Despite a race two disappointment, Jason Plato was left taking big positives away from the opening British Touring Car Championship round of 2014 at Brands Hatch last weekend, taking a brace of podiums to lie fifth in the points for the MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save BTCC Team.
Having headed the field in practice on Saturday morning, Plato was pipped to pole position by reigning champion Andrew Jordan later that afternoon, chasing the Pirtek Racing Honda all the way home in the opening race of the season less than 24 hours later.
After fighting back from a start line drama to 11th place in race two, Plato then charged through the field in race three to a podium finish once again, outlining his and the MG’s pace on the upgraded Dunlop soft compound tyre.
“It was mega, I loved it (race three). I’ve had quite a few of those sort of races in my career coming from the pack, it’s brilliant fun”, said the former double champion, who lies fifth in the championship after the first three races – nine points behind leader Jordan.
“Of course you can only do that when you get your car hooked up, and the big story for me this weekend was the step change we’ve made with the soft tyre. Last year we weren’t the best on the softs and after that performance we are the best. It’s an area we looked at over the winter; an area we needed to improve on and I believe the developments made on the car have done the job.”
Ultimately, Plato’s weekend was stymied by a fly-by-wire throttle system issue in race two that left him fighting from the rear of the field as his MG remained stationary on the front row of the grid when the lights went out.
Plato outlined reliability as a key factor for 2014, adding: “We just need to understand why we keep having some gremlins into the system. We’re not going to not win the thing because of a lack of pace; it’s going to be because of gremlins, electrical or whatever it might be. My tail is in the air though after that result.”
His MG team-mate Sam Tordoff on the other hand suffered a disappointing start to his second BTCC season, with a pair of 10th place finishes and a 12th in the final race being the trio of points-paying results falling the Leeds racer’s way, Tordoff holding much higher hopes for Donington at a circuit he feels the MG will be more suited to.
“I’m a bit deflated, it was a frustrating weekend for me”, said Tordoff. “The positives; three points finishes, three good starts and some good pace in race two. I was also pleased with our pace on the soft tyre on race three.
“We’ve got work to do before Donington, but we’ve tested there and I think it’s a circuit that will suit us much better; it’ll also spread out the field more too. It’s going to be a tough season and I don’t think anyone will walk away with it based on this weekend.”
Triple Eight boss Ian Harrison added his praise to the increase in competitiveness across the grid for 2014, and vows his team’ s pace at Brands Hatch leaves them in good spirit heading to Donington on 19/20 April, saying: “Despite a few reliability issues that were out of our control, it was a solid enough start to the season. Full credit to the whole team for the effort that enabled that to happen.
“There’s no doubt that the quality of the grid has improved significantly this season; you saw that in qualifying where a second off the pace resulted in a 24th place grid position. In race three [Plato] showed that we have made some good progress with the soft option tyre and we should be in good shape for Donington in three weeks.”