BTCC Silverstone preview

As the 2000 Auto Trader British Touring Car Championship heads to its mid-season point, one man is smiling all the way to Silverstone, the venue for rounds 11 and 12 this weekend (June 11).

BTCC Silverstone preview

Vauxhall's Jason Plato has proved to be the BTCC master of the Northamptonshire track in recent years - scoring victory there in 1999 and holding the lap records for qualifying and racing.

The Oxford-based Vectra ace, who considers Silverstone his home track, is officially the quickest man in this year's series, after setting four fastest laps in the first ten races. He always goes well at the home of the British Grand Prix, but that, he says, brings its own unique problems.

"In many ways, always doing well at one particular circuit puts extra pressure on," he says. "Every time I go to Silverstone I expect a good result and if I come away without one it is bitterly disappointing.

"But I am looking forward to it this year because I'm driving better than ever; you've only got to look at my race pace to see that."

Plato, joint third in the championship, is 21 points behind early leader Alain Menu. But the Vauxhall man believes Silverstone is the place he can make up ground on Ford Team Mondeo's Swiss star.

Adds Plato: "Silverstone's come at a good time for Vauxhall. We're expecting a good weekend and the championship is getting closer. A couple of good results at Silverstone will give me and Vauxhall a chance of getting right back up to the front."

Meanwhile, Menu - whose wife Caroline will make her racing debut at
Silverstone in the Ford Credit Fiesta Zetec Championship - believes his series lead will be under threat during the Gameplay Silverstone
International Raceday because of the success ballast he will be carrying in his Mondeo. The 1997 BTCC Champion won his fourth race of the season at Oulton Park (round nine) and will carry 40kg of extra weight at Silverstone.

Says Menu: "Silverstone won't be easy at all for me because I'll be carrying the ballast. There are a few slow corners where the weight will hurt most because they lead on to fast straights and you need as much momentum as possible on the exit. My aim is to get as many points as I can from the weekend.

"I now have a healthy lead over third place but it is too early to start talking about a second title. I would say my main rivals for the championship are my team-mates, and Vauxhall's Plato and (Yvan) Muller. It is good to be leading the championship going into the halfway point and I'm feeling confident, but things change so quickly in motor racing that you never know."

Menu's team-mate Anthony Reid is only seven points behind in second place and he could also make up ground. The Scot has finished on the podium at every meeting so far this year but victory has eluded him. With just 20kg of ballast on board his Mondeo, after finishing third in round ten, he will be pushing hard to claim his first win of 2000 this weekend.

Ford's third driver Rickard Rydell, however, will be one man aiming to stop him. Following two retirements at Oulton Park, the Swede has slipped back from joint leader to joint third. But with no ballast for
Silverstone, the 1998 BTCC champion will be looking to get back on top.

And no-one can discount the Redstone Team Honda trio of drivers. Honda has won both the last two Feature Races (the longer race at each meeting), through Italian Gabriele Tarquini and Dane Tom Kristensen. At Silverstone, Briton James Thompson will want to make it a Honda hat trick by taking victory in his Accord.

While the battle rages among the Super Touring drivers at the front of the field, the BTCC Class B's ranks will be swelled at Silverstone by a distinguished guest. Former BTCC champion Will Hoy, who won the title in 1991 for BMW, returns to the fray in a Touring Car VIP Club Peugeot 306 GTi.

Hoy raced for part of last year in the Michelin Cup for Independents, in a Renault, and last won a BTCC race in 1998 - at Silverstone - for Ford, giving the Blue Oval outfit its only victory of that year.

Says nine-times race winner Hoy: "I'm really looking forward to racing in the BTCC again. I raced a Class B-type car last year at Spa in Belgium so I won't be jumping in completely blind. The Peugeot is quite clearly the best car in the Class at the moment and the team is extremely professional, so it should be a good weekend."

Hoy will team up with Alan Morrison, the Northern Ireland-based driver who slipped to second in the Class B standings with two retirements at Oulton Park allowing Barwell Motorsport's James Kaye to take over at the top in his Honda Accord. Morrison, with Hoy's help, will be looking to regain his number one position at Silverstone.

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