Perfect Plato Punches Way Into Championship Fight

Snetterton, Norfolk 4th August 2014 - Two victories and a fourth-place finish at Norfolk’s Snetterton Circuit this weekend (2/3 August) has moved MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save’s Jason Plato firmly into contention for the 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship with four weekends left. Team-mate Sam Tordoff displayed determination, maturity and speed in equal measure, overcoming a brake issue in race one to snatch two top-ten finishes in the remaining race, capping an impressive weekend for the Triple Eight-run squad.

After a dominant display in qualifying on Saturday where Jason took pole by 0.4s from Championship leader Colin Turkington, all eyes were on the #99 MG6 GT to see if he could convert his impressive one-lap pace into victory. Crucially Jason made a perfect start and pipped Turkington into first corner Riches, then kept ahead for the remaining laps, delivering his twelfth BTCC win at the East Anglia circuit.

Sam started from third on the grid, himself having had a positive session despite not being wholly happy with his fastest lap. At the start of the race going into Riches, the 25-year-old had to deal with a brake component failure that sent him wide over the grass, leading to a slow lap back to the pitlane. The Triple Eight team calmly assessed the issue and fixed it promptly, but it cost Sam four laps and the Yorkshireman would start his 50th BTCC race from the back of the grid.

Despite Jason and Sam at polar opposite ends of the grid for the second race of the day, both made the most of the opportunity ahead of them. In frightfully hot and humid conditions Jason took his second win of the weekend, but only after a race-long fight with Turkington. The BMW snatched the lead into Riches on lap one and Jason harried his rival for seven long laps of the 2.96 mile circuit, getting an edge in the final sector of the lap, which enabled a bold but fair overtake into the Montreal hairpin on lap eight. The MG-man didn’t miss a trick and kept it clean to break his rival, winning by over 1.6s at the flag.

With a monumental challenge ahead of him, Sam remained unfazed and had time for a quick chat with the inaugural BTCC champion, Jack Sears, before going on track. Starting 31st in a grid of no less than seven BTCC champions, Sam delivered arguably his greatest drive in touring cars to date. After the first lap of his 50th BTCC race, Sam was 20th, up eleven places, and by lap six, was fourteenth. On lap eight he came up behind Turkington’s team-mate Collard and the pair clashed. Sam carried his march on to the end of the race, taking a stunning ninth place finish, but would later receive two points on his licence for the incident.

The third and final race of the day brought the usual thrills and spills expected by the reverse grid draw. While Jason and Sam missed out on being selected to start from pole, they did avoid the carnage ahead of them in the race. Jason lined up eighth with Sam ninth, and the double-winner wasted little time passing Gordon Shedden’s Honda. Following an error by Adam Morgan, which allowed both Jason and Sam past, Shedden’s team-mate Matt Neal exited stage right after contact with Turkington. This saw both MGs move up again, P5 and P7 respectively.

The final lap brought plenty of action and when Fabrizio Giovanardi’s Ford went off at the Bomb Hole, that moved Jason up to take fourth behind his title rival Turkington and with Shedden still looming large in his mirrors after a hard but fair race-long fight. Sam crossed the line seventh, after dropping a place to the battling Collard on the penultimate lap.

The superb results for the MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save Team across the weekend see Jason rise to third in the Driver’s standings and Sam maintain eighth as things ahead start to tighten up. Despite taking two victories - his third and fourth of the year - and a fourth place, Jason has only reduced the gap to his rear-wheel drive rival to 43 points, six better than prior to the weekend.

A trip to Scotland in three weeks now lies ahead for the MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save Team, not the happiest of hunting grounds for the MGs in past seasons. However, following a positive weekend in Norfolk the team embark on the 746-mile round trip with a positive spirit, but mindful of the challenge ahead.

Jason Plato, driver #99
“It was a good weekend, but I’m disappointed to have not closed the gap to Colin by more points, despite being the fastest front-wheel drive car again. The first race was relatively straightforward, but the second was really enjoyable. Colin drove really nicely in that and we had a good battle. I was really happy with the move I made on him at Montreal and it was a fair fight. We were unlucky to not get a podium in the third race, Gordon drove very cleanly, and we did everything we could to force a result. The team was superb all weekend and the car felt great. Overall though you have to ask the question, ‘What would’ve happened this weekend had I been on holiday?’ Colin would’ve been on pole by eight tenths in qualifying and would’ve walked both the first two races. It (rear-wheel drive) needs looking at. It’s not me having a whinge; it’s pure physics that rear-wheel drive is better. If you look at the history of touring cars, rear-wheel drive has always carried a weight penalty. Knockhill is going to suit them (BMWs), it always does. We’ll try a few new things setup-wise, but if I’m honest, I think we’ll get annihilated up there.

Sam Tordoff, driver #88
“We’ve made progress this weekend and definitely I feel happier with the soft tyre. Race one was really disappointing with the brake issue, the guys did a great job to get me back out and the fact I posted the second fastest time of the race actually made things worse because it showed I had the pace to run with Jason. I’m happy with the way I came through the field in race two, I really enjoyed it and it was good to be in a car that I could push and go forwards with. In the last race I felt we had the pace to hold position, but not to push on and I had a pretty clean and uneventful race out there. We head to Scotland next and Knockhill isn’t kind to us normally. I’m not sure right now what way I’ll go with setup there. It’d be obvious to use last years, but we tried a few things today that could make a difference, we’ll have to see.”

Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship – Snetterton 300
Snetterton Circuit, Norwich, Norfolk NR16 2JU
2.969 miles (4.779km), 13-turn race circuit
August 2nd - 3rd, 2014

2014 BTCC driver standings (after round 18 of 30)

1 Colin Turkington (eBay Motors) 279
2 Gordon Shedden (Honda Yuasa Racing) 256
3 Jason Plato (MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save) 236
4 Andrew Jordan (Pirtek Racing) 201
5 Rob Collard (eBay Motors) 187
6 Mat Jackson (Airwaves Racing) 173
7 Matt Neal (Honda Yuasa Racing) 161
8 Sam Tordoff (MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save) 138

2014 BTCC Manufacturers Championship
1 Honda/Dynamics 555
2 MG/Triple Eight 550

2014 BTCC Teams' Championship
1 eBay Motors 462
2 Honda Yuasa Racing 413
3 MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save 368

Photos by Jakob Ebrey Photography.