A couple of weeks ago, the British Touring Car Championship headed north of the border for its annual trip to Scotland and the Knockhill circuit. Again it was a weekend of high drama and yet again one man in particular was right in the centre of it all.
I initially decided not to write about this particular incident, which saw Aron Smith make contact with Jason Plato sending the latter off into the gravel and out of the race. Previous blogs expressing my opinions of Jason Plato and his attitude and behaviour have generally been met with agreement. However some fans of the outspoken racing driver, who’s lead has clearly been followed by those who support him and have decided to be very critical of my own opinions. Some been quite personal but many claiming I know nothing about what I am saying. Somewhat Ironic in many cases.
So you can imagine my delight in a saviour in an unexpected form. There were so many things I wanted to say about Jason Plato and his attitude, behaviour, driving and his somewhat scathing and hugely hypocritical comments live on TV. One man saved me the trouble of writing down my views, as he had already done so. This man? The Boss of Motorbase Performance Dave Bartrum. A BTCC race winning team and also a British GT winning team too. So this Man cannot be accused of not knowing what he is talking about.
Dave had written a blog about the weekend at Knockhill which included a large section about Jason Plato which went like this:
“The only sour note of the weekend was Jason Plato’s reaction to the incident with Aron. I realise he will see it his way and we will see it ours, that’s natural. I was disappointed in the penalty which TOCA gave us because we’ve been on the receiving end of nearly identical incidents with Aron & Rob Austin in round 1, TOCA verdict – Racing incident, Liam & Lea Wood at Croft, TOCA verdict – Racing incident. Someone does it to Plato, TOCA verdict – 3 points & a £500 fine. Is it because its Plato? Maybe, who knows? With that in mind when we heard that 888 & Plato had appealed we were surprised, turns out Jason wanted more! He even suggested that Aron had a job to do on him! What can you say to this? Paranoid maybe?
Jason is supposed to represent British Motorsport, in two roles even beyond his role in the BTCC with MG & 888. He is the face of the KX young driver programme mentoring young aspiring drivers & has a major role at the BRDC as a Director. Yet despite all of this he remains the most outspoken, shouting his mouth of to anyone who will listen about how badly everyone else drives! Sorry, am I missing something? Is this the same Jason Plato who rammed Matt Neal off in a fit of rage/revenge at Snetterton, the same Jason Plato who rammed Gordon Shedden of at the last corner of Donington after pushing him along the back straight whilst Gordon tried to brake, and the same Jason Plato who simply disposed of Dave Newsham disgracefully at the first race of the season? And that’s just this year. He has been one incident away from a 3 month ban for a little while due to his own indiscretions on track in the last 12 months. Pot and kettle spring to mind!
He suggested Aron doesn’t deserve a race licence. Quite frankly, he is the man who needs banning from the championship. Why TOCA didn’t give him points for his revenge mission at Snetterton on Matt Neal is anybodies guess! Probably because he has so many points already. MG & his sponsors should think twice before renewing his contract if he continues to behave like this. He makes damning statements that other teams and drivers are merely ‘playing at this’ and we’re just ‘pretenders’ unlike the paid professional drivers. At most, if this was the case there would be a 3 car grid, this is modern day Motorsport. I amongst other would love to have the budgets of yesteryear and be able to pick two fully paid drivers like Andy Neate & Jason Plato as 888 have been able to this year!
How he keeps a job with the BRDC is beyond me. He is a Director in the most influential club in British Motorsport, he is in a role which people need to respect him and look upon his as someone who sets an example of how a race driver conducts himself both on and off the circuit. In my opinion he does neither! It’s a joke that they have someone with such low regard for fellow competitors and young drivers in such a position. It’s hypocritical. There is a new young driver programme which he is fronting. He then accuses Aron of being ‘a pretender’ because he pays for his drive. Will that be the same for all the drivers under his management who are paying for their drive? I doubt it, I’m sure he will change his mind then! Quite frankly no driver having been mentored by him would be welcome in a race car of mine.
All of that said I do respect his driving ability, he is clearly very talented. He also puts on a great show for the public, who seemingly love a bad boy. Maybe we’re just another part of his show this week. I just think if he kept his mouth shut and his thoughts to himself the world would be better for it. I can only assume, and half understand that Aron is on the receiving end of his passion from the reality that Jason’s Championship received a massive dent at the weekend due to him making a mistake of his own by drifting over into Aron, giving Aron very few options. Jason made the uncharacteristic error in which he lost out, something he doesn’t do very often. I think most drivers would have driven exactly how Aron did, and the others probably would have ended up in the gravel themselves!”
