This weekend saw the second round of the British Touring Car Championship at Donington Park. After the explosive start to the season a fortnight ago at Brands Hatch, the next instalment was eagerly anticipated.
As the high drama unfolded, the series didn’t disappoint. Although, it wasn’t necessarily the quality of driving that was the main talking point as the weekend drew to a close. It was the lack of quality driving that was high on the agenda and caught up in the centre of it was the championships very own pantomime villain, Jason Plato.
Unfortunately there were a number of drivers involved in ‘Incidents’ throughout the weekend and penalties and license points seemed to be handed out more frequently than sweets on Halloween. Worryingly, it seems to be happening more often in what is without doubt the most supported British race series, with tens of thousands of fans attending race weekends and even more tuning in to watch the live coverage on TV. After incidents at Bands Hatch and subsequent penalty points handed out, you would like to think that these actions would help but a stop to poor driving.
The main culprit, as at Brands Hatch, was again Jason Plato. I read a very good star letter written by Steve Burden in last week’s Autosport magazine regarding the matter of driving standards. To quote some of the letter, Steve wrote; ‘In an era where budgets are hard to find and grids hard to fill, I felt exasperated to hear Jason Plato saying that “Rubbin’ is Racing”. That might be ok if you’re a paid driver with a works team, but not when you’re a privateer scraping every penny just to make it to the next meeting and a shunt could mean the end of your season.’
This is a very good point raised and I certainly agree with this. I will also admit that one of the reasons the BTCC is so well supported is the close racing which makes it exciting for the fans. Of course, you will get the occasional nudge, bump and rub as cars jostle for position in the short races. However, there is a big difference between Rubbin’ and Barging others off the circuit. After Plato’s somewhat ambitious (at the very best) move at Brands Hatch which left Dave Newsham in the gravel and with no points after being on target for a huge haul in race one, he was at it again in race three at Donington.
It was clear to see that the MG was quick around the East Midlands circuit and after Turbo arguments last season, there will without doubt be more uproar as some teams have different restrictions than others. The Issue of parity will still very much play a part this season. After a solid race one, Plato was to start race two well up the field. However, early contact with Collard sent the MG into the wall on the final Chicane Exit. This meant he would start the last race of the day from the back of the grid. Most people had written off a podium for Plato but with points for the top 15 finishers, there was definitely a chance for a few for Plato. The question was, just how many.
Love him or loathe him, you cannot deny that behind the wheel of a touring car, Jason Plato is one of the best. So as the lights went out, Plato was on a mission and was to gain a few places early on within the race. A short safety car period after a few laps was to help bunch the field back up. After the safety car had gone in, the MG driver had set to work. Expertly picking off driver one by one, he expertly charged up the order. This was without doubt Jason Plato at his very best and the crowd were loving it. The charge had led him all the way up to third place with a few laps remaining. Mat Jackson was leading with Gordon Shedden in second place. Shedden was keen to hold on to this position and he did a great job of holding off the MG in his Honda Civic. The laps ran down and it looked like Plato was going to have to settle for a very impressive third place. He had other ideas though.
At the start of the final straight, Plato lined up Shedden for a move. Sitting right on Shedden’s bumper, Plato nudged the Honda down the back straight. Had he moved out, the MG would surely have passed the Civic with ease due to its superior speed, but he didn’t. As the cars reached the breaking point, it seemed that it was going to end in tears for one or both of them. It did. Shedden braked, but Plato seemingly didn’t. The result meant Shedden was pushed straight on and forced to take to the gravel at the final Chicane. Plato also overshot slightly and had to take to the gravel, a sign that he carried too much speed and did not brake when he should have, perhaps, but has he didn’t go as far into the gravel as his rival, he took the place away from the Scot to finish second. During the interviews, Plato seemed quite pleased with himself. A very different reaction to a similar situation last year at Knockhill, when Plato himself was defending a ‘Talentless Pikey’ before being nudged off and into a tyre wall.
A two second time penalty was given to Plato after the event to demote him down to third, but with Mat Jackson’s exclusion for technical infringements, Plato would regain his second place so lost nothing. I’m not here to discuss the penalties given out though. Whilst I think some could and should be heavier do deter poor and overly aggressive driving, these supposedly talented racing drivers should instinctively know the difference between right and wrong. My point raises perhaps a bigger issue.
