BTCC Launches a New Star for 1997   HomeContentsHelp




BTCC Stardom Awaits Plato

There was one real star at the recent BTCC event - Jason Plato. No matter that he didn't manage to win - he shined by taking two pole positions and then racing well enough to take a second place in his first race. Alain Menu's touring car experience ultimately won over the exuberance of Plato, but the quality of that first showing suggests a BTCC star in the making. If you're into Formula One then you'll remember how last year Jaques Villeneuve started his first F1 race in similar style. Ultimately he didn't win the championship, but he came damned close.

All pictures by Neil Barker - Copyright Neil Barker/Speed Publishing Ltd 1997

Of course, having the best equipment helps. It helps a lot. It helps in Formula One, it helps in the IRL, and it helps in the BTCC. But getting there is a case of dealing with all those other hopefuls, the up and coming stars all of whom are probably within a tenth of a second of each other in a racing car. The world of motorsport is full of eager young men with something to prove. To reach the top you can't just be the best - you've got to be clever too. Clever enough to understand how the media works, clever enough to convince people that sponsorship is a good idea, clever enough to convince team owners that they've got something a little extra. Anyone who has followed Plato over the years will understand that - he's always excelled as a driver both in single seaters where his passion truly lies, and in cars like last year's Renault Spiders. But added to that he's always been an approachable and charming driver. Too often you find that racing drivers are far too busy to deal with riff-raff like the press… and especially e-zines such as Speed. Jason Plato is different in that respect - every photographer and writer that you'll ever find at a racing circuit will only have nice things to say about the guy. Because of that he always gets some extra column inches. And because of that, people notice him more. In private he may be a complete bastard for all we know, but his public face is as impeccable as Damon Hill's.

While the front of the BTCC grid looks spookily similar to the F1 grid, things further behind are thankfully a bit more normal. Audi have slipped a little, and no surprise. Even if 4wd cars weren't to be outlawed from Super Touring, Audi were going to give up. Why? Because 4wd is too good for the rest of the field to deal with, so a huge weight handicap is imposed. The same applies to rear wheel drive cars like the BMWs, though their handicap is smaller. Basically you have to remember that this series is about entertainment and close racing… if someone uses a given technology to give themselves an advantage then that technology will promptly be banned. This happens in most forms of motorsport - it's a long time since it was purely a measure of how fast a car could be made to travel. They'd be a lot faster now if that was the case!

Honda looked good - with Gabrielle Tarquini throwing in the best performances by far. If Honda can motivate themselves into believing that a win is possible then they have the potential. They've often seemed like another Peugeot… like they should be fighting at the front, yet never quite achieving. Peugeot, as usual, were languishing in mid-field - the car might look great, but although there's plenty of potential they suffered from all sorts of mechanical and electrical problems over the weekend. One day we might see Peugeot win a race, but I doubt if it'll be this season. It just doesn't seem possible. Sad, really.

Ford seem to be slowly getting there with their Mondeos - but there's nothing to suggest a front runner just yet. But consistency looked good and there's a definite platform to build from. Consistency, on the other hand, was something sadly lacking from the Volvo pit. While they look like possible contenders this season, they managed a best position of second in the first race, and a ninth in the second for Kelvin Burt.

So who looks good for 1997? Volvo, Renault, and Audi. The favourites have to be Renault, but which of their two drivers could take it I don’t know. Menu's a damned fine racer - never one to make mistakes or jeopardise a good position, but his Renault partner, Jason Plato, showed incredible speed and ability on his first outing. Would anyone bet against these two battling it out over the course of the season? I doubt it.

Dave Coveney

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