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A day at the races

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: April 24, 2013

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I RECENTLY had the pleasure of spending a Sunday in the delightful grounds of Donington Park. Well, me and several hundred other people.

We'd all come out to watch rounds four, five and six of the British Touring Car Championship which is fast becoming one of the most exciting motorsport spectacles this side of Formula One.

It was something of a big day for two of the big names on the grid, former champions Matt Neal and Jason Plato, as Matt was contesting his 500th BTCC race and Jason his 400th start, so there was a palpable sense of excitement and celebration in the air all day.

Unlike Formula One, BTCC races are far more intimate affairs. There's much more of a chance to get closer to the cars and drivers. Aside an arranged pit walk, the paddock where all the support racers set up is easy to access and have a nosey round and, as long as you don't get in the way, drivers and mechanics will be only too happy to stop and chat.

BTCC isn't what it used to be back in the glory days of the 1990s, when manufacturers ploughed millions into it, but it's closer than it's been for years and, in my opinion, it's all the better for it.

As I've mentioned before, my wife drives an MGF so, naturally, we found ourselves supporting the two MG6s - one of which was piloted by the afore-mentioned Mr Plato who just happens to present 'that other car programme’, Fifth Gear.

He's a real character on and off screen and an absolute joy to behold on track. During one tussle with a Honda Civic he kept the crowd collectively holding their breaths as the pair whizzed past us all on Craner Curves, bumper-to-bumper.

While there are undisputable benefits to watching motorsport in all its forms on television (BTCC rounds are now screened live on ITV4), there's no sense of occasion that comes with pitching up on your picnic rug, dressing up in anything with an MG badge on, and being able to cheer and clap your favourite driver as he forces his rival into a mistake metres away from you.

Donington is one of the most picturesque circuits in the calendar and it's steeped in history. The names of the drivers that have fought and won (and lost) on the world-famous circuit is like a 'who's who' of motorsport.

Donington lost out, a few years ago, on its chance to host the Formula One and I've always felt it a shame as it's a fabulous circuit at which to witness any form of motorsport, right from the grass-roots stuff all the way up to superbikes and touring cars.

But then, saying that, it'll always have its history. It still has BTCC which is, arguably, every bit as exciting and much more accessible and, who knows, one day it might get its chance for the Grand Prix again.

Oh, and Jason Plato did fairly well. He got a podium in the second race, which enabled us to go and applaud him as he sprayed us with Champagne. The draw for the reverse grid in the final race didn't go his way so it wasn't his weekend overall but he was entertaining and did all the MG owners proud.

The season's still young though, there's plenty of chance for him to rack up the points. And there's plenty of races left to watch.

They're at Thruxton next month, which isn't a million miles away then they're at Oulton Park - which is even closer. Get out there and see it for real. You won't regret it.

To see the calendar in full, or see full results and driver standings, visit www.btcc.net and for information on Donington Park visit www.donington-park.co.uk

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