As such a hugely supported series, there are many BTCC fans, all with their favourite drivers. As one of the top race series, there are many young drivers aiming to reach the level these drivers are at. Without doubt these drivers are role models to many. So is this kind of behaviour acceptable from a role model? Ironically, a huge talking point within football recently is that of Diving. No one likes to see it and all football fans will agree that diving to win a free kick or penalty is cheating. So surely pushing another driver off to gain a place is also cheating? Is this a good example to set others? To show people that it is ok to cheat to get what you want? Also, should smaller teams suffer at the hands of bullying tactics from others? On a similar line as the letter mentioned earlier, a good finish can mean the difference between securing a lucrative sponsorship deal to help pay bills and enable a few more race weekends for small teams. Is it fair to have that taken away by someone who doesn’t want to play by the rules?
So what impression is all this behaviour leaving with onlookers? Surely it is one that is damaging to motorsport. Something has to be done and attitudes need to change. A good example should be set, rather than that akin to a spoilt child. Not just from Jason Plato, but from all drivers within the higher echelons of the sport. Hopefully sooner rather than later as I’d much prefer to be talking about the exciting action and driving ability on show.
And this is all before I even mention the drivers and social media…..
More images from the weekend can be seen on the Chris Gurton Photography Facebook Page.
As mentioned in my blog about this year’s Autosport Show, good friend of mine Nick Underwood of Tin Tops Uk took part in the Charity Kart race. I thought this would be a great opportunity for Nick to share his experience and invited him to write a guest blog for Trackside Views. He duly obliged and here it is:
As I came into the final corner I lifted, turned in and then got back on the power. After advice from my team mates and watching members of Alastair Rushforth Motorsport I was assured this was the quickest way through the corner. The kart behind me (which happened to be ex-Stig Ben Collins) had clearly decided that he was going to be using me as his brakes this lap. The resulting shunt sent me through the barriers and meant than any lingering hopes of a podium where well and truly gone. But there was so much more to my karting adventure which had started a couple of hours before.
The Autosport International show is the start of the UK motorsport year and one of its highlights is the charity kart race run by racing4charity in support of race2recovery. This year tintops.co.uk was lucky enough to have entered Team Tin Tops featuring top BTCC drivers Gordon Sheddon, Dave Newsham, Andy Neate, Ali Rushforth and Neb Bursac. We were competing against 20 other teams with drivers of the calibre of David Brabham, Andy Jordan and Michael Lyons. But we were up for the fight and fancied our chances of success. After meeting the team we gathered for the drivers briefing partly done by my soon to be ‘friend’ Ben Collins. When he had taken the drivers briefing he had said it was a ‘no-holds barred’ race and I felt the full force of those words later on. We were called for a team photo, lining up with the BTCC guys was a happy if awkward moment! I’ve never been that comfortable in front of a camera so having 20 odd photographers taking the team photo was the most frightening part of the day! However, with that nonsense over and done with it was onto the serious business of racing.
We had 20 minutes of practice followed by 5 minutes of qualifying. The biggest problem was working out who should do the qualifying! Dave Newsham went out first and was quickly lapping in the low 25s. When he came back in he confirmed what we already thought, there wasn’t much grip on the indoor circuit. I went out in the middle of the session hoping to get a feel for the track and quickly find a rhythm. That plan was quickly deemed useless by a pack of karts coming right up behind me as I left the pits. I lifted for a corner I quickly found out was flat as two karts passed me – thank goodness it was only practice. I blindly found my way round the rest of the track and on the longest straight I allowed the pack to pass, hoping to hang onto their exhaust pipes. I did my best to keep up then peeled into the pits to end my practice. We decided that Gordon should go last, doing our qualifying laps. At one point we were up to third and the team was rocking, although rather like a bad movie plot at this point the public timing screen went down. When the screen eventually came back up where in 11th, there was talk of us being punished for some ‘unknown reason’. Whatever – we were happy in the middle of the grid and with ‘Flash’ in the driving seat we knew things could only get better. Or so we thought.
