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.
I’m often surprised by the amount of people who actually read my mutterings and random thoughts within this blog, so it was nice to hear from one of the Top teams within the British Touring Car Championships saying how much they liked it. They also offered me a chance to take part in a quick Question and Answer session with one of their drivers. How could I refuse? I leapt at the chance.
So I called on all of my journalistic prowess to rustle up some questions that would have Jeremy Paxman quaking in his expensive loafers. Armed with set of hard hitting questions, well, some that give a bit more of an insight into his life anyway, one of the BTCC’s Fan favourites, Tom Onlsow-Cole took some time out of his busy schedule ahead of this weekend’s round at Donington Park to answer them.
Both of you are definite championship contenders, do you think you are capable of winning the title this year, and if not, what are your realistic targets for this season? Yes I definitely think I am a contender. I am now getting my head around the ebay Motors car and I have good pace and feel comfortable. I am after more points every race and I target a podium every round.
Have you set yourself any targets for this weekend at Donington and if so, what are they? To achieve 50 points or more. I think that is a logical and good target for me and eBay Motors.
Who do you think your main title opponents will be this year? The Honda Team or Jason Plato in his MG
Which circuit on the BTCC Calendar do you like the most, and which do you like the least? I actually like Donington the most as it is fast with a lot of turns. After that my next favourite is Thruxton. My least favourite is probably Brands Hatch as it has never been too kind to me in the past so I am glad that I have got that one out the way!
What has been your favourite BTCC memory? In 2008 with Vauxhall. I was still very young in the BTCC but we were dominant and came into the race in poll and took 3 podiums. It was the first real taste of success I had had in the championship and when I really knew that being a racing driver was what I wanted.
If the BTCC could have one overseas round, which circuit would you like it to be held at? Bathurst in Australia.
Who is the toughest driver you’ve raced against? Rob Collard, he is difficult to pass and a great driver so I am glad to now have him on my side with eBay Motors!
What three things can you not be without during a race weekend? My Team, my ipod and my dad.
How do you prepare for a race? Do you have any superstitions? I always have to get ready the same way in the car and have certain procedures like putting one glove on after the other. I then use relaxation and visualisation techniques.
If you could race in any other race series, which one would it be and why? V8 Supercars.
What is the most recent song you listened to on your MP3 player / CD Player? Will.I.Am – The hardest ever
What do you like to do in your spare time? I don’t have a lot of spare time away from work and what I do have I use for training. I have turned my training into a hobby.
What is your favourite TV programme? The Cleveland Show.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Flying.
Who would win a fight between a Ninja and a Pirate? A Pirate because they would have a gun!
So there you have it. My first exclusive interview for Tracksideviews and who better to have.
I’d like to thank Tom for taking the time to take part, as well as Oli and everyone at ebay Motors for making it happen. Don’t forget to check out the ebay Motors website: www.ebaymotorsbtcc.co.uk and you can follow Tom and the team on Twitter: @tomonslowcole and @ebaymotorsbtcc
Best of luck to Tom and the team this weekend and for the rest of the season.
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.