Tom Chilton stunned the British Touring Car Championship paddock when he took a surprising fastest qualifying lap in his Team Aon Focus. A Ford has qualified on pole for the first time since the old super touring days back in 2000. It has been a remarkable transformation in recent race weekends for Team Arena, the people behind the car. At the beginning of the season they were filling the back two rows of the grid. Now after their superb podium finish at Rockingham they have taken pole.
An overjoyed Chilton said, "We've been improving this car bit by bit all season and eventually it all adds up to make a big difference. It's fantastic to put the Ford name -- the most successful in BTCC history -- back at the front. Whether we can hang on tomorrow I don't know. I think we can worry the Chevrolets and Vauxhalls but I expect the BMWs to really come on strong as the race progresses."
Alongside Chilton on the front row will be the first of the title challengers, Jason Plato although he feels pole was well within his reach and said, "My fault, I messed up with a gear change and that made the difference, but well done to Tom -- he's done a stellar job. As for the title, it just looks like it's going to be very exciting, particularly with Colin qualifying back there."
Third on the grid will be reigning double BTCC champion Fabrizio Giovanardi who will be hoping to make it three by tomorrow. Giovanardi's day didn't get off to the best of starts, in free practice two he parked his Vectra, at high speed, into the first corner paddock hills gravel trap. Despite losing valuable lap time Giovanardi still managed to qualify third and said afterwards, "I'm a little surprised to be third because I am still learning this circuit. It's a good result for the championship for the fans who want to see an exciting show, but I expect Colin to come up the order tomorrow."
Meanwhile our third title challenger and current points leader Colin Turkington will line up a disappointing 10th. Despite this Turkington is not too worried, "I'd have liked to have been higher but we've seen before the front-wheel-drive cars put in some really fast qualifying laps and then the rear-wheel-drive BMWs come back in race trim. That's obviously what I'm hoping for tomorrow and I know from the earlier practice sessions my car is very well balanced."
Behind Giovanardi and hoping to send Vauxhall out on a high in their last race since coming into the series back in 1989 will be teammates Matt Neal and Andrew Jordan. Neal topped free practice one but then suffered engine failure, which required changing before suffering yet more problems in the second free practice. Although he joined qualifying late, he still posted 4th fastest time and will be hoping to end in the points after scoring just a single point in the last two meetings.
There is less good news for Vauxhall as, due to the change of engine, they have been deducted 10 points in the teams championship, reducing their lead over Team RAC to 48 points with still over 80 points to play for.
In 6th will be the second Racing Silverline Chevrolet Lacetti of Mat Jackson, who pushed hard throughout the session, just ahead of the pair of Airways BMW's with Jonny Adam qualifying ahead of his team mate Rob Collard. Paul O'Neill, who will receive his award from the official BTCC website as most popular driver of the season this weekend, is lining up 9th alongside Turkington.
Struggling in his Team RAC BMW will be double Rockingham race winner Stephen Jelley, who will line up alongside the only Seat on the grid, Gordon Shedden. Returning to Brands since his horrific crash in the late 1980's, Johnny Herbert will line up 13th in his Team Dynamics Honda Civic and he will line up alongside his team mate Dave Pinkney.
Harry Vaulkhard may also be slightly disappointed with his qualifying and he will line up 15th ahead of third Team RAC driver Anthony Reid in 16th.
Next up are a trio of Honda's although different types. Starting 17th will be Matt Hamilton making his second BTCC appearance in his aging Civic. He will be pleased to be ahead of BTCC regulars Martyn Bell, who had to finish early due to splitting his bumper going through the gravel at paddock hill, and John George; both in different prepared Integras. Martin Johnson starts 20th on the grid.
While there is one Team Aon Focus on pole the other one is starting on the back of the grid. Despite starting qualifying well and showing great pace like Chilton, by being in the top six, Tom Onslow-Cole was disqualified after failing technical checks three times and as a result was thrown to the back of the grid with all times disallowed.
So that's how the grid will line up for tomorrow's race and after 27 races it is still no clearer where the title will go. Will Turkington move up the grid and secure his first BTCC championship? Will Giovanardi collect his hat-trick of titles and send Vauxhall off in the best possible way, or will Plato perform a miracle and somehow snatch his second BTCC championship?
Be sure to return to see who will be crowned Britain's most prestigious 4-wheeled champion in what has been one of the most exciting and unpredictable championships in recent times.