21 karts on a small indoor circuit sounds like a recipe for carnage and it was. Considering touring car drivers have a reputation for panel bashing and general aggression our boys where very clean, quick and well behaved. One thing that struck me was how fast our BTCC stars were. Karts strip away all the BS with no driver aids, turbos or other nonsense. A lot of the other racers were single seater racers and the BTCC drivers where more than a match for them. Despite the race being for charity racing drivers are massively competitive and sometimes the mark was over stepped. The turn into the pit straight was a possible flat, possible lift corner. Many people decided to go with the flat option early in the race not taking into account the lack of grip. The pit wall was hit on practically every lap, on some occasions harder than others. The biggest incident came when 5 karts decided they all wanted the apex at the same time. How no racers or karts where damaged is beyond me. Watching all this was an interesting way to prepare for my turn, as if I wasn’t nervous enough about being quick there were people trying to remodel the circuit!
But my turn did come, the rest of the team had done a great job and before the kart was brought in for my time we were running in 5th. Straight from the off I was in the thick of it and battling with karts in front for position. Every lap felt quicker and I was growing in confidence, I’m told my lap times where around 25/26s. Then came the fateful moment, coming into the final bend I lifted, turned into the apex and felt a huge shunt from behind. There was no life flashing before my eyes moment, all I can remember is breaking through the barriers on the inside of the corner and seeing all the karts behind me overtaking me. That was it – podium chance gone. It felt like an eternity until the marshals pointed me back in the right direction, I must have been overtaken by every kart in the race whilst I was stranded and screaming and shouting inside my helmet at the marshals didn’t help.
When I was put back on the track I think I was actually quicker than before I was shunted off, I overtook a few people and had a good battle with those who were trying to get round me. I was flagged in as my time was up and swapped for Ali Rushforth. Ali brought Team Tin Tops home in 10th.
I didn’t do anything to give the pro’s sleepless nights but I didn’t embarrass myself either. Something that struck me after I’d gotten out of the kart was how easy the pro’s make it look. When I was out on the track I felt like I was constantly battling to keep it pointing in the right direction, the pro’s always looked in control. That’s the difference between an enthusiastic amateur and a true racer – making it look easy and still being quick.
Team Tin Tops was by far the best supported team in the race and so I’d like to thank Matt Rushforth, Jay Mooney, Simon Wilson, Tony Rushforth, Pam + Keith Underwood, my wife Gina, Tony Hurcombe and tracksideviews main man Chris Gurton.
The Autosport International Show is the first sign that the motorsport season is heading towards us. With driver announcements, new car unveilings and teams setting out their plans for the year ahead, it is a good place for media to get the inside track on what to expect this year and the public’s chance to see new cars and drivers and to get excited about the 2012 season.
I headed to the NEC in Birmingham on Thursday to catch up with friends, colleagues and acquaintances and to set out plans for the coming season. There was certainly plenty to see and keep me busy so much so that I didn’t get a chance to see everything. After signing in and chatting to a few good friends from BTCCCrazy and BTCCBlogs it was time to head to the JRM stand for the unveiling of their new car.
The car that was to be announced was their new Nissan GT-R GT3 car which had already been seen in action as a three race development programme had seen it compete last year including at the Blancpain race at Silverstone in October. Sporting a new Red and Black paint job and a few slight aerodynamic tweaks, the car looked fantastic. With the announcement that the Nissan GT-R will be available to buy I hope to see a few on track this season.
The next announcement came in the form of a new Driver. The AMD Milltek BTCC team had lined up their new driver announcement for the show and Shaun Hollamby unveiled Ollie Jackson as their new driver to mount a charge on this seasons British Touring Car Championship. Ollie drove last season in the British GT Championship in the Lotus Evora GT4 alongside Phil Glew as well as a couple of races in the BTCC at the end of last year so it seems like a good acquisition for a team who are targeting top 10 finishes this year.
