Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing headed to the historic parkland circuit of Oulton Park for rounds 13, 14, and 15 of the Kwik Fit MSA British Touring Car Championship. The hot air from Europe found its way north to Cheshire on Saturday with Free Practice sessions held amidst humid conditions.The early exchanges of FP1 saw driver of Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra #11, Jason Plato, sit at the top of the standings for most of the session, dropping to P3 in the last few minutes.
Teammate Rob Collard was languishing down in P24, looking for a better balance on his #9 Astra.
Hotter temperatures with slower track conditions greeted the BTCC field for FP2, and after some more set up work by the PMR squad, Rob found a better balance to finish in P14, with Jason still at the sharp end in P4.
Just as qualifying started, it started to spit with rain. The track stayed dry, although the air cooled and immediately Jason, the reigning qualifying lap record holder, posted the 5th quickest time.
Rob was struggling however, and languished down in 25th with work to do. With 11 minutes to go both Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Astra’s crossed tyres and set out for the second and final run. From expecting to move forward, both drivers suffered with a loss of balance, consigning car #11 to a fourth row start in P8, half a second off pole and Rob to a slightly bemused P18, half a second further back.
Race day was sunny, albeit with the temperatures now fluctuating between 20C and 25C. In the cockpit of the two Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astras, temperatures were about to get just a little bit hotter.
Race 1 Jason Plato was among just two of the leading group electing to use the softer tyre, and the #11 Astra got a good start, fighting alongside Ingram on the opening laps, only to be out dragged into the chicane to slot into P9. Thereafter Jason was trying all ways to get back past, anxious not to lose touch with the leaders. Further back, Rob Collard had managed to get up to P17 before the race was brought under the Safety Car, as Neal crashed heavily at the fast-double apex Druids corner.
On the restart, Jason was then embroiled in a mighty scrap with Ingram and Sutton, expertly placing his Astra to both pass and defend from his rivals. Plato managed to get alongside Ingram on the run to the chicane, before having to slot in behind, without the straight-line speed to get past.
Rob meanwhile dropped off the tail of Goff and the cars ahead on the lap 13 restart, before rapidly closing back up to challenge hard the final points paying slot. Despite the multiple race winners’ best efforts, positions remained the same until the end, securing a 15th place finish.
Like his teammate, Jason remained stuck behind a slower car in front, before Sutton’s “push to pass” move at the hairpin relegated a seething Plato to a P9 finish with blue paint adorning both the rear bumper and right-hand side of his Vauxhall Astra…
A cleaned up and polished pair of Astras were dispatched for a Race 2 start in warmer and windier conditions. The bodywork of both cars was then tested again as early as lap 1, with car #11 in the middle of a “loaded up” train of cars braking for the hairpin before Jackson simply drove by on the following drag down to the chicane at Knickerbrook. This was nothing compared to Rob’s tribulations as a side by side charge to Cascades alongside Sutton (starting further back due to previous misdemeanours) ended with the two making contact in the middle of the corner, before the #9 Astra was miraculously missed by the out of control Goff at the hairpin. Frustratingly, Rob’s front right damage incurred a visit to the pits under the subsequent Safety Car, losing his P13 track position, only to be ordered to return to the pits when the damage was deemed to still be unsecured, dropped Collard further down to P28.
The lap 6 restart saw the soft Dunlop shod #9 Astra then started to progress back up the order, including a great move at the chicane to move into P26. A few seconds up the road, Jason pulled a great move on Jackson, starting at Lodge and finishing at Old Hall to move into P8, only for Jelley to drive past the frustrated Plato on the pit straight a couple of laps later, dropping to P9.
Despite another two lap Safety Car on lap 13, Jason, glued to Ingram’s tail, resisted Neal’s challenge to finish P9 with Rob coming across the line in P22.
Whilst another busy two hours for the hard worked PMR crew ensued, the draw was being made for the race 3 reverse grid. Surprisingly given the team’s current fortunes, the grid threw up a P3 slot for Jason. Unsurprisingly, this quickly turned into a disaster as the Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra retired on lap 2 with a sudden loss of oil.
Having made a good start to challenge Neal into turn 1, Old Hall, Jason closely followed the front two around the opening laps, looking challenging. At the start of lap 3, the leaders swapped positions into Old Hall only to come together on the exit in a crazy piece of driving, with Neal spinning down the track in a cloud of tyre smoke. Showing the lightning reactions that has made him the BTCC’s most decorated driver, Jason swerved onto the grass in avoidance only to damage the oil cooler on the uneven grass before retiring at the hairpin.
If that wasn’t bad enough, having made a good start, Rob then came off on his teammate’s oil, dropping right back to P26. With the one major passing point now rendered out of action, Rob was consistently quick, setting times comparable with the leaders, managing to drag his Vauxhall Astra back up to a P23 finish.
Rob Collard, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra #9 said: “Just a frustrating weekend from start to finish really. We made some more progress with the chassis, but something just isn’t gelling. We’ll be delving deep into the data over the summer break and coming back to Snetterton with a fresh mind and a clean head.”
Jason Plato, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra #11 said: “The story of the weekend? Well, we made some more progress with the chassis. It’s a good job we did really, as we seem to be struggling in a straight which we need to address. TOCA need to get busy and sort us some more power, as I’m pretty fed up of watching everyone drive away from us, when we know we’re quicker through the corners.”
Adam Weaver, Team Principal, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing “A challenging weekend all in all, both on and off track. With ever more demands being placed on the Teams, the least we ask for is an even playing field which is what BOP is meant to give us. We have two of the best drivers in the business, known for their ability to entertain and make a good show and they cannot even get close enough to make moves. Watching is really frustrating and I look forward to better approach to a number of issues.”
Martin Broadhurst, Technical Director, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing “The power deficit from our TOCA powerplant has been more obvious than ever this weekend, especially with a BMW Pole, Race 1 & Race 2 win with maximum ballast. You can see it clearly on the footage, they’re literally driving away from us everywhere. At the moment we are on the back foot, with our drivers defending but rarely able to attack. It’s not been a good weekend, and we’ll be having a serious look at our options over the summer break.”
Rob Collard – Car #9
Race 1. Grid 18. Result 15.
Race 2. Grid 15. Result P22.
Race 3. Grid . Result P23.
Championship position. P16.
Jason Plato – Car #11
Race 1. Grid 8. Result P9.
Race 2. Grid 9. Result P9.
Race 3. Grid 3. Result DNF.
Championship position. P10.
Teams Championship – P6.
Manufacturers Championship – P4.