This is worryingly almost exactly what I wanted to say on the matter and many will know I have been saying similar for a long time, but only this time, hopefully, I won’t get abuse from certain people so thanks Dave.
Now even the most hardcore Jason Plato fans must take on board some of these comments and surely see Dave has a very good point. I am however, not criticising people for wanting to be a fan of Mr Plato though. I have said it before and say it yet again. The guy has great driving ability there is no argument there. But is he really a role model to those who do support him? Especially the younger generation. Is the do as I say not as I do attitude setting a good example? Is the constant moaning and criticising of the rules and others inspirational for others? Lots of Plato fans say he is a hero and legend. But is this really the way a hero should conduct himself?
Two words I have just used are thrown about far too much in describing sports stars and mostly unnecessarily. Hero and Legend. I’m going to stick my neck out on the line here and risk further abuse by saying Plato is neither of these. Good yes. But not hero or legend. Why? I’ll tell you why.
A Hero or Legend is not just someone who reaches the very top of their discipline, but someone who inspires others. Someone who sets a good example to others, overcomes adversity, conducts themselves well and shows a good, positive attitude and strives to achieve. But most of all, someone others can look up to. A role model who people want to emulate. After the Summer of Olympic and Paralympic games, it is clear there are many that put the MG BTCC racing driver in the shade.
For motorsport fans though, If you want a real Hero, Legend and Inspiration, look no further than Alessandro ‘Alex’ Zanardi. The Italian ex Formula one driver suffered a horrific crash in 2001 in the Champ car series and subsequently lost his legs. Whilst many of us, faced with this for the rest of our lives would wallow in self pity and hate the life that you now face. Alex didn’t. He continued do race for a few years after his legs were amputated, but he had his heart set on one goal. The Paralympics.
Without moaning, complaining or criticising, Alex set out to achieve this goal. Training hard in the face of adversity, all this hard work came to fruition last week. The road cycling took place at Brands Hatch, somewhat poignant in this incredible story and Alex Zanardi was there to represent Italy in the hand cycling with his unique three wheeled bicycle which was no doubt designed with the help of some of his friends within formula one. The British crowd were there in their thousands to cheer and support the participants with many motorsport fans there to support Zanardi.
All the hard work and determination came to fruition for the Italian which saw him take two Gold medals and a Silver. The delight within the motorsport fraternity was clear to see. This man’s incredible journey in the face of adversity had come good and he had reached the very peak. This man is a genuine Hero. A true Legend. And an Inspiration to all.
Dave Bartrum’s full blog can be read here.
The weather has been pretty wet and miserable for the last few weeks and it has been a while since I was last out trackside. I was becoming irritable. However, yesterday was the Media Day for the 2012 Silverstone Classic so I was to head there with eager anticipation.
I love classic cars and of course classic racing cars. I love the fact that these iconic vehicles that are mostly from before my time and worth an absolute fortune, are still raced for everyone to see. Those who remember these race cars get the opportunity to see them again and to revoke past memories and those, like me who weren’t about to see them first time get the chance to experience what they were like and gaze in awe of how beautiful these machines are.
Last year’s Silverstone Classic was a huge success. Over 1100 race entries and a further 7000 plus classic cars on display from various car clubs and societies made it the biggest race weekend in the world. Throw in all the additional things to see and do such as trade stands, fun fairs, live music, driving experiences and simulators and the world record for the most E-Type Jaguars on circuit at the same time and you get a good idea of what a fantastic weekend it was. I enjoyed every minute of it and a real highlight for me was the Group C ‘Dusk’ race on the Saturday evening.
The weather back then was amazing, sun all weekend. A huge contrast to the weather that greeted us for the media day. But after parking up in the paddock behind the fantastic Silverstone Wing complex and catching a glimpse of some of the cars in the garages that were to be out on track during the day, the miserable weather was soon forgotten.
After signing on, having a coffee and catching up with friends, the press conference took place. During this, plans for this year’s event were unveiled. The last Silverstone Classic would be hard to beat, but it looks like expectations will be exceeded. A new partnership with the AA was announced and their commitment to the weekend was impressive. They are planning so many off track activities and driving experiences to keep everyone entertained if the racing wasn’t enough. A number of anniversaries will be celebrated such as 50 years of AC Cobra and to mark the 25th anniversary of the Ferrari F40 more than 60 examples of every school boy’s wet dream will be out on track. The celebrity race line up was also announced and joining regulars like Heston Blumenthal, Dave Vitty & Brendan Cole will be Chemmy Alcott and Sir Patrick Stewart to name just two.
