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BTCC: Super 8 – Jason Plato

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Jason Plato sits eighth in the standings
(Photo from: www.btcc.net)

 

In this eight part series I will be looking at each of the eight drivers who have a mathematical chance of winning the 2016 British Touring Car Championship. Firstly, eighth places Jason Plato.

Would a British Touring Car Championship be right without Jason Plato in with a chance of winning the series? He has come second five times and won it twice in 2001 and 2010 and this year he has another, albeit slim, chance of being crown champion for a third time.

Jason Plato at Knockhill (Photo from: www.btcc.net)

Jason Plato at Knockhill (Photo from: www.btcc.net)

With all four Team BMR Subaru cars running late, meaning that they missed the media day at Donington Park at the start of March, there was always a possibility that the team would encounter a slow start. Despite the optimism surrounding the team, Plato, along with his trio of teammates struggled with pace and reliability in the early rounds with Plato’s added handicap of having to get used to read wheel drive, the first time he’d raced the configuration in the BTCC.

This slow start meant that for the first six races, Plato only achieved a single point’s finish, a 13th in the second race at Brands Hatch. Following a fiery end for Plato’s teammate James Cole at Donington the team made the decision to withdraw from the next three rounds at Thruxton on safety grounds.

However a strong return at Oulton Park showed the series what Plato was capable of. Three third places and a fastest lap in the first race of the weekend around a notoriously difficult place to overtake was a very strong effort and proved that he was acclimatising to rear wheel drive. Oulton Park was also the first time in 2016 that the Subaru Levorg looked like a car with championship winning potential, a testament to the Team BMR squad following a tricky opening three rounds.

Croft was another successful weekend for Plato, achieving two second place finishes and a tenth. In both the first and second races of the day he found himself battling for the lead, however in the second race, he went for an overtake on teammate Turkington which ended in contact, gifting the race to third placed Rob Collard. It was a move neither could be blamed for however it showed Plato’s confidence was growing.

Three more strong points finishes at Snetterton were followed by Plato’s best weekend of the year to date at Knockhill. He achieved his first victory of the year in race 1 from pole and followed it up with two third places, results which propelled him to seventh in the standings.

Rockingham race 1 gave Plato his fourth consecutive podium, making up a place from fourth on the grid however since then he has only achieved one top 5 finish, the second race of the day at Silverstone. However despite this he has constantly been in the points.

Plato’s championship challenge has been founded on the second half of the season following the slow start Team BMR encountered. Despite forever being optimistic at the start and talking about how it was a long project, he and the rest of the team will be cursing those early season issues and would be hoping the season started at Oulton Park. Although Plato is still in the title hunt, a huge amount of permeations will have to occur to ensure that he is crown 2016 British Touring Car Champion.

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Grading 2018′s New Driver/ Team Pairings – Alex Bowman/ Hendrick Motorsports

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Undeniably the apple of an entire nation’s eye for over two decades, Dale Earnhardt Jr poignantly announced in the spring of 2017 he would step away from driving in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the end of the 2017 season.

 

Once the initial shock value wore off, reality set in. Who could possibly fill the shoes of the sport’s most popular driver? Dale Jr’s lasting impression on legions of fans young and old is unparalleled. Ultimately the conundrum of the century would centre around who might fill the gargantuan shoes little E would leave behind.

Dale Jr’s departure from Hendrick Motorsports left one the sport’s most coveted rides up for grabs. Immediately the rumour mill was set ablaze with potential candidates loyal Dale Jr supporters fancied.  Following three months of intense speculation, Rick Hendrick would reveal Dale Jr’s replacement in late July 2017.

 

Next man up for the #88 team a tall lanky fella from Tucson Arizona.  Chances are y’all probably remember him as the kid that subbed for Dale Jr while he recovered from concussion-like symptoms that kept him from the seat of the Nationwide Chevrolet in the fall of 2016.

 

Certainly no stranger to the Monster Energy Cup Series (Made 81 Career starts from 2014-2016), Alex Bowman makes his triumphed return as a full time driver on the circuit for the first time in nearly two years. Driving the #88 car for Hendrick Motorsports axiomatically elevates Bowman from enchanting underdog to proverbial impact player. No longer a low man on the totem pole expeditious results at HMS would give credence to an emerging young star hoping for a rebirth following past failures with BK Racing & Tommy Baldwin Racing.

