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Jason Plato didn’t pluck two BTCC titles and nearly 100 race wins out of a hat – he earned them by consistently being one of the quickest drivers on the grid.
But after half a season of struggles to master his misbehaving Subaru Levorg, the doubters have been having their say. And some people love to doubt.
That team-mate and young pretender Ashley Sutton is making the headlines in an ostensibly identical car has only added fuel to the naysayers’ fire.
Ever since his car hit the pit wall in race two of the season at Brands Hatch, Plato has complained of a car that simply won’t do what he wants it to.
Now a long-planned but much-delayed double test at Donington, which revealed significant differences between the two cars, has finally put paid to the notion that Plato, rather than his car, is underperforming.
“I never doubted myself because I’ve been at this a long time. I know what feels right and what doesn’t feel right,” said the former champion.
“You could say it’s a weight lifted off my shoulders. And it’s a relief that everybody else within the team has some understanding as well – not just the high level engineers, but the mechanics as well.
“Even though we are a team, sometimes we all can fall in the trap of working in our own silos, and no-one’s privy to all the information. It’s a healthy thing and good for everybody to see there is a difference. It’s very positive for all sides of the camp.”
Ahead of this weekend’s resumption in hostilities at Snetterton, Sutton and Plato drove their own and then each other’s cars in the Donington test.
“The cars were set up identically and there was clearly a difference in the chassis and the way they were reacting on track, and there should not be, they should be the same,” he added.
“There were quite large differences in feel. I liked the feeling on the front of his car, he likes that mine’s a bit lively on the rear, but he didn’t like the lack of grip at the front.
“His gearchange is completely different to mine in the way it exits a corner, and it should be the same.
“Basically, the cars were reacting differently in the same points of the track, no matter which driver was at the wheel. So it was a very useful test and the main thing is we can start drilling down and taking driver style out of it. With slightly different styles we were getting the same reaction.
“We know where the differences of the car are and we can now start exploring and digging a bit deeper rather than scratching our heads.”
Plato believes that getting that extra front grip will give him the 3/10ths of a second he needs to start challenging for race wins agains.
As for Snetterton, he’s looking forward to getting back into action after the seven-week mid-season break.
“We performed very well there last year,” he said. “All things being equal we know what set ups work there and we should be at the sharp end.
“We now start the second part of the season, so let’s get after it. I’m energised and ready to rock and roll.”
Saturday’s qualifying can be viewed live on the ITV website, with racing on Sunday live on ITV4 from 10.45am.