After the press conference it was time to head down to the garages to see what machinery was about and to take part in a passenger ride. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to go out in an awesome 1962 Jaguar E-Type driven by Andy Dee-Crowne. As I was getting strapped in, Andy told me he would need to take it a bit steady in the wet conditions as he had just spun at Stowe with the last passenger on board. I told him not to spare the horses for my sake, but obviously I didn’t want him to damage his beautiful car. The grin plastered across my face as we headed down the pit lane was not going to be moved for some time.
As we headed out onto the track the car sounded fantastic and despite the age of the machine ran smoothly and quickly. Very quickly. Andy told me the brakes would take a little while to warm up so would take it steady into the first few corners. This didn’t deter him from getting on the throttle as soon as possible though as the car squirmed on the exits as he expertly kept it under control. The conditions were wet and the original style cross-ply tyres the Jag runs on meant grip was at a premium. It also meant fun was in abundance! Drifting and sliding through the corners, Maggots and Becketts were especially fun, Andy was working the steeling wheel masterfully, whilst controlling the throttle to time the acceleration down the straights just right. Not only was I impressed with my chauffer’s ability as was in awe of this incredible machine. We all know how far technology has progressed over the years but this 50 year old beast still knew how to perform and put a lot of modern day machinery to shame. It really was a credit to Jaguar and their engineering.
With the brakes up to temperature on the second lap, Andy was happy to push that bit harder and was loving it. With speeds of 120mph on the straights in the wet the E-Type had impressed me immensely. It was great that people still raced these machines and following the AC Cobra along the Hanger Straight, I got my very own taste of what it would have been like to have raced these cars back in their hay day. The passenger ride was over too soon for my liking, mind you I would have stayed out there all day if I could and not got bored, but as we came back into the pits I knew I had experienced something very special for which I was truly grateful to Andy for. The E-Type Jag has now been added to my list of cars to buy when I win the lottery. If only eh?
After a nice lunch back up in the wing complex, I was back roaming around the garages to check out some of the cars there. This years Silverstone Classic will feature 1980’s & 90’s British Touring Cars, DTM cars and Super touring cars so there were some fine examples of these cars on show. Steve Soper’s BTCC & DTM BMW’s were there along with Tim Harvey’s Labbatt’s liveried Sierra Cosworth RS500, John Cleland’s Vauxhall Cavalier, Anthony Reid’s Ford Mondeo Super Touring car and Matt Neal’s Independent Nissan Primera along with a few others. A couple of Porsche 962’s were there along with some more historic Touring cars such as Mini’s & Ford Cortina Mk1’s as well as a selection of historic single seaters. Most of which took to the track for some test laps giving us a chance to take some photos despite the worsening weather. It was great to see just this handful of cars so it really whetted my appetite for the main event in July.
The day was over too soon but I left with a lasting memory and the excitement of this year’s Silverstone Classic. I cannot recommend the weekend enough to anybody. There is so much to see and do and it is a weekend that should be high on the ‘to do’ list for any car fan young or old. It will be a great event and you really don’t want to miss out.
You can find out more by heading to their website here: http://www.silverstoneclassic.com/ and you can see more of my photos from the day on the Chris Gurton Photography Facebook page or in my Flickr Album.
Last weekend saw the long awaited return of the British Touring Car Championships. With everyone desperate to see what the season brings and who would set the pace in round one, the weekend wasn’t to disappoint.
The first shock of the weekend came in qualifying. It was Dave Newsham in the Team ES racing’s aging Vectra that claimed pole position against the likes of the new Honda Civic and the established teams of Ebay Motors BMW and Redstone Racing, formally Motorbase. With the new MG taking to the track without prior testing before the weekend, expectations were low, even from within the camp, but with the superb team of Triple eight and the highly experienced Jason Plato behind the wheel, there was always the possibility of a shock result. A solid sixth place on the grid for the first race showed this to be a real chance of good results. Despite its good looks, new team and driver pairing of John Thorne in the Thorney Motorsport in the new Vauxhall Insignia, struggled for pace and a huge off at paddock hill in practice meant there would be no qualifying session for the team and doubts were cast on the chance of seeing it take to the grid for the races. However, the team did well to get it repaired in time for race one the following day.
Rob Collard got the best start from race one and took the lead early on. Newsham had dropped to third behind Matt Neal with Plato doing well to gain places to reach fourth. But the main talking point from the first race came on lap 15. With places swapping throughout the race in the top few positions, an audacious move was to change the race in a big way. Newsham was doing well to stay in the front pack and on the start straight he had got the run on Neal to edge ahead for the lead. As the pair braked for Paddock Hill bend, Plato, who was third decided to try and take the lead and go up the inside of the pair from some way back. A move that just wasn’t there as Newsham was turning in. Plato inevitably made contact with the rear quarter of the yellow Vectra sending him into a spin and off into the gravel finishing his race.
