Colin Turkington took a sensational pole position after his last gasp flyer edged out Jason Plato's MG at Croft in North Yorkshire. Current Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship leader Matt Neal secured third for Honda Yuasa Racing ahead of his team-mate Gordon Shedden.
Neal also made contact with a tyre wall as he made his way through the chicane but not before he’d lowered the ultimate benchmark – setting a time just 0.001s shy of Tom Chilton’s 2010 lap record.
It was a lap record that would be broken before the session’s end, however, as first Plato dipped under the time with a 1:24.465s. Neal, Shedden and Turkington followed, making it a quartet of BTCC champions in the top four positions, but the order would change again after late drama.
The session was stopped with just under four minutes remaining when Joe Girling lost control of his S2000 Chevrolet Cruze while exiting the chicane. The car made heavy contact with the barrier, firing debris across the circuit, before coming to a rest at the side of the track.
A brief pause in proceedings to clear up the accident was followed by a final two-lap dash as the entire field tried to improve their times. A number of drivers managed it with the best being saved until last as Turkington hooked up a quite brilliant lap – even avoiding a spinning Airwaves Racing Ford Focus in the process – to cross the line 0.148s quicker than Plato.
Neal and Shedden held off a late challenge from Jordan, who scuppered his final chance of moving up from fifth after running into the gravel at turn one.
It proved to be a double late celebration in the eBay Motors garage as Rob Collard improved to sixth in the final moments, securing his best grid position of the season.
Dynojet's Frank Wrathall proved the best of the Toyota runners in seventh, whilst MG KX Momentum’s Sam Tordoff had to settle for eighth after a relatively low-key run for the Yorkshireman at his home circuit.
Tom Onslow-Cole was another to set his best lap on his last attempt, which pushed his VW Passat up to ninth, ahead of the Ciceley Racing Toyota of Adam Morgan.
Jake Hill (Ford Focus) led the Jack Sears competitors for much of the running in his first ever BTCC qualifying session, before class leader Lea Wood (Vauxhall Vectra) came through to take the honours shortly before the red flag.
Colin Turkington: "Croft has always been a good hunting ground for me and the rear wheel drive cars, so I knew that if we were going to go well it would be around here. The car has been competitive all day, and in qualifying I had a bit of drama before the red flag. I knew there was a time in the car if I could get a clean lap – it only happened once in that session but that’s all it takes!
My first lap on the final run I was caught in traffic, then on the pole lap one of the Fords lost it in front of me and I thought I’d have to back out of it. Thankfully he just veered off line so I got a clean lap – it wasn’t perfect but it was good enough. Looking at tomorrow, we’re still very much in the dark if it rains – I have driven the car in the wet but in the race we’ll just have to suck it and see."
Jason Plato: "It wasn’t a big surprise to see Colin up there – it has always been a really good circuit for rear wheel drive BMWs and as we’ve said many times before Colin is a class act. He’s going to be a tough man to beat tomorrow, and providing he doesn’t make mistakes – which he won’t because he’s one of the world’s best – then it’ll be difficult.
Our plan is to go for the people who are ahead of us in the championship at the moment. Our immediate focus and target therefore has to be Honda. If we can out-perform them this weekend and close the gap up then it’ll be job done going into the summer break."
Matt Neal: "I’m really pleased to get third place carrying maximum weight on the car. It’s handling really well – there might be a little bit more in it, but the session went really well. I’d used all my tyres up by the time the red flag came out so I didn’t have to worry about pushing too hard at the end.
Wet or dry the car is good – but if it does rain tomorrow then we know we'll still be at the sharp end. Starting near the front is especially critical around here in the wet – the aquaplaning up to Tower Bend is really bad, and if you’re any further down than about sixth it’s pretty hard to pick the puddles out."