After taking a few photos of Ollie on the Pipercross stand, it was off to the Sunoco press conference to hear about the Sunoco Challenge and how Felipe Nasr and Aaron Steele were getting on with their preparations for the Daytona 24 hour race and Grand Am Challenge respectively. It seemed that the pair were taking to it like a Duck to water during the practice days recently, especially Nasr who was setting some incredibly fast times which had regular Daytona 24 hour drivers slightly nervous. It was also good to hear from Mark Blundell during the conference and his take on it all. The challenge, setup by Sunoco, offers a great opportunity for the winning drivers to experience racing in America and help them gain exposure. We all know it is hard for racing drivers to secure drives and sponsorship deals and by being given the opportunity to race at Daytona can open up new avenues in their career’s so it is great to see Sunoco provide this.
Before a meeting to discuss plans with the guys at Britcar, there was time to have a look around the show for a bit. There is certainly plenty to see, from classic rally and race cars, the Ayrton Senna display with a collection of his race cars on show, the new Drayson Racing electric powered LMP car and a number of trade stands to keep everyone busy and entertained. Again this year Ian Cook (Pop Bang Colour) was there on his hands and knees painting some more incredible cars in his unique style. It was good to catch up with him and to see him paint the 1982 Jacky Ickx & Derek Bell Porsche 956. It is one of my favourite ever race cars and the car that won Le Mans the year I was born so I think I will be treating myself to a copy for my 30th birthday later this year. The finished painting is stunning and would look great on my wall.
Having had a productive meeting with Britcar, myself and James were invited for a coffee at the Sunoco stand where it was nice to catch up with Louise who does a lot of their PR during race weekends. Whilst I was sitting down I glanced over to the Corbeau Race Seats stand next to us and my attention was grabbed by an image of the Team Lotus GT4 Evora from the British GT on the back wall. I instantly recognised it as my photo. This was somewhat surprising as it was the first time I knew of it being used. Despite this, it was good to see it up there.
Before heading over to the Charity Karting Race, I bumped into Becki Mitchell who was there working for Radio Silverstone and Kevin McGlone of Red Square Images. It was great to catch up with them both and hopefully will be able to catch up with them again at various times this season. If all goes to plan I’ll be off to the Nurburgring in May for the British GT and 24hr race with Kevin.
As it got late in the afternoon, the Karting Race was due to start and with my friend Nick from Tin Tops UK in a team with Alistair Rushforth, Dave Newsham, Andy Neate & Gordon Sheddon, I went to watch and give him some support. There was a lot of driver talent on show and it was good to see them all fighting it out in the karts. Nick will be writing a guest blog for Trackside Views about his experience so look out for that soon.
As the race came to an end and the NEC started to close its doors, it was time to head home with renewed optimism and excitement for the oncoming season. I can’t wait to back out with my camera and for all the motorsport championships to start up again. However, it will be sooner than I expected for me this year as I will be at Brands Hatch for the Brands Hatch Stages Rally next weekend. I will of course be bringing you news and photos from that in due course.
Happy New Year to you all! I hope you all had a good Christmas and enjoyed the break (those of you who got one) and are looking forward to 2012 with renewed optimism. Unfortunately January seems to be the Monday of the year and everyone seems to struggle with motivation. Especially as we head back to work and the motorsport season is still a while away. At least the Autosport Show offers a crumb of comfort to those pining for a motorsport fix.
As some may have noticed, I didn’t really do much of a review of last season. Each year the contributors at TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk provide their highlights of the past year which include; best race, best driver, moment of the year and one to watch next season. This year was no different and as our submissions have been appearing on the site over the festive break, I thought I would share mine with you now they are up.
Driver of the year: Many names spring to mind in various race series but the driver who sticks out for me is Jonny Adam. Making the switch from BTCC to British GT with a seat in the Beechdean Aston Martin he certainly took to the series like a duck to water. Quite literally, as his performances in the wet behind the wheel of the now aging DBRS9 proved as he was challenging the newer machinery at the front and claiming victory at a wet Rockingham. Adam certainly gave the Aston Martin a fitting farewell in its final season and with the teams switch to the new V12 Vantage Aston looks set to build on his impressive debut season in British GT next year.
