The hybrid rules are an added bonus for his final season. “If I’m really honest when they announced they were going hybrid two years ago I wasn’t that enamoured by the idea of it all,” he admits. “I perceived it as optics. But actually now I understand it a bit more I think it’s going to be great. There’s a lot more for us to think about strategy-wise, optimising the deployment of the hybrid boost. It will be different at each circuit, depending on how much we are allowed to deploy. It’s not just for me as a driver but also for the engineer. Even the amount of regen we have will affect the balance of the car. There’s lap time in there. How much remains to be seen, but you can get it wrong and that will hurt. Or you can get it right. I quite like the idea of that, of having something to think about beyond just the driving.”
He’s thoughtful and open about why he’s calling time on the BTCC. Plato’s never been anyone’s fool and his ego was never going to allow him to quietly slip away because opportunities worthy of his standing – commercially as well as from a sporting perspective – had dried up. This way, he can “take control of my exit”.
“I don’t love the politics anymore. It’s 24 hours a day.”
“That’s one reason and it’s a big one. Another is I’m 54 now, 55 this year and I want to do some other stuff. Motor sport assumes I’ll be doing the BTCC again, so I want to telegraph that out there that I’m not [beyond this year]. I want to do some GT stuff and I want to race at Le Mans. I might want to do some TV for this, lots of other projects that are very difficult to do when I’m still in this touring car mindset.”
Ever wondered how committed you need to be to race at this level? What he says next is revealing. “The other thing is it’s f**king hard work, because it never leaves you. The BTCC is highly political, and of course I need to be across all that. But I could do without it. It’s been a long time, and I’ve loved it. Don’t get me wrong, I really do, the cut and thrust of the racing. But I don’t love the politics anymore. I’ve had enough of that, and quite frankly so has my wife Sophie. It’s 24 hours a day.”
So racing still consumes you? “Absolutely. If it doesn’t you are not doing your job. I think about it when I open my eyes in the morning and when I go to bed. It’s always on my mind.”
A Le Mans campaign ticks a box for someone who had the clear ability for a wider international career, had he not been so single-mindedly focused on the BTCC. “I had a sit-down with Karun [Chandhok] at the beginning of last year,” he reveals. “He would be a great person to team up with at Le Mans in an RSR Porsche, first because we’ve got nowt to prove to ourselves. We can be sensible about it, enjoy the experience and turn it on when we need to. My mate Craig Davies who I do some historic stuff with, he drives really well.” They drove together just last weekend in the Gerry Marshall Trophy at the Goodwood Members’ Meeting, in Davies’ BOSS 302 Ford Mustang, and Plato has plans to race at the Daytona Classic towards the end of this year. “I’d love to do Le Mans, it would be brilliant.”
“If I get a competitive car, guess what? I’ll probably do 100 wins and be in with a shout for the championship.”
Age appears to be less of a barrier in motor sport than it used to be. We cite his old Super Touring rival Gabriele Tarquini, who only stepped down from the World Touring Car Cup last year as he neared his 60th birthday. “There is an end point and I want to do other stuff between now and then,” he says. “Maybe the endpoint is 60, I don’t know. But the endpoint for me is when I wake up in the morning and don’t have a hard-on to go racing. One of the concerns is if I keep doing the BTCC that will go and I don’t want to stop early. Whereas if I get my teeth into something else that turns me on…”
Back to the final farewell. I’m intrigued to know what he thinks of the current generation, headed by the deeply impressive Ash Sutton, three times a champion in just six seasons and now lining up for a record-equalling fourth having switched teams and from rear to front-wheel drive. “Ash is world class,” Plato acknowledges. “I’ve never had much toe-to-toe with [Dan] Cammish [Sutton’s new team-mate in the NAPA-backed Motorbase Ford Focus team]. But I’ve always thought of him as f**king tasty too.” He mentions Tom Ingram and Rory Butcher as others that stand out. “There’s a difference with the likes of Sutton, Cammish, [Gordon] Shedden, [Colin] Turkington, [Yvan] Muller, [Alain] Menu… It’s different racing against those guys than the rest. The level of aggression and pressure which that top tier exert is very high, but it’s respectful and in control. It’s a rush to race like that. It’s not so much when you get down the mid-pack. It’s f**king ugly, it’s horrible.