Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent: Reigning champion Matt Neal leads home a Honda 1,2,3 qualifying at Croft Circuit.
Reigning champion Matt Neal lead home a Honda 1,2,3 at Croft Circuit and will start round 13 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship from pole position for his Honda Yuasa Racing team.
Neal heads into the weekend 5 points off of the top of the standings and was the sole driver to break the 1.25min barrier to claim his first pole of the season. Neal was delighted to be leading the field during qualifying and said, “I’m delighted. We played about a lot with tyres in the two practice sessions while working on general set-up and this is the result. But we’ve also seen in the practice sessions that this circuit is very hard on tyres and that will play a factor tomorrow”
Alongside Neal on the front row of the grid will be the Pirtek Racing Honda of Andrew Jordan. Despite numerous podiums this year including a double podium last time out at Oulton Park Jordan has yet to taste victory in 2012 although he will be hoping to tomorrow around the circuit that gave him his maiden win in the series back in 2010.
After qualifying Jordan declared himself happy with his front row start although he thinks it could have been more had it not been for a couple of factors and said, “I put in a very good first lap but that was the ‘banker’ lap done. The next time I went out on track I was going for Matt’s pole but needed to duck around a few slower cars and right at the end there were waved yellow caution flags for the MG at the side of track. I’m still happy, though.”
Third on the grid in the second Honda Yuasa Racing will be championship leader Gordon Shedden. Due to being Championship leader Shedden qualified with maximum ballast and as a result was satisfied with third and said, “My car’s carrying maximum success ballast, of course, and even though it’s only nine kilos more than Matt’s it does hurt a lot around this particular circuit. I could probably have got a bit more out of the car on my final run but third is OK.”
In a very pleasing fourth will be the first Toyota Avensis belonging to Frank Wrathall from Dynojet. After some radical changes to the car before qualifying Wrathall was more than happy with his second row start and said, "I knew behind the wheel that it was a good lap and to secure fourth on the grid is absolutely brilliant. We came here having made some pretty big changes to the car and had to work on the balance through practice. We took massive steps forwards through the day and my aim was to be in the top ten. I didn't expect to be as high as fourth so I'm delighted with the result."
In fifth will be a disappointed Jason Plato. This was the first event this year since the opening meeting of the year where Plato hasn’t had maximum balance during qualifying. Despite setting the quickest time of the day as he led Free Practice 2 sadly for the MG KX Momentum driver an electrical fault grounded the MG to a halt and 5th was where the former double champion ended up.
In sixth will be the first eBay Motors BMW of Rob Collard who will be hoping for one of his ultra fast starts which have so far been a feature of the season. Alongside Collard is a happy Rob Austin in the for the first time this season the first of two Rob Austin Racing Audi A4 as he returns to the series after missing Oulton Park and will be hoping his early season bad luck is behind him.
The first Redstone Racing Ford Focus of Mat Jackson will start eighth ahead of the second MG KX Momentum MG6 of Andy Neate who makes the top 10 for the first time this season despite describing his car as “unpredictable”
The second eBay Motors BMW of Tom Onslow-Cole will start 10th while just missing out on the top 10 in 11th will be the first of the Speedworks Toyota Avensis of Adam Morgan. Things had looked great for Morgan in the earlier Free Practice session with a double 7th but sadly for the 2011 Ginetta champion he couldn’t repeat his performance during qualifying.
Morgan will be partnered for the first time this season by Paul O’Neill who is standing in for a one off meeting in place of regular driver Tony Hughes. O’Neill had a nightmare start to the day with engine issues restricting the two time race winner to just a number of laps during the mornings Free Practice sessions and 18th was the best the fans favourite could manage.
Oulton Park stars Dan Welch in his Welch Motorsport Proton and Lea Wood in his Binz Racing Vauxhall Vectra could only manage 14th and 17th respectively, while Will Bratt who will race in the second Rob Austin Racing for his second BTCC meeting after an encouraging debut meeting at Oulton could only manage 21st.
Another disappointed team will be ES Racing with their pair of Vauxhall Vectras. After a great start of the season and opening Free Practice session of the day for Dave Newsham where he finished 4th the former Clio champion could only manage 15th while team mate/boss Chris James will be the final car on the grid in 23rd for the first of tomorrows three races.