Donington Park circuit, 6 September 2003/-- James Thompson has landed pole position for tomorrows Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship race at Donington Park, giving his chance to take the driver's championship a strong boost. Team mate Yvan Muller suffered more setback this afternnon, after failingd to complete the session, relegating him to the back of the grid for the first race. Paul O'Neill finished in a creditable fifth position in the third Vauxhall Astra Coupe to continue a strong run of qualifying performances.
Thompson headed the time sheets in the first practice session of the day, with team mate O'Neill finishing in twelfth place. The second free practice session saw Thompson trying different race set-ups for his Vauxhall Astra Coupe and posting a time of 1 min 15.044 seconds, leaving him in third place. O'Neill ended the session in seventh position with a lap time of 1 min 15.474 seconds. Muller missed both free practice sessions as a result of an 11-day suspension incurred at Brands Hatch.
Qualifying began with O'Neill immediately putting in a quick lap and taking sixth position. Just 8 minutes into the session, disaster struck for Muller. After completing only two laps, his Vauxhall Astra Coupe ground to a hold, as he exited Coppice, just before the Dunlop Bridge. Electrical problems meant the current BTCC leader could not re-start the session and will begin tomorrow's race from the back of the grid. Once the session was re-started Thompson fought hard with Honda's Matt Neal for pole position, finally securing his sixth of the season, in the final stages. O'Neill will start from fifth position on the grid after a relatively incident free session.
"It's been very topsy-turvy for us in the last three race meetings, we've had plenty of ups and downs, things not going our way. But that's why the championship is never won until you've got the number one on your door. I had to push really hard to hang on to pole, and had a battle with Neal, but we came out on top. (On Yvan's qualifying problems) purely selfishly, I can't say I'm disappointed that Yvan is starting from the back of the grid. Last year I was 24 points ahead at this point and ended up being one point behind before the last race. I do feel for him but if I'm going to win the championship I need things like that to happen to him, it's good for me, but bad for the team. Yvan pushed me hard last year, and I'm not going to make it easy for him this year, as I'm still in with a chance."
"I'm happy with fifth, I've got lighter cars in front of me and behind me (as O'Neill carries success ballast). I also beat the heavy cars of Reid and Morrison. I got baulked by a couple of people on one of my runs, and think I could have been fourth, but all in all I've got a great car and good set-up, so I'm all set for tomorrow."
"I'm gutted! It was a small problem but it's made a big difference to me. I've had two laps of running so far which is nothing. But there is no point in thinking about it anymore, it cannot be undone. Now I must just concentrate on trying to get championship points. Tomorrow we'll see what happens."
"It's been a day of the highest of highs with James taking another pole, and lowest of lows with Yvan. It's the first time the car has let him down like this all season, but it couldn't have come at a worse time as he hadn't had any track time yesterday."