Jason Plato has hailed team-mate Ash Sutton a “star of the future”, and vowed to build on his own return to the podium at Croft after the mid-season break.
While Plato raced at the sharp end for the first time after a “horrible” first half of the season, the impressive Sutton launched himself firmly into the BTCC title picture with a first and two second placed finishes.
As a two-time champion and winner of 95 touring car races, Plato knows what it takes to be a champion, and believes his 23-year-old Adrian Flux Subaru Racing team-mate is made of the right stuff.
“Ash is really very, very, very tasty. He’s got a brilliant career ahead of him. He’s got natural ability and he’s a racer, he’s fast and he’s a nice lad,” said Plato, who aims to use the mid-season break to once and for all sort out his own car.
“He could possibly win it this year and I will do everything I can to help him achieve that. He’s a real star of the future. He’s found his sweet spot and he’s enjoying it and driving brilliantly. Everything’s rolling for him at the moment, it’s just a shame I’m in a bit of a pickle because I want to be up there with him.
“He’s got his car really sorted. He’s at one with it, making little tiny changes and we are not in that place because we can’t get the car working.”
Plato’s struggles to wrestle his Levorg into contention since the early accident at Brands Hatch have been well-documented, and the veteran of 525 races revealed the depth of his frustration before an upturn in fortunes at Croft.
“I’ve never, ever in my whole career, not just in touring cars but since I was 12 years old, been uncompetitive, and I have been this year,” he said.
“It’s messed with my head if I’m honest because, until this weekend, I could not talk to the car. It was not part of me. I could not get it to do what I wanted – it was a stubborn understeering pig and no matter what we did to it we just could not deal with it.
“It’s new territory for me and it’s bloody horrible. I didn’t want to be in the races, just merely circuiting round a track rather than being in the fight. It’s been really horrible so hopefully we’ve seen the back of that period.”
At Croft, a circuit that traditionally favours the rear-wheel-drive cars, Plato lined up in seventh after a curtailed qualifying session and, despite TOCA dialling down the engine boost a little from Oulton Park, finally found some rhythm in his hitherto understeering Levorg.
“We are now at the sharp end, and we’ve got a very timely mid season break now to understand what’s wrong with my car,” he said.
“We’ve made a big step forward in that we were competitive. I must hold my hands up – I messed my weekend up in the first race by trying to defend a traditional Matt Neal move.
“If I hadn’t, he would have rattled down the inside and pushed me off. I touched grass and was out of the game. It was my mistake and the weekend could have been quite a bit better.”
Despite that, Plato regained 16 places to finish 10th in race one, followed by taking sixth in race two and pipped Rob Austin for third in the final race by just four thousands of a second on the run to the line.
“We’ve transformed the car into an over-steerer rather than an under-steerer and, whereas it’s much nicer to drive like that, we were still a little bit too much one way,” he added.
“I was slightly nervous about trying to dial that oversteer out because every time we’ve done that sort of stuff in the past we’ve brought back understeer. I said ‘just polish the car, don’t touch it – just clean it, let’s not change the set up.”
Now, with a seven-week break between Croft and the next round at Snetterton, Plato and the Team BMR engineers have a chance to throw everything at the car to root out the remaining issues.
“Now we’ve got a bit of time, the chassis is going to go away and get properly tested. It will undergo a torsional test to see if it’s gone soft. We’ll be using a Faro Arm, which is a laser measuring device so we can analyse all the critical points. When we go testing we will utilise a yaw sensor, which will measure how much a car is rotating for a given amount of steering input.
“We can set up both cars, and I can do a back-to-back test, drive them both and get concrete information. If it needs a new shell, we’ve got time to do that.”
The car will also get a new engine after power issues surfaced at Croft, with Plato determined to come back firing on all cylinders at the Norfolk circuit.
“Everyone’s working really hard. I know I can do great things and win multiple races if I can get everything sorted,” he said.
The next round is at Snetterton on the weekend of July 29 and 30.
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