Jason Plato is the most successful British Touring Car Championship racer in the 58-year history of what is this country’s premier national race series. He joined the series with Renault in 1997, taking the first of, to date, 94 career wins in that maiden season with the Williams-run Laguna, and has won races with Vauxhall, SEAT, Chevrolet, MG and Volkswagen. He won the Drivers’ title with Vauxhall in 2001 and Chevrolet in 2010 and will be bidding to continue his remarkable winning run – and secure a long-overdue third title – with Subaru in 2016.
I’m so thrilled to be competing with Subaru in the British Touring Car Championship for the first time in 2016. Motorsport fans, particularly rallying enthusiasts, know what an iconic brand it is thanks to the exploits of Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Petter Solberg in the heyday of the 555 Impreza Turbos.
There’s a real sense of anticipation and excitement as the Japanese firm makes its first foray into a high-level circuit racing series. And, of course, the BTCC, which gets underway at Brands Hatch in early April, is a fantastic environment in which to reignite that passion for the brand. This programme with the rear-wheel-drive Levorg, which will be run by Warren Scott’s BMR squad, is very different to the Impreza WRC campaigns, of course, but I hope we can add another successful chapter to the Subaru story.
How did it all come about?
The idea was first mooted, funnily enough, in a pub in early 2012, with my wizard – and he really is a wizard! – design engineer Carl Faux, with whom I worked at Triple 8. We’d just started with the three-year MG programme, which also happened to be the first year of the new NGTC-spec cars in the BTCC, but it quickly became apparent that with NGTC cars (which conform to a set of regulations governing standardised parts), the weight of components and the restrictions on development, as well as the location of the engine and the inefficiency of the suspension, meant many of the cars, the MG included, were compromised.
And that’s when ‘Carlos’ and I realised the Levorg, with its lowline, flat-four (boxer) engine would be the perfect car. So, after a couple of sherberts in the pub we’d hit on what we thought was a gem. But we were only a few months into the MG deal with Triple 8, so we had to wait and hope that no-one else realised the potential of the Scooby.
We had a good crack with the MG – I finished third twice, in 2012 and 2013, and second in 2014, with 20 wins across the three seasons, so it was a pretty fair effort.
Having moved to Warren Scott’s BMR team for 2015, with their existing Volkswagen CC, it wasn’t the right time to persuade Subaru to come on aboard. I didn’t know Warren that well at that stage and was unsure if he had enough good people to build a car from scratch. What we went on to achieve last season, though, was remarkable. I knew that the VW had potential as it had won a couple of races in 2014, but we really turned it around, to the point that I finished second in the championship – for the sixth time! – and won more races than anyone. Warren’s hugely ambitious and went along with it all and did everything he said he’d do, particularly making sure the finance was all in place.
And because of that, I believe BMR are now more than capable of doing the Subaru thing properly. As do Subaru themselves, in Japan and the UK. They really ‘get it’ already, which is great. What ‘Carlos’ and BMR have done up to this point is amazing. The package is stunning – I really believe it’s going to be a game-changer. I’m more excited about this project than anything else I’ve done in my career. I’m sure there’ll be challenges along the way, things we haven’t thought of, because no-one’s run this layout before.
For me, the BTCC is what gets me out of bed in the morning. I still love it. I still enjoy racing – and winning. I believe that what I do inside and outside the car gives me value. And Subaru can sense the marketing appeal of the BTCC. People ask if the 100 wins thing is a target. I don’t really think about it; it could come this year, maybe next, but if I can still be competitive for the next three or four years my tally might rise to 120, so it’s a moving target, really.
I can’t wait to get in the car for the first time. I’ll be really proud to wear a Subaru badge as I was good friends with Colin and Richard and know what a huge impact they had on British motorsport. It’d be great to tap into a bit of that magic.
Images courtesy of BMR and BTCC