Having been seriously burnt in a filming accident earlier in the weekend, Jason Plato was described as ‘superhuman’ by his SEAT Sport UK team boss Scott Dennis (SEAT UK Motorsport Manager) after ignoring the pain and driving his heart out in a dramatic finale at the Thruxton circuit in Hampshire today. With a nurse to dress the wounds to his hands, face and neck, Jason finished 2nd in the first two races to lead the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship by one point entering the final race of the season. After 29 closely fought battles, it was a straight fight between Jason and Fabrizio Giovanardi and the driver who finished ahead would be champion.
Jason finished in 4th position while Giovanardi was 2nd – giving the Italian the Drivers’ title by just three points. Jason is the only driver to score points in all 30 BTCC races this season and finishes 2nd for the second year in succession. The ultimate 40th birthday present wasn’t to be, but the bravery in which he raced this weekend was inspirational.
SEAT Sport UK won the Teams’ title on the penultimate round, while SEAT was still able to win the Manufacturers’ title for the second year running with the final 16 lap race remaining. After a hard fought battle it wasn’t to be, as last year’s champions finished 2nd in 2007, just 14 points behind Vauxhall.
Darren Turner’s lap times at Thruxton were on par with those of the race winners, yet his results in the first two races didn’t do him justice. He had worked his way up to 5th in Race 1 before a front left puncture forced a pit stop. Having started Race 2 in 18th (his Race 1 finishing position), he worked his way up to 9th in the first five laps before getting stuck behind Tom Onslow-Cole (BMW 320si). He then pushed hard in the final race to finish 6th.
Tom Coronel enjoyed an amazing BTCC debut – scoring points in all three races and starting the third and final race from pole. After just one race meeting, the 2006 World Independent Touring Car Champion finished 17th in the BTCC out of 33 registered drivers!
Jason finished 2nd in the first BTCC race of the day after a tremendous battle. He had started 4th and after surviving early contact from Matt Neal (Honda Civic), which damaged his right rear wheel, Jason gradually closed in on the leading three Vauxhalls. The combination of Thruxton’s abrasive surface and high speed right hand corners are notoriously hard on tyres, and when Tom Chilton and Alain Menu picked up front left punctures, Jason moved into 2nd to finish right behind Giovanardi.
Darren made two fantastic overtaking manoeuvres at the chicane, once to get ahead of Neal at the end of the opening lap and another on Colin Turkington (BMW) to move up to 5th on lap six. Darren picked up a front left puncture on the penultimate lap and had to pit – returning to the track to finish 18th and score valuable Manufacturer points for SEAT.
Tom lost ground when he had to lift off twice in the first lap – once when he was boxed in after a good start and again at a fast part of the track when Tom Onslow-Cole (BMW) went off and rejoined directly in front of him. Tom then benefited from some great overtaking moves and the misfortunes of others to finish 8th and score a point on his BTCC debut.
1. Fabrizio Giovanardi (Vauxhall Vectra)…21:33.994
2. Jason Plato (SEAT Leon)…21:34.998
3. Gordon Shedden (Honda Civic)…21:39.198
4. Alain Menu (Vauxhall Vectra)…21:39.656
5. Matt Neal (Honda Civic)…21:40.323
6. Colin Turkington (BMW 320si)…21:40.738
8. Tom Coronel (SEAT Leon)…21:47.411
18. Darren Turner (SEAT Leon)…22:39.475
Jason and Giovanardi started from the front row of the grid and the two BTCC contenders were joined by Neal in a three way battle for the lead – and for lap after lap Jason had to try and attack and defend at the same time. Having attempted to overtake Giovanardi down the inside of Cobb corner on lap two, he tried the same move again on lap 14. The two were side-by-side, banged doors and both ran wide and across the grass, rejoining the circuit a little further down the Complex. After an amazing race, the top three crossed the finish line in that order – with Jason holding a one point lead in the Drivers’ Championship.
Tom started 8th and was battling hard with Mike Jordan (Honda Integra). Fearing his front left tyre was going off in the middle of the race, Tom eased off slightly and let Jordan overtake, before he was able to speed up and retake the position. With Jordan right behind him, Tom purposely turned into Church corner early to fool Jordan, and in his mirrors he saw the Honda run wide on the exit and give him space to finish a superb 7th.
Darren had a great start and carved his way up the field to move from his starting position of 18th to 5th in the first five laps. He then couldn’t overtake Onslow-Cole, as even though Darren’s Leon was faster through the corners, the BMW was faster down the long straights. In the middle of a gaggle of hard fighting cars, Darren crossed the finish line in 11th place.
