PLATO PIPS TITLE RIVALS NEAL & SHEDDEN FOR CRUCIAL POLE POSITION AT BRANDS HATCH
Jason Plato's bid to win a second Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship crown received a major boost with pole position - his first of the season - in qualifying at Brands Hatch ahead of his two closest title rivals, Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden.
Despite the fact his Silverline Chevrolet Cruze is carrying the maximum success ballast of 45kgs, Plato set a new qualifying record of 48.647s to achieve pole position on the starting grid for the first of tomorrow's three title-deciding races.
It gives him a bonus point, meaning his championship lead over Neal going into tomorrow is now 18 points. And said Oxford's Plato: "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."
Honda Racing Team team-mates Neal and Shedden set times of 48.780s and 48.791s to take second and third places on the grid. Their Honda Civics are also carrying significant levels of ballast, 36kgs and 27kgs respectively.
But there was frustration for Tom Onslow-Cole who, fourth in the standings, can also still win the title. He could qualify no better than tenth in his Team Aon Ford Focus after set-up changes to its front-end failed to pay off.
Worcestershire's Neal commented: "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. 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."
Scottish ace Shedden added: "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."
New Malden's Onslow-Cole said: "I've bounced back from worse before and still think a top five, maybe even a podium is possible in race one. 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."
Meanwhile, Plato's young team-mate Alex MacDowall, Tom Chilton in his Team Aon Ford Focus and Airwaves BMW's Mat Jackson completed the top six. Qualifying a stunning eighth fastest on his BTCC debut was young Yorkshire star Sam Tordoff in his Triple Eight-run Vauxhall Vectra but there was disappointment for fellow newcomer Ben Collins who failed to a set a time because of problems with his Airwaves BMW.
Tomorrow's BTCC title-decider will receive extensive live television coverage on the ITV4 channel which will be broadcasting from Brands Hatch from 10.30am through to 6.00pm.