Jason Plato cruises to race one win
Team BMR’s Jason Plato claimed victory in the opening Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship race at Oulton Park with a dominant display in his VW CC.
Plato made a decent getaway from pole position but had to fend off the challenge from Andy Priaulx’s BMW and Matt Neal’s Honda into turn one. The most successful driver in the BTCC then pulled away from the pack to take a comfortable win in a race that was cut short following an accident involving the Toyota of Stewart Lines.
Rather ominously for the rest of the field is that Plato also set the fastest lap – a new lap record – on the way to taking his tenth victory at the Cheshire circuit, and the new championship leader will now start race two from the front of the grid.
“To be honest I expected Matt to be a bit more racy but he had to drive with Andy [Priaulx] in mind,” said Plato. “We had real confidence after our test here, we’ve got the car just where we want it and when you’re in the groove with both the car and the circuit it makes the job a whole lot easier. It’s a great win – it’s always part of our race plan to set a quick lap now, and I knew if I could get a good start I could build a margin. It’d be nice to win another one – today could be turnaround time, we’ve got to keep clawing back the points we lost with the puncture at Brands Hatch. It’s shaping up to be a pretty exciting year and every point counts.”
Priaulx made the best start and genuinely looked as if he could wrestle the lead away from Plato as the gaggle of cars roared down to Old Hall for the first time. The Guernseyman was solely focussed on P1, however, leaving the door open for Neal’s Civic Type R to sneak back past the BMW on the run down to Cascades.
With the BMW notoriously slower to generate heat into its tyres it would take Priaulx almost three laps to find the ultimate pace. From that point Priaulx pressured Neal but the triple champion kept his cool to defend the place perfectly around the 2.2-mile Island Circuit.
“I just love driving this car,” enthused Neal. “Andy [Priaulx] was coming on strong at the end, the BMW looks after its tyres and he was getting great drive out of the slow corners. I didn’t get a great start which gave Jason [Plato] the gap – we’ve got similar weight for race two so I’m expecting some more of the same and a little more action!”
A trio of soft Dunlop Sport Maxx shod runners were next in the order as Andrew Jordan, Aron Smith and Gordon Shedden performed brilliantly to claim fourth, fifth and sixth respectively. Jordan’s MG was a comfortable fourth throughout while Smith had to wait until mid-distance before he could squeeze his VW past then championship leader Shedden at Old Hall.
The ballast laden Honda of Shedden held up a trail of cars until the finish but with overtaking opportunities at a premium he was able to keep Tom Ingram’s Toyota and Sam Tordoff’s BMW at bay. One driver forced out of the top six fight was reigning champion Colin Turkington who overshot Island hairpin before returning to the action to finish a lowly 25th. The Team BMR driver cited a brake problem that he’d been struggling with for the duration of the contest and the Northern Irishman will now need to fight his way through the field for the remainder of the day.
“It was a bit of bad luck – don’t worry I didn’t forget which layout we’re racing on,” said Colin. “We’re pretty sure we have a leak in the brake system – the pedal was soft right from the start so I knew we were in trouble. I got to the hairpin and the pedal just went straight to the floor, but I had to finish the race to maintain my grid position for race two. It’s not the end of our day – we can fight into the top ten in the next one and a good result is still on for race three.”
Dave Newsham held on valiantly to claim tenth ahead of WIX Racing’s Adam Morgan and Josh Cook’s Chevrolet, with the latter taking yet another Jack Sears Trophy victory.
With a number of battles building to a crescendo there was contact down the order between Houseman Racing’s Lines and the Dextra Racing Ford Focus of Alex Martin. As the cars approached the start/finish line it was the Toyota of Lines that was fired off into the pitlane entry barrier, causing damage to the armco. Martin had already been involved in an earlier incident with Simon Belcher’s Toyota but this second moment of drama would end the race as stewards red-flagged the final two laps.
Race two of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship will take place at 15:30 with the final encounter due to get underway at 17:40.