Jason Plato says he’s expecting “more than a tough time” at Donington Park this coming Sunday (17 April) as he bids to protect his points lead in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.

Donington, just off the M1 and M42/A42 motorways on the Derbyshire-Leicestershire border near East Midlands Airport, is gearing up for its biggest motor racing event of 2011 with three BTCC races in store for Sunday’s crowds. Eight more races from the high-profile Ginetta Junior, Ginetta GT Supercup, Porsche Carrera Cup, Formula Renault and Renault Clio categories will add to the exhilarating bill of action that starts at 09.00am. Admission for children aged 15 and under is free while race day tickets for adults are priced from as little as £25. That includes open access to the BTCC paddock and pit lane autograph session with the BTCC’s star names.

Reigning Champion Plato got his BTCC title defence off to a flying start with two wins in the season’s opening three races at Brands Hatch earlier this month. But the Oxford ace, now the most successful driver in BTCC history in terms of race wins, believes staying ahead of his turbocharged rivals around Donington’s much faster and more open circuit lay-out will be difficult.

Plato said: “I suspect I’m in for more than just a tough time at Donington. At Brands Hatch I was able to get in front, then stick out my elbows a bit and hold them back – it’s that kind of circuit. But Donington is very different. It’s wider and there are longer straights and several uphill sections where the turbos will really stretch their legs. It’s not a whinge, it’s just fact – Donington along with Silverstone are the two places we’re going to be most up against it compared to the turbo cars, so our strategy is simply to wring the car’s neck and take the most that is possible from each race.”

Plato, in his Silverline Chevrolet Cruze, will arrive at Donington protecting an eight-point championship lead. Among those chasing him hardest are two locals – Henley in Arden’s Mat Jackson in his Airwaves Racing Ford Focus ST and Droitwich’s Matt Neal in his Honda Racing Team’s Civic. Jackson was twice on the podium at Brands Hatch while Neal picked up a win in the day’s third race.

Neal, like Plato with two BTCC titles to his name, commented: “I see where Jason’s coming from when he talks of the turbos having an advantage on raw pace at Donington. Certainly up the hills we’ll be looking good, but over a race distance he will be somewhere in the mix – he always is. These turbo engines are still new to a lot of the teams so we’re all still figuring out how to keep down the extra tyre wear they bring. Also we don’t have the engine braking that he has with a normally aspirated engine and Donington is a very hard place on brakes – in a pre-season test we did there we were cooking our brakes within three laps, so we might have to play it a bit conservatively whereas Jason and the other Chevrolets will be able to push from start to finish.”

Although results didn’t go his way at Brands, another who demonstrated he will be a major force at Donington was Lichfield’s Andrew Jordan in his Pirtek Racing Vauxhall Vectra. Fellow youngster James Nash, also in a Vectra but prepared by the 888 Racing with Collins Contractors squad, will go into Donington’s three races lying third in the standings after the best showing of his career to date at Brands, while Neal’s Scottish team-mate Gordon Shedden is also among those capable of winning – indeed, in the four BTCC events he has previously contested at Donington he has won four times.

But with no less than nine drivers on the grid with proven race-winning credentials and at least a further six having shown they are capable of challenging for victories and podium results, this Sunday’s three headline BTCC races are sure to be full of unpredictability. Combined, Donington’s high-speed swooping lay-out and the BTCC’s reputation for bumper-to-bumper, doorhandle-to-doorhandle racing have produced some of the championship’s most exciting and controversial moments down the years.