Local drivers Jason Plato and Sam Tordoff are hoping to clinch home success this weekend for the MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save BTCC Team in the fifth British Touring Car Championship meeting at Croft.
Plato, who grew up on Tyneside, will head to his home circuit lying fourth in the championship standings, and is relishing his return to the track this weekend as Croft celebrates 50 years of motorsport.
“Croft is a spiritual home circuit for me”, said the double champion. “I’ve been lucky to get good support there in the past; it’s a nice weekend.
“The BTCC event there is the biggest motorsport show at the circuit, and it’s the only opportunity for locals to watch top drivers at the track. It’s great to see so many fans at any race, but at Croft they turn up in their tens of thousands. I think it’s fair to say Croft loves the BTCC and vice versa, it’s a great track.
Plato and Triple Eight team boss, Ian Harrison, both emerged from Oulton Park outspoken about the recent performances of the West Surrey Racing BMWs, where championship leader Colin Turkington grabbed pole away from Plato in a similar manner to what happened at Croft last and then took two strong victories in the first two races of the day.
After debates surrounding the potential advantages of the rear-wheel drive BMWs and Audis after Oulton Park, TOCA have enforced a longer first gear to the WSR BMWs and Rob Austin Racing Audi A4s for Croft onwards.
The argument Plato says centered around the way the rear-wheel cars continue to make their traditional lightning getaways when the lights go out, something which Plato feels will help the rest of the field keep up with following the first gear alterations.
“I think we stand a good chance this weekend. It has historically been a good stomping ground for RWD cars, but with Turkington on maximum ballast after Oulton, that could level things; he only pipped me last year as he was running less weight in the car than me.
“Now the first gear issue for RWD has been resolved, in theory qualifying now means something again. Let’s be clear, we weren’t moaning about lap times, it was the leap-frogging of cars off the grid, the fact they can qualify fourth and lead into the first corner.
“Croft is a challenging circuit, it has very, very fast sections and some technically very tricky parts too. Your car has to be well-balanced at Croft and while you can never get a perfect car, the laws of physics never allow for that, you have to work closely with your engineer to get as close as you can. Similarly race setup at Croft is very different to that in which your qualify, and it’s naturally an understeery circuit, so you have to minimise front tyre wear, which is another reason why RWD cars often go so well here.”
Croft is also the local track for Plato’s team-mate Tordoff, and the Leeds racer is another close fan of the North Yorkshire venue.
“I love Croft”, says Tordoff, who will be looking for his first TOCA pakage race win at the circuit. “The atmosphere’s always really good, and it’s a great place to spectate at. If the weather is good, we should have a good big crowd.
“The circuit itself is quite a challenge to drive well. You have to compromise with the setup of your car due to the contrasting halves of the track. The first part of the lap as you go through the fields it’s very balls-out and the latter half is very twisty and technical.”
Tordoff believes that the MGs will be quick enough to challenge for victory at Croft, but singled out championship leader Turkington and the WSR squad as the team to beat, concluding: “I think the BMWs will do well, but we’ll be in the mix. We won’t be the cars to beat and I’m not sure about the Hondas – it’s a tough one to call.”