Plato on his mighty Vauxhall Astra BTCC winner: ‘Simply brilliant’

“For me, the secret to success is getting all the details right. We had a really strong team of people, but also a very good mentality of looking for the best performance with the best efficiency.

“I guess the secret was deciding how to best use the resources.”

Triple Eight’s head start on the competition immediately showed. Lining up at that first Brands race in the BTC class were the four works Vauxhalls and three works Peugeot 406s.

Muller would lead home Plato in an emphatic 1-2 for that first race, with those two often trading winners and runner-up placings, but with Thompson often a factor too.

Hardly a stellar field in terms of competitiveness, but that in fact made the season even more intense between Plato and Muller, seemingly knocking chunks out of each other at every round in one of the BTCC’s greatest ever title fights.

Despite the ferocity of the rivalry, no-one else got a look-in – Triple Eight carved up a devastating 25 out 26 races in that debut year, with Peugeot works effort obliterated and the later-entered MG ZS run by WSR managing a single win via a kind safety car.

James Thompson driving for the Vauxhall BTCC team in 2004

Clean sweep title quartet was completed in 2004


“I reckon we would have had it if that SC hadn’t come out,” laughs Berry of a clean-sweep denied. “I’m still bitter about that!”

Plato would prevail be the first to win the drivers’ title in the compact yet effective Astra before departing, with James Thompson’s titles in ’02 and ’04 sandwiching an ’03 crown for Muller.

“I mean, I don’t look back tremendously fondly on the season, because it was fraught with so many moods and quite dreadful politics!” says Plato.

“But I remember that car with an enormous affection. It was brilliant and I was lucky to be a works driver then.”

Able to keep himself at arm’s length from the inter-team politics, Berry is only effusive in remembering that period.

“They really were the days,” he says. “I’m still in touch with a lot of the guys in the team, and everyone still remembers 2001 right through to 2009 with the Vectra [Triple Eight / Vauxhall would win at least one title in all but one season up to 2010] as the golden era.”