1. Fabrizio Giovanardi (Vauxhall Vectra)…21:35.623
2. Jason Plato (SEAT Leon)…21:36.456
3. Matt Neal (Honda Civic)…21:40.323
4. Colin Turkington (BMW 320si)…21:40.738
5. Mat Jackson (BMW 320si)…21:43.992
6. Alain Menu (Vauxhall Vectra)…21:44.638
7. Tom Coronel (SEAT Leon)…21:47.411
11. Darren Turner (SEAT Leon)…22:39.475
With the top seven from the previous race randomly selected to start the third and final race in reverse order, Tom started from pole, Jason started from 6th, while Darren started 11th. Fabrizio made a great start and moved from 8th to 3rd by the end of the opening lap, while Neal, Tom and Chilton lay between Jason and his title rival – as he was 7th after a clash at the Complex with Alain Menu (Vauxhall Vectra). With only one point between them, Jason knew he had to finish ahead of Giovanardi and never gave up the chase – although his efforts weren’t helped by the hard fight he was having with Neal, which saw the Honda push Jason’s Leon straight on at the chicane on lap 12. They managed to go either side of the stationary Turkington, who had spun out of 2nd place, and because of the obstruction caused by the BMW the cars ahead of Jason were suddenly a lot closer than they had been.
With Mat Jackson (BMW) in the lead, Giovanardi in 2nd, Chilton in 3rd and Jason in 4th, the red flags stopped the race on the penultimate lap when Jordan slammed head-on into the crash barriers at the final corner.
Darren started 11th and tried his best to put himself in a position to help Jason. He was up to 7th and behind his team-mate at the start of lap 11, but by then his front tyres were shot and he eventually finished 6th.
Tom started from pole but could do little about the fast-starting BMWs behind him and he was in 5th place by the end of the first lap. He did well to finish 8th and maintain his 100% record of scoring points in every BTCC race he has contested!
1. Mat Jackson (BMW 320si)…17:33.434
2. Fabrizio Giovanardi (Vauxhall Vectra)…17:36.093
3. Tom Chilton (Vauxhall Vectra)…17:36.897
4. Jason Plato (SEAT Leon)…17:37.756
5. Matt Neal (Honda Civic)…17:38.078
6. Darren Turner (SEAT Leon)…17:38.331
8. Tom Coronel (SEAT Leon)…17:40.001
Jason Plato (2nd/2nd/4th): “We tried our hardest, we did our best and it just wasn’t good enough on the day. I didn’t get a very good start in the final race and that changed the complexity of the race completely. It’s been a great fight all year long, but it just didn’t go our way. It would be easy to look back and pick out situations where we could have done better, but at the end of the day we knew what we had to do in race three here and we didn’t do it. We all tried our hardest and it wasn’t to be in 2007, so we’ll have to come back next year and give it another go. It’s been a great championship and Fabrizio’s a great champion. Somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. I’m pleased with my performance this year. I’ve finished every race, nobody else has done that, so the car has been very reliable and winning the title just wasn’t to be I’m afraid. The BTCC is a tough thing to win.”
Darren Turner (18th/11th/6th): “We’ve been a bit unfortunate today. We showed some good pace, but I was unlucky in race one to pick up a puncture and that put me towards the back of the grid in race two and I wasn’t in a position to help Jason or score a lot of Manufacturers’ points. In the last race I tried to get as close to Jason as I could, but when I got there my tyres had gone off. I’ve had a few good results this year and my win at Croft and double race victory at Knockhill are certainly the highlights. As a team we’ve had a lot of success this season.”
Tom Coronel (8th/7th/8th): “I have really enjoyed racing in the BTCC today. It’s a Championship I have always wanted to race in and I wasn’t disappointed. Thruxton is a very challenging circuit and the Dunlop tyres were difficult to get used to, and I’m really pleased to have not only finished all three races, but scored points in all three of them as well!”
Scott Dennis, SEAT UK Motorsport Manager, said: “The team’s performance at Thruxton this weekend sums up the spirit, the dedication and the hard work that every individual at SEAT Sport UK has put in this season. They have every right to be very proud of what we’ve achieved. We haven’t won the Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ titles and a lot of people will say that second place is first loser, but this is not a losing team. To have come to Thruxton still fighting for all three titles is testimony to the dedication that everyone has put in over the year.
“I must say something about Jason’s performance. When he telephoned on Monday to inform me of his accident, in typical Jason style he said he’d had a slight drama. When I saw him the next day, I realised it was significantly more than a slight drama! But for him to have done what he has done at Thruxton just goes to prove that not only is he an out and out professional, in my book he’s the best touring car driver out there. We’ve come to a circuit that we know doesn’t suit the Leon, so it would have been hard enough for him to drain every last ounce of power out of the car, but to have done it in the condition that he’s been in this weekend is amazing. He’s superhuman.”
Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (provisional points after Round 30)
1. Fabrizio Giovanardi ….300pts
2. Jason Plato….297pts
3. Gordon Shedden…200pts
4. Matt Neal….195pts
5. Colin Turkington….184pts
6. Darren Turner….160pts
1. SEAT Sport UK….446pts
2. VX Racing….421pts
3. Team Halfords….345pts
4. Team RAC….277pts