It's advantage Jason Plato after the Silverline Chevrolet driver took his first pole position of the year and it came at Brands Hatch for round 28 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. Despite carrying full ballast Plato topped every session during the day to give his championship aspirations the best possible start to the weekend although both Hondas will be close on his tail in second and third.
Plato now heads into the first of the season finale races with an 18 point lead after the single point for pole position and is looking for his second championship after the one he won back at the same circuit driving for Vauxhall in 2001. A delighted Plato said after qualifying, "My first pole of the season - I couldn't have timed it better! It's been a fantastic qualifying - not just the session but the way everyone has prepared for it and gone about today. We were fastest in both practice sessions this morning and again now. To do that with maximum ballast in the car is very pleasing."
Matt Neal, currently second in the championship, will start 2nd for the first of the three races and is sure not to let Plato have it his own way. Neal and Plato are long fierce rivals and they have already had their first fight of the weekend during qualifying when Plato had to put two wheels in the gravel at the first corner, Paddock Hill bend, after Neal joined the track from the pit lane in front of him.
Neal, who did not have the best of Practice sessions was clearly elated by his front row start and also hopes that he and his team mate will be able to make Plato's life as difficult as possible. "I had a difficult couple of practice sessions and never thought I'd get it onto the front row in qualifying so I'm over the moon with that," said Neal. "As for tomorrow, Gordon is always fast out of the blocks, Jason's going to have his mirrors full of Honda and I'm not here to make friends."
Neal's team mate Gordon Shedden is still very much in the championship hunt - only 21 points behind Plato - will start third. Despite coming 3rd fastest in qualifying, Shedden was not content with 3rd as he stated: "I'm slightly disappointed with that. There were a few incidents out on track, which got in my way and I never got a really clean lap together. All I can is give it a go and see how it all stacks up."
Honda Racing will also try to wrap up the manufacturers' and teams' championships along with the drivers' title. Plato's Chevrolet team mate Alex MacDowall will start 4th and he will clearly hope that MacDowall can mix it with the two Hondas.
Meanwhile the final title challenger Tom Onslow-Cole didn't have the best of sessions and will start back in 10th. Despite this Onslow-Cole remains up beat. "I've bounced back from worse before and still think a top five, maybe even a podium is possible in race one," he said. "Ideally, though, I need Jason and the two Hondas to have a moment and, with them all together at the front, tenth place could even be a blessing in disguise."
There was better news though for the second Ford Focus belonging to Tom Chilton who will start 5th alongside the leading BMW of Mat Jackson, who is the first of a total of seven BMWs on the grid. Jackson is in one of the Airwaves BMW.
Triple 8 were nearly up where they are used to being seen with James Nash back on form, starting alongside BTCC debutant Sam Tordoff in 7th and 8th. Clio racer Tordoff who finished third in this years Clio Cup was without doubt star of qualifying putting in a fantastic display running as high as 5th briefly.
Ninth on the grid and alongside Onslow-Cole will be the Honda Integra of Paul O'Neil with Andrew Jordan, who might be slightly disappointed missing out on the top 10 starting 11th in his Pirtek Vectra. Tom Boardman will start next up in 12th although he had been running well up in the top 10 during the first session of the day in his Special Tuning UK Seat.
Next up is a trio of BMWs with the WSR BMW of Rob Collard starting alongside the Airwaves BMW of Steven Kane in 13th and 14th although both must surely be frustrated not to be inside the top 10. Fifteenth in the trio of BMW's will be the second WSR BMW belonging to Andy Neate. Neate had an eventful day crashing late on in the first Free Practice session at Clearways making contact with the barriers causing damage to the back of the BMW, while in qualifying he also ended up in the gravel crashing at Paddock Hill bend.
Amazingly all the drivers inside the top 10 were separated by less than a second with Arthur Forster being the first driver just outside that mark in 16th in the first of the Forster Motorsport BMW's. Lea Wood will start 17th although his session came to an end early after going off at Clearways causing a red flag. There would also be another red flag later on in the session as John George span and stalled at the same corner with MacDowall also spinning at the same time. Although the red flag would come out both drivers would get back to the pits on their own as it was coming out.
Martin Depper will be next up in 18th in the second Forster BMW and he will start ahead of Martin Johnson, George and Shaun Hollamby all still less than 1.5seconds behind Plato's time.
A few drivers had a less than enjoyable time and suffered from mechanical issues. The first of which is Ben Collins making his debut in the series for Airwaves BMW. The man who was recently unveiled as the Stig in BBC hit show Top Gear as he suffered a tough entry to the BTCC just completing a handful of laps all day. James Kaye who makes his second appearance of the season was unable to take to the track during qualifying in his WRC developments Honda Integra but should start the race tomorrow. Less fortunate was Dave Pinkney. Pinkney lost yet another engine in his NGTC powered Vauxhall Vectra and sadly for him he has run out of engines and will not be seen again this season.
Seen for the first time today was the first complete NGTC car in which James Thompson took part in the first two practice sessions. Despite only having a brief shakedown Thompson ran the Toyota Avensis without issues and even finished in the second session 18th place less than a second behind the fastest time.
So that's how the grid will line up for the final meeting of the year. Plato goes into the event as clear favourite especially having taken pole but as any Touring Car fan will know the only thing predictable is the unpredictability. So be sure to return to Motorsport.com to find out who will be crowned BTCC champion 2010.