Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing star at dramatic Series finale
Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing returned to winning ways at Brands Hatch for Rounds 28, 29 and 30 of the Kwik Fit MSA British Touring Car Championship, the final weekend of the 2019 season.
The Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit offers a real challenge to both engineers and drivers with a focus on traction and high-speed stability. For race fans, much of the hard graft put in by the drivers is hidden in the trees of the Grand Prix loop, before the cars burst back into view at Clearways with the Indy circuit.
For Vauxhall Astra driver Rob Collard, Brands Hatch offered another chance to add to his two podiums in his first season back in a front-wheel drive car for a decade.
As qualifying commenced, Collard immediately slid wide into the Paddock Hill gravel. The Indy section of the track proved slippery throughout the session, with both drivers finding a lack of grip relative to the long middle sector.
With the ideal window for lap-time coming after the first of three red flags, Jason Plato lost his fastest lap with a big slide at Surtees, while Collard still found the rear of car #9 too loose.
The final restart saw both drivers struggle to move forward, consigning Plato and Collard to a challenging race day starting 16th and 25th – including a two place penalty carried over from Silverstone – respectively.
With threatening skies and a slippery surface, Race 1 was certainly a challenge. From 25th on the grid, Collard made a good start, gaining two places on the opening laps before progress was halted by the first safety car on lap five. Teammate Plato also made ground immediately, moving from 16th forward three places.
Looking to move through the train directly in front, Plato caught the slippery kerb entering Stirlings and slid across the grass, dropping right back, with Collard making more progress up ahead in 18th, before a Safety Car neutralised the field.
The Safety Car came in on lap 11, and by lap 14, despite being on slicks on an increasingly wet track, Collard was in an excellent 11th with Plato flying in 19th but five seconds a lap quicker on his wets. By lap 16 car #11 was the quickest on track, now another position ahead, whilst Rob was starting to struggle for grip as he dropped to 13th.
A dramatic final lap saw Plato move through to 14th, running out of laps, whilst for Collard the chequered flew a few laps too late on his slicks, to cross the line in 15th.
The rain continued into race two, with all 30 cars on wet tyres. Both PMR drivers produced impressive opening laps as Plato moved forward five placed and Collard three. Others didn’t fare so well as Paddock claimed three more victims on the opening lap, once again bringing out the Safety Car.
The lap four restart saw Collard move forward again, looking very racy as he moved into P11. By lap eight he had consolidated his position whilst Plato’s Vauxhall Astra came alive as he moved into seventh, setting off after the leaders, only for yet another Safety Car intervention on lap ten.
Restarting on Lap 12, contact at Druids resulted in Collard finding himself in 17th, with smoke pouring from the right rear tyre under load. Although still lapping at a competitive pace, unstable handling meant the #9 car was destined to hold station until the finish.
By lap 17, Plato was catching Cammish and Jordan ahead hand over fist, a podium looked very much on the cards only for Plato to trip over the rear of Cammish’s car as they entered Hawthorns, dropping his left-rear tyre onto the grass. With the Astra fully sideways, Plato exemplified his car control to gather it all up on the wet grass but couldn’t stop losing the places he had just gained, falling back to seventh but delighting the amassed crowd in the process.
Collard started the final race of both the day and the 2019 Championship in a frustrated and somewhat aggrieved 17th on the grid, with Jason getting the fifth berth in the reverse grid draw.
As the red lights went out, the #11 Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra catapulted from the third row into third as the field went into Paddock. A lap later, Plato made a confident move down the inside of Proctor at Stirlings for second and immediately set off after the leader, closing in around the remainder of lap two before sliding inside on the exit of Clearways to cross the line victorious, clearly the fast car on the track.
Further back, Collard was struggling to get his tyres into their performance window, losing a place. By lap six, Plato had extended his lead to a healthy three seconds whilst Collard was being hit from pillar to post as he dropped to 22nd.
With dusk drawing in, the field made for a dramatic sight with headlights ablaze and the BTCC driver with series’ win record leading the way. It was a win that was never in doubt as Plato celebrated over the radio on the final lap to record his 97th BTCC career victory.
After mid-distance Collard was starting to lap at front running pace and started to recover some lost ground, moving into an eventual 18th.
“We’ve got the ingredients of a very fast car,” said Collard, “Jason proved that by winning race three. Going away from here I’m disappointed, I’ve been knocked from pillar to post and it’s been a really frustrating weekend. I just haven’t quite found that ultimate pace in the car, so there’s homework to do there I think. But it’s been fantastic to be a part of the PMR story; the team really are becoming a dominant force within the BTCC, and the Vauxhall brand is synonymous with winning, so it’s great to be associated with the brand.”
“A mega end to the year!” Said Plato. “The last couple of years have been really awful for me, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year. Never in my career have I got in a car and knew I wouldn’t do well, and after two years of thinking exactly that, joining PMR has taken me back to how it should be. To rebuild it all back up again is great; we’ve ended the year brilliantly, and we’ve been genuinely fast. Mojo’s back – thank you PMR.”
“What a finish to the most enjoyable season I’ve had in the BTCC,” said Team Principal Adam Weaver. “I can’t thank JP, Rob, the team and sponsors enough-without you all, we would be nothing, and this year (and especially today) has reminded me exactly why we do this!”
“This weekend has been frustrating, as have most this year,” said Technical Director Martin Broadhurst. “But I couldn’t be prouder of JP and the team for bringing home the win in arguably the biggest race of the year. It’s been a long time coming! Both Jason and Rob have had hurdles to overcome this year, and its only bad luck that have robbed them of other victories. I’m looking forward to talking to both of them over the winter break and seeing what happens for the 2020 season.”