It’s a question that’s been on the lips of everyone from ITV’s team of presenters, to social media fans, touring car aficionados and, no doubt, Jason Plato himself.
Just why is Ash Sutton currently extracting more from the Subaru Levorgadri than the 96-time BTCC race winner and twice champion?
While Sutton has pressured the top six at Donington and last weekend at Thruxton, Plato has been out with the washing along with Adrian Flux Racing, Subaru team-mates Josh Price and James Cole.
Now Plato, who spent race three at Thruxton in testing mode, thinks he has the answer.
“I haven’t forgotten how to drive between October and April, and to be honest I’ve been tearing my hair out,” he said.
“We found a problem at Thruxton with the chassis which was a carry over from the shunt at Brands Hatch. It’s a big problem but a very small thing to find. I now know why there’s a 0.5 second gap between me and Ash.
“I’ve struggled since Brands Hatch – I haven’t been able to get the front of the car working like I need it to work. Ash seems to be getting the front of the car working slightly better than the rest of us.”
After 23th and 25th-placed finishes in races one and two on a flat-out circuit that should suit the Levorg’s cornering abilities, Plato decided that enough was enough.
“For the third race I said ‘I’m not going to race – I don’t want to be in the pack, I’m not part of it, not learning anything and I’m going to end up having a big accident with the car not right’,” he explained.
“I’m going to start from the pit lane and going to go testing. We threw some radical stuff at the car and made a bit of a jump forward. We found something to give me the feeling in the front of the car back.
“In sector one, the twisty bits, I had the quickest split time of everyone in that race. It’s a big departure from where we’ve been as we were nowhere.
“I’m now going to arrive at Oulton Park with a much better feeling in the chassis, and should be able to get more out of it in qualifying – on current form, with the engine power we have, I should now be mid grid and not at the back.”
None of which alters the fact that the Subaru is still off the pace in a straight line compared to the Hondas, BMWs, and TOCA engined cars.
It was noticeable from the in-car camera footage of Sutton’s Levorg at Thruxton that, while the Subaru could still gain ground round the bends, on the straight there was a big power gap with the championship frontrunners – even those carrying ballast.
“We’re still nowhere in a straight line,” said Plato. “A Honda can go from back to 10th with maximum ballast and get 500th of a second off pole with 75kg on board, and that doesn’t seem right when we are miles off in a straight line.
“You cannot overtake in touring cars if you are down on power to the car in front, even if it’s 5hp. If you’ve got more power overtaking is easy.
“As we’ve seen from Honda and BMW, they can roar through the field like a dose of salts.”
Team BMR boss Warren Scott also feels the Subaru needs a helping hand from those in charge of the boost settings.
He said: “The Subaru Levorg’s straight line speed deficit is certainly curtailing the efforts from our drivers to be challenging for the championship.
“We are working tirelessly with all parties involved in the control of this and hope that we will have this resolved by Oulton Park.”
The Cheshire track proved to be a turning point for Team BMR in 2016, with Plato taking three podium finishes after technical problems had ruled them out of competing at Thruxton.
But Plato points out that those gains were aided by a lack of success ballast resulting from the Subaru’s slow start to the season, and that the controversial centre of gravity adjustments are still being felt.
“The centre of gravity regs, without a shadow of a doubt, have had a massive effect on our chassis’ performance this season,” he said.
“We had a perceived advantage last year, but remember we also qualified with no success ballast because we had a very slow start to the year.
“75kg equates to between 7/10th of a second to a second a lap, so we had that advantage over the championship leaders – so our centre of gravity advantage was only a perceived one. We arrive this year with these CoG penalties which has upset the applecart.
“Although Ash is doing well, we’re nowhere near pole and we should be because we have no success ballast. We’ve got the best engineers around and we should at least be competing for pole.
“We may be able to get a small amount of extra performance by pushing the engine to its limits, but we’re only talking sawdust, whereas we need logs for the fire.”
The next round at Oulton Park is live on ITV4 on May 20 and 21.