 

Thrust into a precarious position at the age of 21, Alex Bowman exhibited incredible poise in the face of adversity. Visibly Alex was not equipped for the competitive environment that cup racing bestowed upon him back in 2014. One quality season (2013 – 2 top 5’s, 6 top 10’s 2 poles, 11th in the driver standings) in the Xfinity Series cannot enumerate impending success on the other side.

Instead of licking his wounds Bowman bided his time wisely eventually earning the opportunity to sub for Dale Jr in the fall of 2016.  What could have easily morphed into catastrophic gaffe #3 for Bowman positively altered his career saving him from infinite anonymity.

 

In the 10 races (2016) Alex piloted the #88 car he made quite an accounting for himself (3 top 10’s, 1 pole) earning the respect and confidence of both Mr. Hendrick and Dale Jr.

 

The simple formula for success in 2018 relies squarely on the shoulders of Alexander Bowman.

Bowman’s familiarity with crew chief Greg Ives and the entire #88 team perpetuates some of the chemistry established back in 2016.  A contingent of smart fans out there including myself firmly believe Alex Bowman was on his way to capturing the checked flag at his home track(Phoenix) in November of 2016. On this day Bowman dazzled, starting the race from the pole ultimately leading 194 laps on his way to a career best 6th place finish.

 

Even though the former self-proclaimed bad luck Bowman left the desert without the checked flag, indisputably he walked away a winner.  Bowman’s courageous showing converted the cynics into believers. Without this fine performance in the bag Bowman could have found himself easily lost in the shuffle never to be heard from again.

Perseverance spearheaded the rise of Bowman mania. The whimsical wave of momentum Bowman’s been on since that race at Phoenix spilled over into 2017. Bowman turned heads in February finishing third in the Clash at Daytona, once again piloting the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet. He would also capture his first career Xfinity Series victory at Charlotte in the fall of 2017 driving for Chip Ganassi.

 

Perceptibly this young buck is completely equipped for the fate that awaits him once the green flag drops on the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series at Daytona in February.

Rick Hendrick has all the confidence in the world in Bowman’s capabilities. Mr. H could have taken the high road and hired an established veteran driver, instead trusting Bowman’s youthful exuberance lets the entire racing world know he’s committed for the long haul.

Alex Bowman has the credentials to resuscitate Rick Hendrick’s anaemic #88 team from the ashes. Fresh blood can unite an entire nation of fans that are starving for a breath of fresh air.

 

Don’t Be Dale Jr, Be Alex Bowman. That’s paramount.

 

Alex Bowman has an entire nation on his side. So watcha  gonna do when Bowmanmania runs wild on you?

 

Final grade – B

 

Photo courtesy of Autoweek

 

 

 

 

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Recap of the Go Bowling 400

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For the second time in as many races at Kansas Speedway, Martin Truex Jr flexed his muscle and totally outclassed his comrades leading 104 laps of the scheduled 267 run on Saturday night.

Positive karma was certainly on the side of NASCAR’s resident Jersey boy on Saturday night as he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the closing laps of the race. After letting one slip away at Kansas last season there’s no way Truex Jr would be denied on this night.  Once Martin finally cleared Ryan Blaney who arguably had the fastest car of the evening on lap 249 there was no going back.   The race was in the bag despite a few late restarts that Turex Jr ultimately controlled down the final stretch.

Saturday night’s victory was the seventh since 2015 for the powerhouse combination of Martin Truex Jr and Furniture Row Racing. Who are clearly primed for another deep playoff run once the chase starts in the fall of 2017.

 

While the Furniture Row Racing team celebrated in the winner’s circle the entire NASCAR community was overcome with deep despondency.  Overshadowing Furniture Row’s jubilation was one of the most vicious wrecks in recent memory. On lap 201 Joey Logano’s car got loose and sent Danica Patrick hard into the  wall in turn 1, in the process collection an oncoming Aric Almirola.  The Richard Petty Motorsports driver would take the hardest lick of the three drivers involved in the wreckage.

After several tense moments Almirola with the assistance of the Kansas Speedway safety crew would be cut from his car, and air lifted to a local medical facility.   Richard Petty Motorsports released a statement early Sunday morning that Aric Almirola suffered a compression fracture of his T5 vertebra. He returned home to North Carolina Sunday and his driving status at this time has yet to be determined.

As for Danica Patrick, Saturday night’s carnage was the cherry on top of a melted sundae that is the queen of speeds hellacious 2017 campaign.

Heading into next weekend’s Coca Cola 600, Danica Patrick sits 33rd in the driver standings, making this the worst start to her five year Monster Energy cup career.