Rob Collard went on to win the first race of the season, with Neal second, Tom Onslow-Cole third and Plato taking fourth. Collard was to receive a fine and points on his licence for celebrating with some doughnuts near pit entry, which seems excessive, but perhaps it was the fact that the doughnuts were, well, a bit rubbish that he got the fine. As for Plato, when asked about the earlier incident, he said he saw a gap and went for it. Well, yes, he may have saw a gap, but it was a long way away and was closing rapidly. He then stated that it was all part of racing. Maybe so, but the move ended Newsham’s definite chance of a podium. Do silly moves like that deserve to be part of racing? Hardly fair is it. No stranger to voicing his opinions on various aspects of the BTCC, I would have liked to have known what Plato’s response would have been had the roles been reversed. I think I could guess though and I am certain it would be an opinion that was very different. After the weekend, Plato was to be fined £750 and slapped with 3 points on his racing licence for his move on Newsham, but I couldn’t help feel that a drive through or time penalty would have been more of a punishment.
On to race two which again proved to be a close affair out front with Neal, Andy Jordan, and Plato tussling for positions. Plato did actually take the lead at one point. Very impressive for MG on its return to the championship. But eventually, Plato settled with third step of the podium behind the two new Civic’s of Jordan second and Neal first. Further down the field, Newsham fought back well from the back of the grid to claim ninth. Rob Austin took a very good fifth place in the Audi on a weekend when team made Mark Hazell announced his withdrawal from the championship leaving Rob Austin racing with a spare Audi. Many BTCC fans would love a certain likeable Liverpudlian to fill the vacant seat if a budget can be found. Lea Wood, shone in race two, also in a Vectra, running in the top 10 before a drive through penalty saw him drop down the field and Dan Welch in the Proton did well to recover after being tapped into an early spin to take 12th place. Nick Foster was also lucky to walk away unscathed from his BWM after losing control out of Druids and hitting the tyre wall on the run down to Graham Hill bend before coming to a rest in its roof.
Race three was also set to cause a major talking point and plenty of excitement. It was Ollie Jackson in the VW Golf starting from pole thanks to the reversed grid. Unfortunately he was to drop down a few places on the early laps. Then, a few laps in Mat Jackson ran wide at paddock hill which was to trigger some unbelievable consequences. Running through the gravel before making it back onto the track, Jackson had caused damage to the front of his Ford Focus which left a trail of fluid on the way up to Druids. Ollie Jackson was to find this fluid and lost control under braking sending him spinning into the gravel at the hairpin right infront of me. Ducking to avoid the shower of dust and gravel, I peered over the tyre wall to see a number of other cars follow suit. Protecting myself and my equipment, it wasn’t until the dust had settled before I saw the full extent of the incident. There now seemed to be a carpark in front of me with seven cars stuck in the kitty litter all in various states. The race was stopped while the Marshalls worked tirelessly and quickly to recover the cars and sweep the track.
From the restart it was Collard who took the lead before falling back behind the battle between Andy Jordan and Jason Plato, now for the lead. Jordan did well to keep Plato behind for a few laps despite constantly being put under pressure with a number of nudges from the MG6. It was eventually at clearways when Plato squeezed up the inside of Jordan pushing him wide and taking the lead to go on to take a victory that few would have thought possible from the new car on its maiden race weekend with no testing. Jordan was left very disappointed with his second place, despite it being his second visit to the podium during the day. Meanwhile, Dave Newsham was a man on a mission set to prove a point and after a superb drive, took third place and eventually got that podium place that was cruelly taken away from him in race one much to everyone’s delight. Jeff Smith took a solid fourth ahead of Rob Austin in fifth.
It certainly was an action packed start to the BTCC season which also saw carnage in the Clio Cup race involving a number of cars, which no doubt saw the Renault spare parts division working overtime on Monday, as well as a huge accident in the Ginetta GT Supercup which thankfully everyone walked away from. Usually, it’s the Ginetta Junior races that see the most incidents, offs and impacts but they were very well behaved in their close fought races.
As the Touring Car circus heads to Donington for the next round, there is still no clear favourite for the championship title and there are still a number of questions to be answered. Will the ES Racing Vectra still be on pace or was it a one off performance? Will Jason Plato in the MG be a real title contender? Can Gordon Shedden get used to the new Honda sooner rather than later after a poor weekend? And who, if anyone, will take up that spare seat at Audi? Only time will tell, but BTCC is certainly back with a bang.