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Jason Plato can finally smile again.
After four months of head-scratching, hair-tearing and pure frustration at his mishandling Subaru, the two-time BTCC champion bounced back from the dark side at Knockhill.
With the gremlins in his Levorg’s chassis finally resolved on the eve of racing, Plato grabbed his 50th pole position and 96th race win at the Scottish circuit to lift a growing weight from his shoulders.
In a hitherto wretched season for the grid’s most-winning driver, made all the more frustrating by seeing team-mate Ash Sutton prove the Subaru’s title-challenging potential, Plato admitted the pressure had taken its toll.
“It’s been tricky to deal with,” he said. “People jump to conclusions and it’s damaging to me personally. It’s a massive relief not just from the perspective of what people think looking in from the outside, but also the internal pressure.
“I’ve been pulling my hair out because the car would not do what I wanted it to. But we found an issue with the diff, and combined with the new front subframe we fitted, it’s been a big step forward and I can now talk to the car again.”
After going toe-to-toe with Sutton in races one and two, the Adrian Flux Subaru Racing pair taking a win and second place apiece, Plato can be forgiven sticking two fingers up to his critics who had doubted the 49-year-old could still compete at the sharp end.
“I can start being me a bit more now,” he said. “I always knew there was something wrong, and I knew we’d eventually find it – it’s just annoying it’s taken so long.
“I go motor racing to be competitive – I go to win. I didn’t get to the point where I actually wanted to quit, because I don’t throw the towel in. But I was seriously questioning if I wanted to continue to do this.
“If I’m competitive and don’t win and someone’s beat me fair and square that’s fine, I can live with that. “But when you’ve got one hand tied behind your back, and you’ve got one shoe on and you don’t know where the other one is, that’s very frustrating. I can cope with being beaten by someone who puts in a better performance. But I’ve found it difficult to concede being beaten because my car’s not working right.
“So it’s nice to slam the door shut on that period, move on and have a great end to the year. For the first time since Brands Hatch, I’m actually really looking forward to the next race. I’m energised and my tail’s in the air.”
Plato’s re-emergence, and the continuing improvement in team-mate James Cole’s performances, all come at a good time for the title-chasing Sutton, who now sits just four points behind championship leader Colin Turkington.
The Team BMR trio worked together in race three to ensure Sutton finished as close as possible to Turkington, having started 10th on the reverse-grid.
“It was a great weekend for the team, for me, for Ash, and for James – just a great weekend and there’s no reason why we can’t carry it on for the rest of the year,” said Plato.
There’s no question the team is geared towards helping Sutton win his first BTCC title in just his second season, and Plato is clearly happy to play his part – within reason.
Professional motorsport is a business after all, and Sutton will clearly have to earn his race wins if the Subarus continue to joust at the head of the field.
“I’m more than happy to gift wins to Ash if I’m asked to do so, with one proviso – I don’t take a pay cut,” said Plato.
“For anything other than a win, I’ll let him through like myself and James did in race three. Ash and everyone in the team understands that. There’s a really good harmonious atmosphere in the team. Everybody knows what’s going on and everyone’s going to try to help Ash win the title. If I can’t take the Championship, and I can’t this year, I’ll do everything I can to make sure Ash can.”