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.