Pat Cranham, BTCC correspondent
ES Racing driver Dave Newsham has continued his fantastic form from pre-season testing to take a shock pole for the opening round of the 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch.
The 2010 Clio champion entered the series for the first time with Geoff Steel Racing although departed the team after a couple of meeting after struggling to get to grip with his BMW. Newsham then moved to Special Tuning Racing and had some encouraging results towards the end of last year.
For 2012 he has moved to ES Racing with the team acquiring both ex Triple 8 Racing Vauxhall Vectra’s from last season. Newsham benefited from a successful test already completed at Brands Hatch on the 15th March and also shocked the BTCC paddock by topping the official test session at Media day held at Silverstone. Despite this few thought that he would be able to repeat the feat and despite having to sit out the last few minutes of the session after running wide at the first corner Paddock Hill bend and damaging his front bumper Newsham was able to hold onto Pole.
Besides I’m here to win.
After qualifying an elated Newsham said, “I’ve very surprised because we had some problems in the earlier practice sessions but over the moon at the same time. Our race pace seems good as well and I’m certainly not fazed at all by starting from pole position tomorrow – I’ve had plenty of experience of that in other formulae. Besides I’m here to win.”
In second position was defending champion Matt Neal who competes for the first time in his Next Generation Honda Yuasa Racing Civic. The team have often struggled during pre-season with the new car however Neal was delighted to be on the front row of the grid and was quick to praise Newsham by saying, “If you’d told me I’d have been second with a new car in its early stages of development I’d have bitten your hand off so I’m pleased with that. Hats off to Dave and ES Racing – they’re still new to the championship and have done a very impressive job. What we need tomorrow are three solid results.”
It was a great day for eBay Motors (West Surrey Racing) who had all 3 of their newly turbo powered BMW’s in the top 10. Rob Collard had topped the first Free Practice session and he was once again quickest of the BMW’s to finish 3rd. Tom Onslow-Cole who returns to his first team in the BTCC from when he joined the series in 2007 was 5th with the third car of Nick Foster also putting in a great performance to come 10th.
In forth was Andrew Jordan in his Pirtek Racing NGTC Honda Civic. After the session however Jordan who had set fastest time in the combined Free Practice sessions was furious. This was after he stumbled across Newham’s team mate/boss Chris James returning to the pits ruining his lap which was looking quicker.
In 6th after putting in a hugely encouraging debut performance was former double BTCC champion Jason Plato in his brand new NGTC MG. The car had only been given a very brief shakedown at car development centre Mira prior to first Practice. After a slow start finishing 19th Plato quickly got to speed with the new car ending Free Practice 2 in a superb 4th. After qualifying Plato was left feeling hugely encouraged by his qualifying although admitted there was still plenty of work to be done and said, "I'm really pleased with the qualifying result, it was the first time we have run the car in anger as we've done little testing. The car doesn't feel very good, I'm not happy with the way it's working. I’m not confident with it and to be honest I'm a little scared of it in certain places. I'm really encouraged by the result, especially as the boys have worked really hard. I can't even begin to explain how hard they have worked on it. They were here till 5:30am this morning, even Ian Harrison slept in the truck. No-one is sleeping at the moment so to get sixth is pretty good to be honest and also it makes me feel there is so much more time in the car. We have either done a really good job, which I think an element of that is true, but we are still a mile away from getting it sorted, or the other teams haven’t done a very good job. I'm really pleased. I'll imagine the rest of the paddock are bit surprised by my time."
Meanwhile the other MG which only ran for the first time wasn’t on the same speed as with Plato’s fellow MG KX Momentum racing team mate Andy Neate only ending up 19th.
The fourth row of the grid will be made up two drivers with NGTC experience from last year in Rob Austin and Frank Wrathall. Austin in the sole Audi for this weekend had started the day brilliantly ending Free Practice 1 in 2nd and he will start ahead of Wrathall in his Dynojet prepared Toyota Avensis even though he had completed no pre-season testing with the car only being completed in the early hours of Thursday morning.
In 9th will be the second Honda Yuasa Racing Civic of Gordon Shedden. The runner up from last year had a hugely frustrating day suffering all day from electrical problem which caused problem in Free Practice 1 and forced him to complete just 2 slow laps in the second session. After sitting out the first half of qualifying Shedden can at least be pleased to have got out in qualifying and make the top 10.
Just missing out on the top 10 was many people’s choice for the championship Mat Jackson for Redstone Racing. After qualifying Jackson was honest and admitted there was no issue with the car he just “didn’t get a clear lap”
Jeff Smith was 12th fastest in the second Pirtek Racing Civic although he had a wild qualifying first spinning to the right at Paddock Hill bend before going through the gravel on the other side of the same corner.
Qualifying is also incredibly tight around the 1.2mile Indy Circuit and today was no exception with the top 15 all separated by less than a second. The first driver outside the one second barrier was Ollie Jackson in his AmD Tuning.com VW Golf. Jackson was another one to have a very wild day running through the gravel on numerous occasions at the first corner which included bringing the First Practice to an early finish when he got stuck in the gravel at that corner.
His problems were nothing however compared to John Thorne in his own prepared NGTC Vauxhall Insignia. This was after he had a major shunt during Free Practice 1 after a brake bias problem sent him spinning into the barriers at high speed at Paddock bend. Thorne was ok but the car was very heavily damaged and is a real doubt for tomorrow with the team struggling to find a new radiator for tomorrow’s races.
So that completes the grid for round 1 with Newsham causing a real upset. So will Newsham be able to continue to shock in his old S2000 spec car or will one of the New Next Generation Cars take its first win. To find out be sure to return to Motorsport.com for all reviews and images following the event in what promises to be a hugely exciting and action packed start to the season.