Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing star at dramatic Series finale
Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing returned to Brands Hatch for Rounds 28, 29 and 30 of the Kwik Fit MSA British Touring Car Championship, the final event of the 2019 season.
Brands Hatch’s Grand Prix circuit offers a real challenge to both engineers and drivers with a premium on traction and high speed stability. For race fans, a lot of the hard graft put in by the drivers is hidden in the trees of the Grand Prix loop, before the cars burst back into view at Clearways with the Indy circuit providing compelling entertainment as ever.
Unfortunately, both Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra drivers were out of Championship contention come race day, although the general consensus is that Jason Plato in particular should be right in the thick of things, should the double Champion not have had a couple of front row parking issues earlier in the season.
For Rob Collard, Brands Hatch offered another chance to add to his two impressive second places achieved so far in his first season back in a front wheel drive car for a decade.
With PMR’s never-stop-improving mindset, there was still much to race for.
Saturday was miserable, and the track never really dried through the two free practice sessions, remaining damp at best. Times were meaningless in the end as neither driver got a clear lap when the track was at its best. Not the best preparation heading into qualifying.
The mood didn’t get much better as qualifying commenced with Rob immediately sliding wide into the Paddock gravel. The Indy section of the track proved to be super slippery throughout the session, with both drivers complaining of a lack of grip relative to the long middle sector.
With the ideal window for lap time coming after the first of three red flags, Jason lost his fastest lap with a big slide at Surtees, while Rob still found the rear of car #9 too loose.
The final restart offered a 5-minute shootout, but neither driver got a clean run to move forward, and the track had slowed significantly, consigning both drivers to a challenging race day starting P16 and P25 (including a two place penalty carried over from Silverstone) respectively.
With threatening skies and a slippery surface, Race 1 was certainly challenging for both Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing drivers. Starting P25, Rob Collard made a good start on the Soft tyre, gaining two places on the opening laps before progress was halted by the first safety car on lap 5.
Teammate Jason Plato had started on the Medium tyre and also made ground immediately, moving from P16 through to P13.
Looking to move through the train immediately in front, Jason caught the slippery kerb entering Stirlings and slid across the grass, dropping right back to P26, with Rob making more progress up ahead in P18, before a Safety Car neutralised the field.
With rain threatening and with nothing to lose Jason went on the radio calling for slick tyres. After a couple of laps the Team’s radar concurred and the Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra pulled into the pits. The PMR crew took a bit of time to check for damage after the earlier off and sent Jason on his way.
The Safety Car came in on lap 11, and by lap 14, despite being on slicks on an increasingly wet track, Rob was in an excellent P11 with Jason flying in P19 but 5 seconds a lap quicker on his wets. By lap 16 car # 11 was the quickest on track, now in P18, whilst Rob was starting to struggle for grip as he dropped to P13.
A dramatic final lap saw Plato move through to P14, running out of laps, whilst for Collard the chequer flew a few laps too late on his slicks, to cross the line in P15 – both drivers showing superb skills in such difficult conditions.
The rain had continued into Race 2, with all 30 cars on wet tyres. Both PMR drivers produced stunning opening laps as Jason moved from P14 to P9 and Rob moved from P15 to P12. Others didn’t fare so well as Paddock claimed 3 more victims on the opening lap, once again bringing out the Safety Car.
The lap 4 restart saw Rob move forward again, looking very racy as he moved into P11. By lap 8 was had consolidated his position whilst Jason’s Vauxhall Astra came alive as he moved into P8, then inside Jelley into P7 and setting off after the leaders, only for yet another Safety Car intervention on Lap 10.
Restarting on Lap 12 Rob got assaulted at Druids, being unceremoniously dumped back to P17, with smoke pouring from the right rear tyre under load. Although still lapping at a competitive pace, unstable handling meant the #9 car was destined to hold station until the finish.
By Lap 16 Jason had moved into P6, then P5 with a great switchback move on Chilton out of Paddock into Druids, followed by a sweep inside Neal at Paddock on the next tour for P4.
Catching Cammish and Jordon ahead hand over fist, a podium looked very much on the cards only for Jason to trip over the rear of Cammish’s car as they entered Hawthorns, dropping his left rear onto the grass. With the Astra fully sideways, Jason showed great car control to gather it all up on the wet grass but couldn’t stop losing the places he had just gained, dropping back to P7 but delighting the amassed crowd in the process.
Rob started the final race of both the day and the 2019 Championship in a frustrated and somewhat aggrieved P17 on the medium tyre, with Jason getting the P5 grid slot in the reverse grid draw and on the soft tyre.
As the red lights went out, the #11 Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra catapulted from the third row into P3 as the field went into Paddock. A lap later Jason was made a great move down the inside of Proctor at Stirlings for P2 and immediately set off after the leader, closing in around the remainder of lap 2 before sliding inside on the exit of Clearways to cross the line in P1, clearly the fast car on the track.
Further back Rob was struggling to get his tyres into their performance window, losing a place. By lap 6, Jason had extended his lead to a healthy 3 seconds whilst Rob was being hit from pillar to post as he dropped to P22.
With dusk drawing in, the field made for a dramatic sight with headlights ablaze and the BTCC’s most successful ever driver leading the way. It was a win that was never in doubt as Jason celebrated joyfully over the radio on the final lap to record his 97th BTCC career win.
After mid distance Rob was starting to lap at front running pace and started to recover some lost ground, moving into 20th and then into an eventual P18.
Rob Collard, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra #9 said: “We’ve got the ingredients of a very fast car, and Jason’s proved that by winning Race 3. Going away from here I’m disappointed, but I’ve been knocked from pillar to post and it’s been really frustrating weekend. I just haven’t quite found that ultimate pace in the car, so there’s homework to do there I think. But it’s been fantastic to be a part of the PMR story; the team really are becoming a dominant force within the BTCC, and the Vauxhall brand is synonymous with winning, so it’s great to be associated with the brand.”
Jason Plato, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra #11 said: “Mega end to the year! The last couple of years have been really awful for me, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year. Never in my career have I got in a car and knew I wouldn’t do well, and after 2 years of thinking exactly that, joining PMR has taken me back to how it should be. To rebuild it all back up again is great; we’ve ended the year brilliantly, and we’ve been genuinely fast. Mojo’s back-thank you PMR.”
Adam Weaver, Team Principal, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing “What a finish to the most enjoyable season I’ve had in the BTCC. I can’t thank JP, Rob, the team and sponsors enough-without you all, we would be nothing, and this year (and especially today) has reminded me exactly why we do this!”
Martin Broadhurst, Technical Director, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing “This weekend has been frustrating, as have most this year, but I couldn’t be prouder of JP and the team for bringing home the win in arguably the biggest race of the year. It’s been a long time coming! Both Jason and Rob have had hurdles to overcome this year, and its only bad luck that have robbed them of other victories. I’m looking forward to talking to both of them over the winter break and seeing what happens for the 2020 season.”
Rob Collard – Car #9
Race 1. Grid 25. Result P15.
Race 2. Grid 15. Result P17.
Race 3. Grid 17. Result P18.
Championship position. P16.
Jason Plato – Car #11
Race 1. Grid 16. Result P14.
Race 2. Grid 14. Result P7.
Race 3. Grid 5. Result P1.
Championship position. P7.
Teams Championship – P5.
Manufacturers Championship – P3.