This weekend sees the crowning of the 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship champion at Brands Hatch’s Grand Prix circuit, the two drivers in contention of which have found themselves in a similar situation before…
That scenario was 2009, where Colin Turkington emerged from one of arguably the most tantalisingly exciting finales to a BTCC season the sport has witnessed.
The man that came closest to denying the Northern Irishman on that occasion was a certain Jason Plato, the only man who in 2014 can stop Turkington from matching his mantle as a double BTCC champion.
On that particular weekend five years ago, Plato – driving a steadily improving Silverline Chevrolet Lacetti – entered the final meeting at the same Brands Hatch GP circuit 28 points adrift of the series leader, a long shot at best considering Vauxhall’s Fabrizio Giovanardi was in between the duo and just 13 behind Turkington.
Fast forward to 2014, and Plato now enters again as the dark horse, 50 points adrift of Turkington as the West Surrey Racing BMW driver defends his more comfortable lead from the Triple Eight MG ace this weekend.
Back in 2009, and Plato – no pressure applied to his situation – proved exactly what mood he was in to go out in style without the title on his mind, by lining up alongside Tom Chilton‘s Ford Focus on the front row of the grid before producing a remarkable performance on Sunday.
The only way Plato could become a title contender was to win, although he left it as late as possible in the opening race as a cruel power steering glitch slowed Chilton enough out of the final bend of the very last tour to allow Plato to steal the [then] closest ever BTCC win by just 0.015s.
A simple race two victory followed for the Chevy man, while Turkington was feeling the nerves, starting the day down in 10th on the grid following a shaky qualifying and only managing eighth in race one. A big result followed in the second however, joining his two main rivals on the podium as he charged to third behind Giovanardi.
The stage was set for the final race: Turkington lead by four, with Plato only eight adrift – all marred in the pack for one last battle.
Turkington’s WSR BMW 320si enjoyed another of its trademark lightning starts to hold the early advantage of the trio, but the real spoilers were ahead on the road, as Matt Neal displayed his intentions to help VX Racing team-mate Giovanardi notch up a hat-trick of BTCC titles.
Neal started on pole but found himself surrounded by Airwaves Racing BMWs. Contact exiting Graham Hill Bend ended Rob Collard‘s race in the barriers, before seconds later, Neal eliminated the sister car of Jonathan Adam from the lead at Surtees with an optimistic lunge to leave Turkington and Giovanardi right on the tail of the Vauxhall.
On a safety car restart, Neal fended off Turkington’s BMW sternly, Giovanardi losing out to Chilton’s Ford Focus at Westfield on lap five for third to slip into danger for his championship chances.
Crucially, Neal had made his decision at the front. He was not in a hurry, and left it to Turkington to risk a move as he slowed the pace cannily to keep the team’s chief rival on his toes.
Enough was enough, and finally Turkington elbowed Neal’s Vectra aside at Druids and onto the grass on lap nine to take the lead, Giovanardi pouncing also to remain all over the back of his title rival. Once the move was made, it suddenly appeared to be at a price. Turkington’s RAC-sponsored machine began crabbing awkwardly as the jolt had wounded its rear suspension.
His increasingly desperate lap nine defence from Giovanardi allowed Plato to perform the overtake of the season, around the outside of both men at Paddock Hill Bend to take the race lead, although the championship leader managed to somehow rediscover his rhythm and drive around the problem.
Plato completed only the second BTCC clean sweep of the three-race era since 2004, but narrowly missed out on achieving the unthinkable as a resurgent Turkington held on to take second place ahead of the attacking Chilton and Giovanardi, clinching an emotional maiden British Touring Car Championship title for himself and Dick Bennetts’ WSR squad.
2014 on paper appears set to be a potentially less stressful encounter, although Plato’s knack of maintaining title fights saw him take Andrew Jordan‘s moment all the way until the final race of the season after a dominant double last year – having started 49 points behind the eventual 2013 champion.
Turkington reminisced on his 2009 success with The Checkered Flag, saying: “You can take lessons from that. I’ve been trying to be consistent in the last few meetings.
“It’s quite a similar feel to  in the way that the results had been through the year. With us being probably as consistent as in 2009 and winning at our strongest tracks it’s been something we’ve done again this year.”