Jason Plato: 'I've had enough of BTCC politics... I want to race at Le Mans'


Frank and as fiercely competitive as ever, Jason Plato tells Damien Smith why he believes he can bow out of the BTCC as champion — with 100 career wins, and his plans to race at Le Mans — free from the off-track distractions of touring cars

Jason Plato portrait

Ker Robertson/Getty Images

One last time… Since the heady Super Touring days of 1997 and for all but two seasons, Jason Plato has been the Marmite star of the crash-bang-wallop British Touring Car Championship. Twice a champion with a series record 97 wins, Plato has always had the swagger, the wit, the speed and an in-your-face abrasiveness you either find endearing or deeply aggravating – and he couldn’t give a monkey’s which way you swing. But now, at 54, the end is nigh for one of British motor sport’s most colourful characters – but only when it comes to the BTCC. As he makes all too clear when we meet up, Plato is very far from finished with the world of motor racing itself.

A BTCC ’farewell tour’, then. How very NASCAR – and how very Plato. There’s brass to be made from one final blast, and if anyone has a status big enough in the UK’s premier four-wheeled series to carry off (and deserve) such a drawn-out goodbye, let’s face it, it’s Plato. He’ll milk every moment and as always, it’ll be BTCC box-office gold.

“It’s about getting in the car knowing I can win. That’s all I need and the rest takes over”

But he might well be going out on a high, too. Plato has signed a late deal to join the highly accomplished BTC Racing, for the first time driving a Honda Civic Type R that carried new team-mate Josh Cook to third in the points last term. For the first time in a while, Plato is in a bona fide top team and car, and for all the nods, winks and quips, this guy takes his motor racing deadly seriously. He always has done. Winning three races in a season is a tall order for anyone in the ultra-competitive, unpredictable BTCC – although Cook won five in 2021. And in a year of a major technical rules reset thanks to the introduction of Cosworth’s spec hybrid power boost system and the banishment of success ballast, Plato has 30 final chances to hit the ton and make 100 wins. What are the odds?

BTC Racing Honda in 2021

Plato will be alongside Jade Edwards and Josh Hill at BTC Racing this year

BTC Racing

Numbers are great, but that’s not why he’s back for one last swing. “It’s about being in the fight and getting in the car knowing I can win  – and actually believing it,” he says. “That’s all I need and the rest takes over. When you turn up week in, week out and you’re 3mph slower down the straight than everyone else, those extra tenths you can’t get back. To be honest that’s what happened the past few years,” referring back to the past three in which he’s raced a Vauxhall Astra for Power Maxed Racing. “It’s hard enough. You need the kit and now I believe I’ve got it.”

Even now near the end, there’s a twinkle in the eye at the irony that he’s engineered himself into a Honda built by his old pantomime rivals at Team Dynamics, run of course by Matt Neal. But there has always been respect in spite of the bitter angst – especially now. “I’ve never been allowed to get near a Honda, for obvious reasons!” he says with a smile. “When the Honda was in the workshop I had a look around the car and I have to applaud Dynamics. Some of the engineering they have executed, now I understand… Jumping in for the first time, it’s good in those [key] areas. I found that in two corners: f**k me, that’s nice. I need the grip at the rear of the car to be elastic, that it’ll stretch – and it’s got that. It’s nailed to the ground, but it stretches, whereas in the other cars I’ve driven of late, the rear grip is like cold toffee. It snaps. The only way to get a touring car working is to make the rear move, and move nicely. This is fantastic.”

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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.”

Jason Plato in Ford Mustang Boss at Goodwood Members Meeting

Plato and the BOSS 302 Ford Mustang, here in 2018, are a familiar sight at Goodwood


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.

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“Touring cars needs a little bit of this” – he nudges me – “but it doesn’t need…” – then pretends to shove me. “It’s subtle, and that turns me on. But there are a lot of twats.”

So one last time… Plato really doesn’t have anything to prove, surely. The trouble is, racing drivers always feel they do, even if they don’t admit it. “I don’t think about it too seriously, in terms an end goal for this year,” he says. “However, my simplistic way of thinking about it is the end goal is be competitive.

“And I am absolutely confident that if I get in a competitive car I’ll do the rest and I’ll win races. And if I get a competitive car, guess what? I’ll probably do 100 wins and be in with a shout for the championship.”

Never one to hold back, eh? The question is, if he pulls it off, would he still be ready to walk away for new challenges? The beginning of the end – taking him at his word it really is – kicks off at Donington on April 23/24.