This time last year Lewis Plato only had two car races to his name. It had been successful start to his graduation from karting, with both races ending in podium finishes.
Fast – and that’s an important word here – forward twelve months and, after a championship winning first full season racing cars in the Radical Clubmans’ Cup Plato is preparing for another jump to start 2014 as he races in the BMW Performance 200 at Daytona International Speedway.
As well as scooping the championship on the first time of asking a fantastic 2013 campaign also ended with victory in the Sunoco IMSA 200 Challenge and with the a prize drive in the first round of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, specifically in a Grand Sport (GS) class Chevrolet Camaro run by Mitchum Motorsports.
“So a very successful year,” Lewis told www.theCheckeredFlag.co.uk as he reflected on his 2013 and on the Roar Before the 24 test earlier this month. “We had a very good team. Everyone was working well behind me and Bradley was doing the driver coaching. I had some problems at the start of the year, I got pole position but had some stalls but I learnt quick had some strong results, some wins and some more pole positions and I think that really taught me a lot and got me prepared for Daytona.”
It was not only a successful year for him, but for his Mectech Motorsport which will not only be represented by him at Daytona, but also by Bradley Smith who won the Radical SR3 Challenge title en route to winning the Sunoco Rolex 24 at Daytona Challenge.
“No other team has ever had both drivers in the IMSA 200 and the 24 Hours,” explains Plato, the third winner of the 200 Challenge after Aaron Steele and Lawrence Davey, “so that in itself is an achievement but not only that it’s also great fun for the team to be with each other all year and then to get to Daytona together. It’s really quite an experience and it’s great to get to share it with each other.”
For Lewis the challenge that lies ahead – or rather the challenge in progress as he speaks in the downtime between the Roar Before the 24 and the race (January 24) – is to swap the tracks of England in his diminutive 670kg Radical to a slab of American muscle car on the Daytona sportscar course.
With such relatively little experience he admits the switch has meant almost a return to basics; “it was almost like having to learn to drive all over again,” he says. “The Camaro’s got no aerodynamics, it’s got about three and half inches ground clearance and weighs about 1700kgs so it is about as different from the Radical as you can get.”
“Not only that,” he continues, highlighting another of the major differences between Radical and Camaro, “it’s got a H-pattern gearbox so I had to learn to heel-toe, which obviously a ot of drivers know how to do but I’ve never the luxury to be able to learn before so I had a really short space of time to learn some new techniques but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”
He again emphasises the weight difference when he remarks on the speed – he estimates 150mph on the straights – which he says “is pretty quick considering you’ve got to stop all of that weight as well”.
On some levels, however, Plato has something in common with the previous IMSA 200, and indeed Rolex 24 at Daytona Challenge winners – never having driven anything like the 3.56 mile Daytona track, though he admits he has never raced at Rockingham, the closest UK racing can offer to the Florida track.
“To drive around Daytona is completely different, especially on the banking. I’ve never done anything like that before. The actual circuit is fantastic and so is the atmosphere, when we were there for the Roar Before testing and the crowds were still very big. There were thousands of people there watching which is so different to what we’re used to so that a fantastic sort of feeling. Not only that but after my test I stayed and watch Bradley test in the night stint so to see the circuit floodlit is absolutely fantastic with the noise and the whole atmosphere was really something special and something that I’ll never forget.”
Pairing up with Cameron Lawrence starting 2014 after a successful 2013 of his own in winning the Trans-Am championship Plato will take on the BMW Performance 200 this Friday.
www.theCheckeredFlag.co.uk will keep you up to date with reports from the track, including full qualifying and race reports from Daytona International Speedway.