CollardSterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing returned to the super-fast Thruxton circuit in Hampshire for rounds 19, 20 and 21 of the Kwik Fit MSA British Touring Car Championship. Thruxton’s high speed layout places a unique set of demands on the cars, and particularly the tyres with Dunlop providing just the Hard compound dry tyre for the weekend. Saturday’s Free Practice sessions saw both drivers show good pace, sitting in the top 5 for most of FP1, with both cars separated by 4/100’s, albeit slipping back to P13 and P14 by the end. In FP2, Jason went P1 early on, and reinforced the #11 Vauxhall Astra’s position with another session leading time late on to finish P1. In the #9 Vauxhall Astra, Rob struggled a bit in the warmer conditions, particularly sector 1, to sit in P12, before ending the session in P15.

As qualifying got underway, the threat of rain caused a flurry of activity as teams tried to get into their first timed runs as soon as possible. At one point the top 7 cars were all RWD as the FWD teams crossed their tyres.

Soon after, the two Stirling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astras slotted straight into P3 and P13, with Collard losing time in sector 1 and Plato looking for a shot at Pole as he moved up to P1.

In a very crowded pit lane, Rob slid through his pit box as he came in for new tyres, before recovering to slot into a competitive P10, just 4/10ths from Pole, whilst Jason was on course for Pole on his very last lap before sliding wide at the high speed Church corner, frustratingly missing out on Pole by just 14/100ths to secure his first front row start since Brands Hatch in April.

Race day dawned wet and windy although the track had dried fully before Race 1. After another excellent qualifying performance, Jason lined up on the front row for the second time this season, only to suffer the same misfortune as at the opening race of the season, being black flagged for inadvertently lining up just over his grid box. Such a pity, as Jason had made an excellent start, holding on around the outside of Allard before slotting into P2 as the field filed into the complex.

From P10, Rob also made a great start to move immediately into P8, before sliding past Butcher into P7. This became P6 as the Hampshire driver’s Stirling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing teammate pulled the #11 Astra into the pit lane to serve his drive penalty through at the end of lap 2.

Plato re-joined stone last (30th) and set about recovering as many positions as possible through the stretched-out field, whilst Collard had latched onto the tail of the lead BMW of Oliphant, just 3 seconds off the lead.

By lap 7 Jason had sliced through the backmarkers into P24 and Rob had dropped back slightly, but was still well clear of the battle for P7. Jason kept the pressure on to get into the points, and continued to move forward, into P21 by lap 11 and then through to P17 by the finish – a great performance but not the one the double Champion had been looking for.

Up at the front Rob was once again closing back in on Oliphant for 5th, running out of laps to finish an excellent 6th.

After much internal debate involving marking tape and visual reference points, Jason lined up for Race 2 in P17, once again looking to use the speed of the Stirling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra to move forward into contention for the Race 3 Reverse Grid draw.    

On the 3rd row, Rob was now carrying 24kg of success ballast, but feeling confident in his ability to move forward. That confidence looked well placed as Collard made a great move inside Oliphant through the Complex to move into P4 and right on the tail of the leaders and challenging for the podium.

By lap 7 Plato was also flying, closing in on the battle for P7 and looking well on course to move into the top 10. Progress slowed as Jason got caught out by some short term thinking around him, dropping back again to P15 before fighting back up to challenge Sutton for P11. Jason got passed down the inside into Campbell, only for the Subaru to re-joining the circuit on the inside of Cobb, forcing the Astra wide and more importantly dropping back behind Chilton into P13 on the run out to the superfast back section. With no time to recover, Jason missed his top 12 target by one place.

Rob was also in the thick of things in a great battle for the last podium place. The #9 Astra flew down the inside on the run down to Church, only to be squeezed at the apex. Expertly catching the highspeed oversteer, Rob survived but had to watch helplessly as he was passed by 3 cars on the run up to the final chicane, dropping back to P6 but confirming his speed with 3rd fastest race lap.

The final race of the day was greeted by dark menacing clouds overhead but a dry track. Dunlop wet tyres were readied in case the heavens opened and tension was ratcheted up a notch as the start was delayed as Butcher parked his car on the green flag lap.

At the lights, Rob kept his focus and made a great start to lead into the right, left, right Complex and away onto the high-speed curves around the back of the circuit.

Crossing the line over 3/10ths up, Collard looked to break away as his teammate at in P13, jostling amid a pack of eight cars, looking to keep out of trouble but make progress at the same time. By lap 4, Rob still led and Jason had got past Tordoff into P12, followed by a great move around the outside of Turkington into the chicane for P11. Setting what would stand as the fastest lap of the race, Plato then set off after Jordan.

Lap 6 saw the tell tail signs of windscreen wipers as the drivers looked to judge the changing grip conditions.  Of course, being the leader, this was most challenging for Collard as the Astra provided the reference for the chasing pack behind. Undeterred, the Hampshire ace showed great speed around the fast sweeps and defended expertly into the chicane each lap.

Also showing great speed, Jason had closed down and passed both Jordan and Chilton to move into P9, only for Rob to lose the lead after a big slide at Church left him defenceless going into the chicane on lap 10.

By now the rain was starting to fall more heavily by the lap, with the paddock side of the circuit being particularly wet, challenging the grip of the slick Dunlop tyres and the drivers’ skill. Into the closing stages, Rob had pulled clear of his pursuers to hold station in a comfortable 2nd place and Jason had expertly fought his way past Ingram, Sutton and Cook with some great racecraft before grabbing a final 5th place finish from Oliphant at the flag.

Quotes:

Rob Collard, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra #9 said: “Really happy for the team, with two P6 and a podium. Obviously gutted that we didn’t get a win. I’m pretty sure that had it not rained we had that in the bag, as I’d pulled out a measured gap and had it all under control. It would’ve been brilliant to take our first win in the car at my home circuit, but I’m leaving happy with that. The car felt great this weekend; I’m finally getting the hang of this front wheel drive malarkey again.”

Jason Plato, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra #11 said: “Race 1 was really frustrating, for obvious reasons, and has left a bit of a sour note on the day for me. But all credit to the team, the car was great today and showed some amazing pace. I’ve had some great racing today and really enjoyed it. Race 3 was a positive end to the day for sure, and I think we’ve proved between Rob and I that we’re right on the pace, and will be aiming for the sharp end come Knockhill.”

Adam Weaver, Team Principal, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing “Coming back to Thruxton gave us a great benchmark to show our progress, though I don't think we're leaving with the results we quite deserve. I'm really pleased with the pace are race craft both drivers showed throughout the day, though obviously Race 1 was really unfortunate for Jason. Both drove really well through the day, which the results show, and it was great to see Rob up on the podium again. That double podium has to be close now, surely?”

Martin Broadhurst, Technical Director, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing: “As a team, this has been one of our strongest days this season. Both drivers have been threatening throughout, despite obvious frustrations, and the cars have been consistently strong. With chassis being as important as power at Thruxton, we’re taking a lot of positives from the weekend.”
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