Race of the Year: For me the race of the year has to be the Le Mans 24 hour. Set to be another ding dong battle between the Peugeots and Audi with their new R18 car, it didn’t disappoint. After two huge accidents involving the Audi number 3 of Allan McNish and the number 1 of Mike Rockenfeller the German marque was left with what some would say was their weaker driver line up of Fassler, Lotterer & Treluyer to bring home the sole remaining Audi. Up against the 3 factory backed Peugeot 908’s and the privateer Oreca 908 they certainly showed their true ability and maturity in the face of some quite remarkable and dangerous tactics from the French team to pressure the Audi into a mistake. With seconds splitting the front running Audi and the Bourdais, Lamy & Pegenaud Peugeot in second place the finishing margin after 24 hours of racing was just 13.8s. Those who think endurance racing is boring should think again.
Moment of the Year: I’ve been fortunate enough to witness and be part of a number of great moments over the past year within motorsport and will have many stories to tell my grandchildren. But one moment that I couldn’t let pass without mentioning was a real breathtaking moment which sums up just what it takes to be a great racing driver. I am of course talking about Mark Webber’s stunning overtake on Fernando Alonso during the Belgium Grand Prix. Having got a better exit from La Source, Webber was gaining on the Spaniard down the hill towards Eau Rouge tucked into the slip stream. Assuming he would wait for the run up to Les Combes and the DRS Zone to make his move, remarkably we witnessed Webber pull out and pass the Ferrari round the outside and through Eau Rouge in a move which would normally end in tears. It was a remarkable manoeuvre and one that many would never even consider but was executed with skill and precision by the Aussie.
What to look for this year: For me there are a number of things to look for next year. After the teething troubles of the new NGTC cars in the BTCC, a more level playing field next season and a big field should lead to an exciting championship. On the subject of touring cars, it will be interesting to see how Arena Motorsport and Special Tuning Racing cope with the step up to WTCC.
After an extremely close fought title battle in British GT, next seasons Championship will no doubt be an equally exciting and close fight. Look out for the new look Ginetta G55 GT3 and the Aston Martin V12 Vantage adding to the array of stunning cars throughout the field. For fans of endurance racing, the new World Endurance Championships should be something to look out for too.
Also, with driver moves and deals still being confirmed within Formula One, an exciting new driver to keep an eye out for is Jean Eric-Vergne. The Frenchman showed true class in the 2010 British F3 Championships on his way to the title and runner up at the end of a season in formula Renault 3.5 has shown his ability. With the backing and support of Red Bull, could he be the new Sebastian Vettel?
For the rest of the TCF contributors opinions pop along to the site. Just click on the following:
But what about you? Do you agree with mine or my colleagues choices? Or do you think we have overlooked one of your highlights or favourites? What are you most looking forward to this year? Feel free to get in touch and let me know via the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.
So as 2011 has arrived at a rapid pace, I have decided to resurrect my blog. However, I’ve gone one step better and started a completely new one. This time it is now a place to write mostly about my photography, motorsport, and my work for The Checkered Flag. Although no doubt I will occasionally write about a few other bits and bobs, and life in general just for good measure.
I’m using a new hosting site so it might take me a little while to get used to it all, but in time I hope to make it a better and of course add in a few visual treats along the way. Also, I would like to hear from you, the reader. Feel free to comment, and leave your thoughts and also let me know if there are certain things you’d like to hear about or want me to discuss.
So onwards into the New Year and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen any live motorsport and I’m starting to get impatient. I’ve purchased some more motorsport DVD’s to help me through this difficult time until I’m back out trackside and behind the lens.
On a plus note, I will be heading to the Autosport Show next Thursday and I hear that Lotus Renault or Renault Lotus or The team formally known as Renault or whatever they will be called, are to showcase their new livery. It seems that it will be based on the classic Black and Gold John Player livery so I can’t wait to see it. It will also be great to catch up with some good friends whilst I’m there and maybe join James and Pete, the BTCCCrazy editor and photographer for a Slush Puppy. (An inside joke which may well become apparent when the new BTCC season gets underway).
This year I am really looking forward to seeing the new Snetterton Circuit Layout. This is due for completion in February and will no doubt increase the circuits stature in help encourage larger race series to Norfolk. As a circuit I visit regularly, it will be interesting to see the changes and the further developments in store for the coming months and years. A new video has been released providing an aerial and onboard perspective of the new ‘300’ circuit layout which can be viewed here.
So with my new blog now up and running, all that remains for now is for me to wish you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year.
Don’t forget to check back soon for more of my rumblings.