The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship looks set for a thrilling second half of the season, after a huge points haul at Snetterton put the Silverline Chevrolet team, and 2010 BTCC Champion Jason Plato, right back in the mix after a frustrating start to the season.
It was a weekend of high drama that began with an eventful qualifying session. Plato set the fastest time with minutes to go, but the main story of the afternoon was a dramatic fire that engulfed the front of Alex MacDowall’s car after a fuel leak. The Cumbrian was pulled free from the car and the fire quickly doused by the RML team, yet despite missing much of the qualifying session he’d still scored a sufficiently good time to start Race One from third position.
The strong qualifying positions were critical going into the day’s first race, with Plato’s Chevrolet Cruze surviving an early tangle with Matt Neal’s Honda to reveal a clear track. With Neal out of contention, MacDowall did a superb job defending second position from Honda’s Gordon Shedden, meaning Plato was left clear to take his fifth victory of the season, as well as setting the lap record for the new Snetterton 300 circuit with the fastest lap of the day.
Going into Race Two, the two Cruzes were at the front of the grid, but both were pushed wide after contact in the first bend, allowing Gordon Shedden’s Honda to push its way through.
Plato and MacDowall came out of the incident in fourth and fifth positions respectively, but both managed to pass Frank Wrathall’s Toyota Avensis to finish a solid third and fourth overall, with Plato once again on the podium.
The BTCC’s reverse-grid formula made for an interesting start to Race Three – Plato and MacDowall began the race in fifth and sixth positions, but battled their way through the field in what was arguably the day’s most exciting race. Plato spent much of the race tussling with Dave Newsham’s SEAT, using every inch of the track to finally squeeze his way through to take third, while another sterling performance from Alex MacDowall saw him come in a creditable fifth, giving him his biggest weekend points tally of his BTCC career.
But Plato wasn’t the only Chevrolet driver on the podium. Privateer Paul O’Neill, at the wheel of the Tech-Speed racing Cruze, was also a beneficiary of the reverse grid system, scoring his best ever finish of the season in second overall.
“We needed both a good haul of points today and for Matt Neal to have a spot of bad luck,” said Plato. “In truth, today wasn’t easy, but we got what we wanted under the circumstances and it gives us a real chance to capitalise on this as we head into the last four rounds of the season.”