BTCC career for Team RAC.
Onslow-Cole had pulled a small gap over his rivals in the latter laps of the race, leaving the crowd’s attention fixated on the dice for third between the title rivals – Plato and Giovanardi – Mat Jackson at the head of it thanks to a brave move on Plato as Giovanardi began closing on the pair during the final laps of the final race at the Norfolk circuit.
The Italian began sniffing around the rear bumper of Plato’s SEAT Leon for several laps, before finally seeing a gap when Plato lost momentum coming out of the complex.
Giovanardi stuck the nose of his Vauxhall Vectra up the inside of Plato who then tried to squeeze him, where the pair became entangled and both went sliding across the grass heading into the Bombhole, creating a memorable image at one of the more daunting corners in British motorsport to be attempting an overtake.
Amazingly, the pair emerged from the other side of the grass facing the right way and carried on, where Giovanardi came out ahead of his title rival as the out-of-control pair sent the unfortunate Jackson heading off onto the grass in avoidance.
Behind them, Neal must have though Christmas had come early, as he took three places in the melee thanks to having the front row seat for the tangle, Giovanardi beating Plato to the line in the leaders trail.
2008, race two – Gio goes back to (almost) front
Quite often, one race sticks out each BTCC season for being the encounter where everything appears to just spiral out of control. Crowds love these races however, and in the case of the Fabrizio Giovanardi-dominated 2008 season, the Snetterton visit included the race to fit that category very aptly, featuring a supreme recovery drive from the eventual champion.
SEAT’s diesel-powered Leons were by now becoming the cars to beat, the TDI engines under the bonnets of the bright yellow Spanish machines – dubbed by Giovanardi as a car that was “like chasing after a banana” – making them devilishly quick, especially on the Snetterton straights as they took a one-two in race one and lined up on the front row again with Jason Plato and Darren Turner.
Turner was caught napping on an exciting first lap by the Team Halfords Honda Civic Tom Chilton who found his way through to second at Coram bend, while Giovanardi meanwhile – having only managed seventh place after struggling with full ballast in race one – flew in the second race, quickly passing Colin Turkington‘s RAC BMW on lap two, where the race fully began to kick off on the third tour.
Chilton lost second to Turner then third to team-mate Gordon Shedden, where Giovanardi almost made a mess of his attack into Riches as he bounced over the kerbs and held the huge moment that resulted, Turkington and the Motorbase BMWs ganging up on the Vectra man who was subsequently tagged into a half-spin by Chilton exiting the complex that shuffled the points leader well down the order.
His Vauxhall team-mates were in no luck either, Onslow-Cole recovering a huge slide at the final corner, while Harry Vaulkhard and Andrew Jordan wrapped themselves around each other in the mayhem heading into the complex, continuing their scuffle into the Bomhole.
Mike Jordan in the other Eurotech Honda Integra then barged Onslow-Cole aside a lap later as Adam Jones neatly passed the pair of them, Giovanardi then slipstreaming by the lot of them as he began working his way back towards the front in one of the recovery drives of the season.
Onslow-Cole’s race went from bad to worse after a spin at the complex, before team-mate Matt Neal then found himself facing the wrong way after Steven Kane ‘s BMW stuck its nose inside the Vectra at Riches on lap 10 and spun Neal around, the Vauxhall man making an amazing save to recover just behind Giovanardi.
Giovanardi neatly creeped by Kane just before a safety car period set up a final dash of four laps to the flag, where SEAT’s routine 1-2 finish was sabotaged by a left-front puncture on Turner’s car, promoting Shedden to second place. Fifth-placed Giovanardi was still charging, and made a great move exiting Coram on Rob Collard‘s BMW for fourth, joining part of a huge train of cars battling for second.
It ended in disaster for Shedden as the Scot ran wide at Coram under pressure from Turkington, promoting the Irishman to second place and Giovanardi to an incredible podium finish. Plato went on the take a dominant win, while eventual champion Giovanardi completed a fantastic comeback to reach the podium in the bruising encounter.
– Whether 2014 will produce a classic (or three) remains to be seen just yet, but you can can follow all the happenings from Snetterton this weekend on thecheckeredflag.co.uk, and on Twitter through tcfBTCC.