BTCC: the anguish behind the anger

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BTCC hero Jason Plato was asked today, by a fan of Chevrolet’s BTCC Facebook page, what his best and worst races were.

The ‘best’ was easy: winning the title last year at Brand’s Hatch. And the worst? Well, to be honest, he explained, there haven’t actually been that many.

“But today’s shaping up to be a bad one…”

That was after race 1 of the Donington 2011 BTCC round: an aggressive setup led to a puncture, as the team fought in vain to battle with the 1.5-sec-a-lap-faster turbo cars.

All eyes on race 2, then – and, by a quirk of Chevrolet’s PR man Craig being amazing, I watched it from the comfort of the Chevrolet BTCC garage. For one corner, too, it was a treat.

Flickswitch fortunes

And then, what you saw on TV: Jason gets hit, the car slews sideways, then falls into a sickening series of rolls.

Ugly and scary. Even uglier and scarier if you’re in the garage of the team that built the car. Standing behind the mum and dad of the guy in said car. The silence that descended was instant, the atmosphere immediately switching from excitement to stomach-churning anxiety.

Suddenly, I felt uncomfortable just being there: what the rest of the team was thinking doesn’t bear thinking about.

Quickly, the very worst of it was quelled: “He’s OK,” shouted the guy in radio comms with Jason. “He’s shouting and swearing: he’s OK, he’s OK…”.

Wife Sophie rushes in, terrified. “He’s OK – Sophie, he’s OK.” Could’ve cried for her: can’t imagine what she was feeling. Nobody wants to see that. Being a motor racing wife is, at times, insanely emotive.

Barrel roll

More anxious minutes of ethereal quiet followed as the replays were shown: the barrel roll from various angles, the initial incident from on-board and off, the aftermath of Jason storming away, as if to confirm his good health and bad, bad mood.

So, what DOES a team do when their car is out? Well, there’s not a lot they can do: they watch the rest of the race in glum turmoil. They know they’ve either got an early bath or a whole hill of work ahead of them: being racers, they relish the latter, but fear the former.

They’re seasoned pros, too. So, when Jason strides back to the pit garage, they know not to speak to him. We public, quickly educated, also know not to approach him. This would be a BAD time to ask for a photograph.

So they stand, and watch, and don’t speak, and each ticks over what they’ll have to do. Jason had already said the engineering brilliance of RML is what makes the team so great: moments like this, where each is planning each scenario and their required reaction for it, is proof of that.

To see it first hand brilliantly illustrated the power of motorsport, the intensity of it, the highs and lows it inflicts on all those who take part. It’s not for the faint-hearted, not for the overemotional. In motor racing, you need to think fast, not lose your head, be a consummate pro and always, always come back for more, no matter how heavy the lows are when they occur.

The power of motorsport

Losing your star driver and your prize car, on which you’ve toiled for days, barely two corners into the second race of the day, is sickening. But whereas normal people will kick the cat, cry, or shuffle off to the bar, proper motor racers use the anguish to their advantage. Lord knows, it’s hateful. So, if it’s there, they’ll certainly not magnify it, and instead try their best to turn it around.

Electric emotions were alive and well in the Chevrolet BTCC garage today. Witnessing them has definitively proven to me why motor racing is a way of life for so many.

Power to ‘em and all.

UPDATE

It is impossible, but true. TML have fixed the car: Jason Plato is out for Race 3! This should not be possible. It has been, though. RML, you’re amazing.

Not only that, but Jason also came in 6th place for the last result. His best result of the day. In a car that should not have been racing. Now, if ever there was something to celebrate, it’s that.

 

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