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  1. ITV Report

Britain's most successful touring car driver Jason Plato on how he nearly killed F1 boss and spending the night in jail

Jason Plato isn't your typical 21st century athlete. Credit: penguin.co.uk
  • By ITV News Multimedia Producer Charlie Bayliss

"I drink and I smoke, and I shouldn't. My mantra has always been if you're going to get wet, you should go swimming."

Jason Plato isn't your typical 21st century athlete.

While most motor sport drivers now follow strict exercise regimes and watch what they eat, Britain's most successful touring car driver is a throwback to a bygone era.

The 51-year-old, who is still racing on the circuit, lives his life to the fullest. His off-the-track antics are almost as impressive as his wins on the tarmac.

Jason has won two British Touring Car Championships (BTCC) while clocking up more race wins (96) than anyone else and lived to tell some crazy stories from that time.

Including the day he "nearly ran over" future F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone.

"I was doing some stuff for Renault Williams in Brompton and I've looked down to change the radio for one second," he told ITV News.

"It was about 7.30am in 1997 and he's stepped out into the zebra crossing. Had I gone to change the dial again to another radio station, he would have been dead.

"I was just a matter of metres away. He looked at me with horror on his face. I've since spoken to him about it. He shrugged it off and laughed."

Jason has chronicled his life of success and misadventure in a new book How Not To Be A Racing Car Driver, including another questionable choice the bad-boy racer made while living in Monaco.

With the principality's F1 track being relaid, Jason saw an opportunity to help the builders by getting behind the wheel of a JCB.

Plato is the most successful British Touring Car Championship driver. Credit: penguin.co.uk

"I've always been a character who likes to have a bit of fun. No one in Monaco locks anything up because its such a safe space," he explained.

"I got on the digger, managed to start it up but they were onto me quickly. It was on private property so I thought I'd be alright.

"To be honest, I was trying to dig a hole. I've been behind vehicles all my life so thought 'why not give it a try?'

"The rozzers got me after only driving five metres."

So did he face the full weight of the law?

"I spent the night in the police station, but they were very nice," he laughed.

"They brought me over a coffee and croissant and told me I could leave once the breathalyser went down to zero.

"Eventually I left around lunchtime. Ironically, the police station was only around 50 yards from my apartment."

Jason has seen the evolution of motor sports during his long career, but believes it is his ability to adapt and market himself that has consistently pushed him to the forefront of British Touring Car races.

"I've never subscribed to the belief it's the taking part that counts. You have to be upset if you don't win. That's part of the driving force behind my success," he said.

"If you aren't from a wealthy background, you have to be able to sell yourself to sponsors and have that dogged determination. All these elements are needed to make it in the sport."

The recent death of F2 driver Anthoine Hubert at the Belgian Grand Prix earlier this month brought the sport's safety into sharp focus once again. Credit: AP

His career, which began in karting in the late 1980s before debuting in BTCC in 1997, has spanned vast improvements within motor racing.

But the recent death of F2 driver Anthoine Hubert at the Belgian Grand Prix earlier this month brought the sport's safety into sharp focus once again.

The Fifth Gear presenter said measures put in place by governing bodies have made motorsport safer than ever.

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"Phenomenal advancements have been made in the sport and it's taken incredibly seriously. The tragic accident involving Hubert shows that we must always be looking to improve."

Yet he said he and other thrill-seeking drivers not only accept but can thrive on the dangers they put themselves in.

"It will never be 100 per cent safe. Part of the attraction is that there is risk involved. When I race on circuits which are a bit edgy... they are the ones drivers enjoy, because of the challenge they present," he said.

"It's like sitting on the back of horses, even standing at the end of a wicket when someone is bowling 100 mph.

"We don't want it to become a nanny state. But when cars are going 170mph, 180 mph and something goes wrong, occasionally bad things happen."