So who deserves it most? The gloves will come off in the fight for the 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch this weekend and, realistically, two men will go head-to-head for the ultimate prize.
Factory Honda Civic Type R driver Gordon Shedden and Team BMR VW CC man Jason Plato are in the boxed seats, while their respective team-mates Matt Neal and Colin Turkington are lagging slightly behind.
The bare statistics tell you that Plato has taken more wins: five compared with Shedden’s four. But going beyond that, the Honda man’s collection of silverware is greater than Plato’s. Shedden has picked up seven other rostrum finishes, whereas Plato has four.
Both came to the season facing tough challenges. Shedden was at the controls of a freshly built Type R, which was only finally bolted together in the weeks leading up to the opener at Brands Hatch. But the Team Dynamics squad knows what it is doing and the hatchback was a winner in only its second race.
The expertise and engineering depth of the squad was evident and the key strength of the Honda has been its ability to set quick lap times when it is carrying the mandatory success ballast. Shedden’s qualifying performance has been staggering when compared with his team-mate, and his flair for clean overtaking moves throughout 2015 have left him at the top of the championship pile.
Plato’s task was somewhat different. He switched from the factory MG team to join the BTCC’s equivalent of a super group. Team BMR assembled the best engineering brains in the pit lane and brought in the reigning champion Colin Turkington. Plato was working alongside his 2014 engineer Carl Faux and their job was to turn the VW CC into a winner.
They managed that and Plato should have taken his first win at Brands Hatch in April but for a puncture (which ironically handed the victory to Shedden). The wins did come, then came in a glut.
From the end of April until the end of June, Plato scooped four victories on circuits that really suited the slippery shape of the VW. There have been various struggles since – including a truly dreadful weekend at Knockhill in August and another shocker with engine problems at Silverstone – that have taken him from the top of the points to second place, some 23 points behind Shedden.
Brands Hatch’s Grand Prix track plays to the strengths of both cars, so there will be no circuit advantage this weekend. It will be about the drivers, pure and simple. Plato has been around the block – he has been runner-up in the championship five times – and he certainly knows how to be sly in his title attack. The 2012 champion Shedden is a classy racer whose key asset is his blistering pace. If he can start near the front, he will stay there.
It is easy to argue that both deserve the title, but there will only be one happy man come the final race at Brands Hatch this weekend. It is difficult to split them, but the smart money must be going with Shedden.