BTCC 2015: Plato Dominates At Oulton Park

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The 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship moved to Oulton Park for its fourth weekend of racing and questions were needing answers ever since the move last year to use the full International circuit and a lack of exciting racing. So the series decided to return to the Island layout, but with the series being such a close affair in 2015 the question was…

Would it work?

Lets see how it panned out…

QUALIFYING…

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Jason Plato continued his dominance of the British Touring Car Championship at Oulton Park to take pole position from Honda’s Matt Neal and WSR’s Andy Priaulx by less than a tenth of a second.

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Team BMR’s Plato smashed his own pole position lap record to take his first pole position of the season, ahead of the Honda of Neal and the BMW of Priaulx. The Volkswagen driver continued the fine form he had shown earlier in the day to rise to the top of the times after ten minutes, before improving his time further inside the final ten minutes.

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Fourth fastest was MG’s Andrew Jordan, 0.453 seconds adrift of Plato and with little answer to the top three drivers. Gordon Shedden was fifth fastest with a lap in the closing seconds of the session, despite the Scot being forced to carry 75 kg of success ballast for leading the championship.

Team BMR team-mates Colin Turkington and Árón Smith were sixth and seventh fastest respectively, around half a second off the pace, although the latter had his best lap time removed for exceeding the track limits. MG’s Jack Goff was eighth quickest, despite losing all of his times posted in the first 20 minutes of the session due to failing the ride height check. Goff was forced to put in a pair of flying laps late in the session to ensure his place in the race one top ten.

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Speedworks Motorsport’s Tom Ingram was ninth quickest, unable to replicate the pace he had shown in the morning’s practice sessions. WIX Racing’s Adam Morgan completed the top ten. Neither of the two JCT600-backed BMW drivers could make it into the top ten, with Sam Tordoff in 11th position and Rob Collard down in 19th position after a trying qualifying session.

RACE ONE…

Jason Plato dominated a shortened first British Touring Car Championship race at Oulton Park to take the lead of the championship, heading home Honda’s Matt Neal and Andy Priaulx.

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The team BMR driver led away from the line and never looked likely to relinquish the lead, with a red flag shown in the latter stages of the race after a crash for Stewart Lines at the pit entrance. Plato was able to build a 1.310s lead by the end of the first lap as the traditionally fast-starting BMW of Priaulx fought Neal for second into Turn 1, with the former initially squeezing up the inside before Neal dived back through at Cascades.

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That squabble effectively ended any hope of a challenge to Plato at the front, with the Volkswagen CC driver carrying his fine form over from Saturday with two laps that bettered the circuit’s previous lap record. Plato would only build his advantage until lap 13, when the safety car was deployed to recover the stricken Toyota Avensis of Stewart Lines, who crashed at the pit entrance after colliding with Alex Martin.

The race distance was initially extended by a lap, but the decision was quickly taken to red flag the race with two laps to spare in order to repair the tyre wall. With Plato winning – his fastest lap also meaning he will start race two from pole – Neal held on to second after resisting Priaulx, with Andrew Jordan in sight of the pair for the majority of the race, finishing as the best-placed soft tyre runner in fourth.

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Aron Smith was fifth after passing Gordon Shedden, the erstwhile championship leader having been forced to defend throughout the race having started the day with maximum ballast. Colin Turkington had earlier squabbled with the pair, but finished a lowly 25th after making a costly error that saw him go straight on past the Island hairpin and onto the extended Oulton Park circuit.

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Jack Goff was seventh ahead of Tom Ingram, with Sam Tordoff and Dave Newsham completing the top ten.

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RACE TWO…

Jason Plato resisted Honda’s Gordon Shedden to win the second British Touring Car Championship race of the day at Oulton Park by 0.093s, with Andrew Jordan in third.

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A second victory in as many races means that Plato became the first man to win in the championship with maximum ballast of 75 kilograms, as he just edged Shedden over the line. Plato was able to hold his lead off the line as Shedden moved quickly to cover off Jordan in third, with Rob Collard making an excellent start to jump up to fourth.