Danica’s slow start has many speculating 2017 could indeed be the final year we see the popular driver turns laps on Sunday afternoons.

One of these weekends Ryan Blaney is going to put it all together and capture his first career Monster Energy Cup series victory.  If it weren’t for bad luck Ryan Blaney would have no luck at all in 2017.  With that being said the second generation driver put some of the bad karma behind him at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night. Ryan Blaney looked untouchable for a better part of Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400 before Martin Turex Jr passed him and put of bow on the race.

Moral victories don’t count however bringing home a 4th place finish after several weeks of unfortunate misfires is a step in the right direction for the Wood Bros and young Ryan Blaney.

Momentum breathes confidence.

Despite the fact Blaney should have scored 3 victories by my account this season, putting these failures in the back of the ol memory bank makes this guy one of the most intriguing drivers to keep an eye on as the summer months roll on.

 

Although Ricky Stenhouse Jr failed in his bid to go back to back fresh of the heels of his first career cup win, he and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Trevor Bayne continue their meteoric rise to the top of the heap in the Monster Energy cup series.

The Roush Fenway Racing drivers finished 10th & 11th respectively in Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400.  If the chase stared today both drivers would be firmly in the thick of the title picture.

While Stenhouse Jr is working on a career year ( 1 win, 3 top 5’s, 5 top 10’s, 1 pole) though the first 11 races, his teammate Trevor Bayne continues his vast improvement finishing inside the top 20 in 8 of the 11 races run this season.

 

Daniel Suarez is one incredible driver. Is he not?

The 2016 Xfinity series champion continues his march towards the winners circle just 11 races into his cup series career.

Suarez tied his career best finish of 7th on Saturday night.

In a time when Joe Gibbs Racing looks completely out of sync, Daniel Suarez represents a beacon of hope for an organization in desperate need of a pick me up.

Despite being unexpectedly trust into the role as driver of the #19 Toyota weeks before the Daytona 500 and working with two different crew chiefs this season Suarez has completely shattered all expectations while looking like a seasoned pro instead of a green horn.

 

 

 

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F1: Russia Preview

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2017 is what we have been wanting for years
(Photo from: www.bleacherreport.net)

Three rounds down, and 2017 is already shaping up to be a classic season in the making with little to choose between two of the best drivers in the world, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Between them they have won seven of the last eight world championships, dating back to 2010 when Vettel won his first of four.

Now with Ferrari he is hoping to end Mercedes’ dominance of the hybrid era by taking his fifth crown and become only the third driver to achieve this feat. He will face tough competition throughout though from Hamilton who will be hoping to add to his three titles and become the only British drivers to win four World Championships.

After three fly away races, Formula 1 returns to Europe this weekend for the Russian Grand Prix. First held in 2014 around the Winter Olympic park in Sochi, the circuit has become popular amongst fans, who cheer on local hero Daniil Kvyat. Although the circuit has been praised by drivers, it has often played host to rather monotonous races, due to the low degradation surface, which ensures drivers are able to often complete the race with only one pitstop.

However, the race has already to some championship defining moments such as in 2015 when Nico Rosberg’s throttle developed problems and forced him to retire, effectively ending his championship aspirations.

Leading up to this weekend there have been many stories breaking regarding the drivers and the sport’s governing body, the FIA.

The latest piece of news which has broken this morning (Thursday) is that the FIA will begin to enforce old rules regarding the size of a car’s number and driver name, ensuring that fans will be able to see who is who out on circuit, effective from Barcelona. In a letter composed by race director Charlie Whiting will state that “We feel that to be clearly visible the numbers should be no less than 230mm high, have a minimum stroke thickness of 40mm and be of a clearly contrasting colour to their background.”

Whiting also confirmed that if these requirements are not met then the car in question could be deemed ineligible
to race.

The FIA also announced this week that changes in dimensions will ensure that T-wings and shark fins are banned for 2018. These design features have appeared and reappeared this season following a loophole in the regulations after the area opened up for development around the car after changes were made elsewhere in the regulations.

From 2018 onwards the rules now state that bodywork above the engine cover is now banned.

The next piece of news is regarding the Sochi circuit as speed bumps have been added to the exit of turn 2 in an attempt to stop drivers from gaining an advantage if they run wide and miss the turn 1 apex. In previous seasons, we have seen multiple incidents where drivers have missed the first bend or been forced of the circuit and returned to the circuit with a much larger gap than they had previously.

If the changes have the desired affect then we could see an interesting race this weekend. What happens though, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are destined to be close.

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