Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing returned to action at Silverstone for Rounds 25, 26 and 27 of the Kwik Fit MSA British Touring Car Championship, the penultimate event of the 2019 season. The high-speed sweeps and facilities of Silverstone contrast dramatically with the tight and rustic Knockhill and presents the PMR engineers a completely different set of challenges.
The Free Practice sessions typically involve some operational house-keeping early on, such as preparing tyres, followed by laps confirming and optimising set ups. From the outset in FP1, both Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astras were running at the top of the timesheets. Indeed, for a lot of the first session, the cars were running in P1 and P2, eventually finishing in P1 and P7.
For FP2, Jason kept up his form, sitting at the top of the times for the majority of the session to confirm his status as favourite for Pole position. Having also run in the Top-10, Rob slipped back a little to end the session in P13.
The blustery but dry conditions persisted into Qualifying, with hopes high in the PMR garage that both cars could be up at the front. All eyes were on car #11 as Jason hovered around the Top-5, eschewing the idea of getting a tow down the long Silverstone straights, looking for the clear lap on a crowded circuit. Into the last 8 minutes and the former double Champion hit the top of the times, holding on to win a superb Pole Position with a new Lap Record.
With the first 28 cars covered by less than a second, every tenth was critical and Rob started to struggle a little with the balance of his Astra, setting his quickest time mid-session but failing to improve thereafter to end up a frustrated P17, with work to do.
Race day dawned very wet, but the wind and sun started to dry the track and brought the Dunlop slicks back into play. Along with the majority, both drivers decided to take the softer Option tyre for Race 1.
A great start saw Jason bust into the lead on the greasy track, crossing the line at the end of lap 2 with a 1.5 second lead. Rob also made a great getaway, fighting through to P14. By lap 4 however, the lead Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra was in a dog fight with the hard tyre shod Ingram, losing the lead on the right out of Copse after running side by side from the exit of the long Luffield hairpin.
From then on, Jason hovered close by in second, well ahead of the pursuing pack, before settling for the place after experiencing a vibration on the front left of his Astra.
In the #9 Vauxhall Astra, Rob had also made a great start, immediately gaining 4 places over the first couple of laps and then surviving a scare when Turkington spun across his bows, with Morgan on the inside, as the three cars exited Luffield.
By lap 20 Rob was in a four-way dice with Morgan, Chilton and Cammish, fighting over P10 and lapping within 1/10th of the leaders. Unfortunately, in challenging for P10, Rob was pushed wide and then off the track, losing out on the race to the line to finish P12 after a racy and combative drive.
Race 2 was greeted by a dry track, and a delayed start just added to the tension. Both drivers again made good starts, with Rob cutting inside Chilton on the run out of Luffield at the end of lap to move into P11 and then inside Bushell with a lovely move into Brooklands on lap 2. The Hampshire driver was looking strong, only for Bushell to forcefully and unfairly push the Astra wide as Rob entered Luffield. Although catching the ensuing slide, the very aggrieved Rob was forced to concede the corner, undoing his excellent hard work and letting his feelings be known over the team radio.
It got worse unfortunately on lap 4 as Chilton then decided to assault the Astra, causing enough damage to force Rob into the pits. The PMR crew effected repairs and sent the #9 car out to check systems, eventually finishing 7 laps down.
At the front Jason was also in the thick of the action, closing in P2 before dropping back at the rain started to gently fall. By lap 9, the top 3 were together as the slippery track caused chaos with cars sliding everywhere. All 3 leaders slid into Brooklands, with Jason also losing out to Turkington as they scrambled their way through Luffield a lap later.
By lap 14 the Safety Car had been deployed, with the field closed up and all on slicks on the now very wet surface, the spectators held their breath for the lap 17 restart.
Immediately Jason slid down the inside of Oliphant into P3, only to lose out again with a big slide at Copse before the race was red flagged because of the conditions. The P4 finish also meant that Jason dropped out of the title race, now with no mathematical chance of a third drivers crown as BTCC heads to the season finale at Brand Hatch.
The clouds looked ominous for Race 3, and although all drivers started on slicks, the team’s weather radar was being closely monitored. Jason was drawn on grid 8 and Rob was languishing down in P26, his Vauxhall Astra repaired but its driver looking to take no prisoners.
Another great start by both cars saw Jason move to P7, then P6 and then P5 down the inside of Smiley into Becketts, whilst at the tail Rob was making great progress, already up 5 places in 2 laps.
As the field went into lap 3, Plato was unceremoniously punted off track at Becketts by Smiley just as the Safety Car returned, like a teacher herding an unruly pack of pupils. This prompted a rather agitated Jason to dive into the pits for wets, dropping to P20 but more importantly over 30 seconds behind leaders, but still on the lead lap come the restart.
Rob meanwhile had continued his mission, expertly moving up to P11, but still on slicks and facing a challenging 15 laps ahead.
As the track got wetter and wetter, Rob tried to fight the tide, still lapping in the 66 second mark to hang on in the Top-15 but then starting haemorrhaging places as the slick / wet cross over took full effect in the ever-worsening conditions.
By lap 13 Rob was still in P12 and Jason, accompanied by a few wet shod buddies, was remorselessly closing in. On lap 14, car #11 crossed the line in P12 and car #9 was P14 before dropping to an eventual P21.
Plato kept catching the leaders and with Turkington in tow moved into P10 on lap 20, P8 on lap 21 and then into a great 6th place finish by the end of the 25-lap race.
Rob Collard, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra #9 said: “I can’t wait to have a beer when I get home! Another really frustrating weekend really, and I’m really disappointed after Race 2’s incident. We battled back hard, but we were on the wrong tyre and just hasn’t come our way. Looking forward to a strong Brands Hatch and a rest over the winter.”
Jason Plato, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra #11 said: “In hindsight, in Race 3, as I passed the pit entrance, I hadn’t made my mind up on tyres, and saw the shine on the track and wished I’d come in! Had a great start, but then the Smiley incident just messed it all up completely. It’s been a positive day though, but I’m never happy with the results I get, and always want more. I’m hopeful we can catch that elusive win at Brands!”
Adam Weaver, Team Principal, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing “It’s been another frustrating but positive weekend overall. It’s annoying that we didn’t take the win in Race 1, and the incidents in Races 2 & 3 were a bit of a joke, but we’ve bagged some decent points and head into the final holding our own.”
Martin Broadhurst, Technical Director, Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing “This weekend showed the expert race craft of both our drivers and the underlying speed of the car, where Jason’s pole and new lap record was a great achievement. Rob showed what he can do on race day and I think he deserved a lot more out of races 2 and 3 when circumstances contrived against him.”
Rob Collard – Car #9
Race 1. Grid 17. Result P12.
Race 2. Grid 12. Result P26.
Race 3. Grid 26. Result P21.
Championship position. P16
Jason Plato – Car #11
Race 1. Grid 1. Result P2.
Race 2. Grid 2. Result P4.
Race 3. Grid 8. Result P6.
Championship position. P7
Teams Championship – P5
Manufacturers Championship – P3.