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Those four broke away from the chasing pack, but unlike the day’s opening race, Plato was unable to shake off the chasing Honda, with Shedden occasionally dropping back only to quickly reappear on the tail of the Volkswagen. Shedden continued his pursuit of Plato as the pair edged away from Jordan and Collard, with the Honda man twice nudging Plato into the Island hairpin.

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Plato seemed to have done enough for victory having gaped Shedden slightly in the closing laps, but on the final tour the Scotsman drew close to the double champion into Lodge corner, before drawing alongside in his Civic on the run to line. Plato had just enough of advantage to keep first place, however, and in so doing claimed a 92nd win in the championship.

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Jordan had another fruitful outing as he completed the podium in third – having earlier finished fourth in Race One – as he pulled enough of a gap to avoid some last-lap drama behind. Collard had looked well placed to score fourth after his strong start, but team-mate Andy Priaulx had narrowed the gap to the former heading into the final lap. As the pair headed into the hairpin, the pair squeezed into one another and collided, with Collard pulling off immediately on the exit with left-rear suspension damage. Priaulx too was in trouble, as he struggled with his front-right tyre and dropped to 15th by the flag.

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That promoted Matt Neal to fourth, while there was some good news for West Surrey Racing as Sam Tordoff brought his BMW home in fifth. That was just reward for the Yorkshireman after two fantastic passes on Adam Morgan and Aron Smith – the latter a well-judged late lunge into Lodge. Morgan was able to follow Tordoff through in that pass to claim sixth, which will see him start race three from pole, while Smith finished just in front of team-mate Colin Turkington, who recovered well having started in 13th.

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Jack Goff was a quiet ninth in the second MG ahead of Jeff Smith, who claimed a first top-ten finish of the season in his Eurotech Honda Civic

RACE THREE…

Sam Tordoff claimed a first British Touring Car Championship race win with West Surrey Racing in the final race of the day at Oulton Park, fending off the MG of Andrew Jordan and Honda’s Matt Neal.

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Tordoff grabbed the lead of the race after an error from Neal allowed him up the inside on the run to Old Hall, with Jordan making a pass later on the same lap. Polesitter Adam Morgan led away from the start in his Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes A-Class, forcing Tordoff off the circuit on the exit of Old Hall and allowing Neal into second.

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A win for Morgan would have been his second race three victory in as many meetings, but his stint at the front was short lived as he was given a drive-through penalty for moving past his grid slot before the start of the race. That handed Neal the lead of the race, and he looked comfortable for the first two-thirds of the race until he ran wide at Lodge on lap nine, presenting Tordoff with the opportunity to drive up the inside of the Honda man along the start/finish straight to claim the lead.

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Jordan then capitalised on Neal’s frustration by forcing a pass at Lodge on the same lap, and quickly closed up to Tordoff as he hunted down a first win of the season of his own. But it was not to be as Tordoff placed his car well on the final lap to block any passes, to score a first win in more than a year.

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Behind the top three, Gordon Shedden came home in fourth to keep the pressure on Jason Plato at the head of the championship, the latter having finished in fifth. He was the first of a trio of Team BMR cars, with Colin Turkington in sixth and Aron Smith seventh. Jack Goff came home eighth, with Jeff Smith scoring his second top-ten finish of the weekend in ninth and Tom Ingram rounding out the top ten. There was also some joy for Dan Welch, who finished in 15th – his first points score since October 2013.

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So after a good days racing that was filled with action and incident aplenty, does Oulton Park hold up to the challenge of the BTCC? Well there were plenty of opinions on and after raceday saying how the racing was boring with no or little action going on (despite the close race two finish) and its well known that Oulton has a unique tight racing line to it as well.

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With such a close season of BTCC amongst us where the cars are as close as they have ever been and the oppurtunities to pass have to be worked harder for, Oulton did look like a procession at one stage with it being difficult to pass on a good day. But it offered close racing as well, something which the BTCC offers on a plate at each venue.

We’ll have to see what happens next year.

All the best!

Phil!!

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