The British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) has always been one of the most interesting touring car series in the world and Jason Plato is one of its biggest legends.
He debuted in BTCC in 1997 and won the championship title in 2001 and 2010. Until the end of 2019, Plato scored 98 BTCC victories, more than any other driver in the BTCC history.
Typical start of the career - karts first, then formulas
He was born in 1967 in Oxford, England and at a very early age developed an interest in motorsports. His beginning was typical of many racers, he started competing in karting races. After tasting success there, the path to the single-seater race cars was a natural route to take. Plato debuted in the Formula Renault in 1990. The next step was Formula 3 and his final year with single-seaters was 1996 in the British Renault Spider championship. He took a dominant win.
BTCC debut under Frank Williams
The next year, he entered the British Touring Car Championship. Plato was given the opportunity to drive a Renault Laguna in the Williams Team after literally chasing Frank Williams for the contract. The story goes that Frank Williams organised a trial run for Plato, Gianni Morbidelli and Jean-Christophe Boullion, with the most successful driver getting the contract offer.
Pole positions in first three races
Soon enough Plato proved his driving mettle when he took the pole position in his first three races. Plato's teammate Alain Menu was the dominant driver in 1997 and he took the title. Plato took his first BTCC win in round 18 at Snetterton. He scored one more win in the last race of the season at Silverstone and ended his first season in 3rd place, which was a fantastic result for a rookie.
In his first year with Williams Renault, Plato participated at famous Bathurst 1000 race in Australia, paired with the F1 champion Alan Jones, but they did not finish the race. Plato stayed with Williams Renault team until they withdrew from the championship in 1999. He finished 5th in the championship both years, with one victory each year.
Muller under fire, Plato took the title
Plato joined Vauxhall in 2000, again taking 5th place in the championship. He was driving Vauxhall Vectra. Plato's teammates were Yvan Muller and Vincent Radermecker. Although Plato and Muller were teammates, they were also great rivals. In 2000, Muller finished one place ahead of Plato, whilst in the next season Plato became the champion ahead of Muller, in an exciting season which was decided in the last race at Brands Hatch.
Both were driving Vauxhall Astra Coupes and Muller's car was caught on fire. He retired and Plato took second place and got enough points for his first BTCC title. With the trophy in his bag, Plato left touring cars to try some other options in racing. With an ambition to get into NASCAR, Plato moved to the British ASCAR stock car series in 2002. He was driving Pontiac and finished 3rd in the championship.
Back to BTCC as a Seat team leader
Plato returned to British Touring Car Championship in 2004. A year before, he was employed by Seat to work as a driver coach and to help with their driver development, so when they entered a championship in 2004, he was the natural choice to lead the team. With seven victories Plato finished 3rd in the championship, behind VX Racing's James Thompson and Yvan Muller.
32 victories with Spanish manufacturer
In the following years with Seat, Plato was always near the top, but never a champion. He was a vice-champion in 2006 and 2007, when the champions were Matt Neal and Fabrizio Giovanardi. Plato also participated in the 2005 World Touring Car Championship, driving Toledo at eight races and achieving just one podium. In the meantime, Seat switched from Toledo to Leon and in 2008, Spanish manufacturer became the first to use diesel-powered touring car. Plato was the first diesel-powered winner and with the total of eight victories in Seat Leon TDI, he finished third in the 2008 championship. In five season with different Seat cars, Plato took 32 BTCC wins.
Second title at the wheel of Chevrolet Cruze
In 2009 Plato was again just one step from the highest podium spot at the end of the championship. Colin Turkington took the title, Plato finished second with RML's Chevrolet Lacetti. Another Chevrolet car, Silverline's Cruze, was Plato's victorious car in season 2010. Plato claimed the championship with a win in the penultimate race of the season against main rival Matt Neal. On his way to his second crown, Plato claimed seven victories through the course of the season compared to Neal's five wins. In three season with Chevrolet, Plato scored 22 BTCC victories.
20 victories with MG6 GT
Honda Racing's duo Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden were in front of Plato at the end of the 2011 season, which was his last season with Chevrolet. In 2012, Plato joined the MG Team and in the next three seasons he was always in Top 3. The best season with MG was 2014, when Plato finished as a runner-up and the team took the Manufacturers’ title. He achieved six wins during 2014, which was the total of 20 victories in three years of driving MG6 GT.
New adventure with Team BMR
After driving for many factory teams Plato decided to join private Team BMR in 2015, next to Colin Turkington, Aron Smith and the team owner Warren Scott. The decision was right because they took Team's championship trophy ahead factory-backed Honda Yuasa Racing. The car which helped them to succeed was Volkswagen CC.
2015 crown was lost with just four points gap
Unfortunately Plato missed the drivers' title for just four points, in the incredibly exciting last race at Brands Hatch. Plato won the race, but Gordon Shedden progressed from the back of the grid to fourth place, which was enough for him to take the title.
In 2016, Plato stays with Team BMR, switching to new car - Subaru Levorg GT. Plato struggled through the season and scored only won victory, finishing seventh in the points. Next year, he finished twelfth in the points with one victory. The season 2018 was even worse, as he finished 27th in the points with just one podium. It's hist worst season's result since he debuted in BTCC in 1997.
Rejoining Vauxhall in 2019, scoring 97th BTCC victory
For the 2019 BTCC season, Jason Plato rejoined Vauxhall, the manufacturer for which he was driving for in championship-winning 2001 BTCC season. This time, the factory team is Power Maxed Racing and his car is Vauxhall Astra.
At the wheel of the #11 Astra, Plato reached two podiums over the season (Croft, Silverstone) and then scored his 97th BTCC victory in a career in the very last race of the season at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit.
Jason Plato and Tiff Needel - the aces of 'Fifth Gear'
A major part of Plato’s popularity is his role in the popular TV show ‘Fifth Gear’ where he is a presenter (as well as a test driver) alongside fellow British ace drivers, Tiff Needell and Vicki Butler-Henderson. His natural talent for driving and knowledge of driving dynamics is obvious to anyone who has ever watched the show.
Regarding the other British motoring TV show ‘Top Gear’ in which driving is outsourced by mysterious Stig, in ‘Fifth Gear’ all performance driving is done by Plato and Needell and their skills are well proven.