Jason Plato has taken pole position for round 24 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Rockingham, leading home his younger team mate Sam Tordoff to make it the third MG KX momentum 1-2 of 2013.
Last time out at Knockhill the MGs were not on the pace all weekend and, as a result of that and a double retirement at Snetterton (the meeting before this), has meant Plato is all but out of the championship battle starting the day 54 points off of top spot.
Unlike Knockhill, Rockingham was always going to suit the MG after dominating qualifying and race 1 last year, meant that once again Plato was heading into qualifying as hot favourite particularly due to the fact that he was also carrying just 9kg of ballast.
The former double champion had a troubled Free Practice 2 with issues with the car, however he was able to deliver when it mattered and heads into race 1 as clear favourite with the biggest challenge likely to be the bad weather that is due during the day.
After qualifying a relieved Plato said, “I knew if we did everything right we would be on pole but that’s the frustration sometimes this season as we have made too many mistakes this season. We hold our hands up when we make mistakes now we need to sharpen up because this is obviously a really tough championship. It’s an important pole position and great that both Sam and I are up there, but we have got a tough job to do tomorrow.”
With the MG’s odds on to be at the front it was of no surprise to see Plato’s team mate Tordoff making it yet another 1-2 for the Triple 8 Racing team. People forget that, due to how well the 24 years old is doing this year, this is his maiden season in the BTCC having all ready taken 1 victory in 2013.
The former Clio and Porsche race winner was hugely spectacular during qualifying nearly even rolling it at one stage after getting the car right up on two wheels heading through the chicane. Despite qualifying on the front row Tordoff felt like he missed out on pole and said, “It’s a good result and it’s great for the team. It was vital that we bounced back after Knockhill and a one-two is the perfect way to do it. Personally for me I felt that I should have had pole, but I just didn’t pull a lap that I was completely happy with. So there is a little bit of time in me but it’s difficult to complain when you’re on the front row. The championship is dead and buried for me so it’s all about going for wins, which is what I’ll be trying to do tomorrow. We don’t really know what to expect with the weather but we have given ourselves a great chance.”
After securing a double podium at Knockhill following his maiden BTCC pole, Rob Austin in his own prepared Wix Racing Audi A4 once again impressed by setting the third fastest time of the half an hour session. Austin had been swapping leading times at the top of the sheets with Tordoff before Plato set a new qualifying lap record, but will be a major threat to the MGs particularly with his rear wheel drive get away off of the start.
Austin’s team mate Will Bratt also made it into the top 10 for the first time during qualifying and following the session Austin, who had a role briefly starring and building cars for the new F1 movie Rush said, “Everything felt good through Free Practice- We were running with old tyres and the car still handled pretty well. We have always had a better car in the dry than in the wet so hopefully we are looking good for race 1 and can stay near the front to get a good position in race 2. The aim going into qualifying was to get top 5, so third on the grid is a great result for us. On the other side of the garage Will (Bratt) has gone well today too- We had an inkling he would go well, and if he can score some top 10’s tomorrow that be great.”
Lining up in 4th will be the first of our title challengers as Andrew Jordan leads a quartet of Honda’s in his Pirtek Racing Civic. The current Independent champion is once again leading that category and sits just 6 points off of triple BTCC champion Matt Neal in the Honda Yuasa Racing Civic, who will start 7th.
Jordan was more than happy with his qualifying position and to be top Honda and knows what his main focus is tomorrow by saying, “To be the fastest Honda with the ballast we have got on is a fantastic result. I got a bit bulked on my quickest lap, and while I don’t think we could have matched Jason’s time we could have been a tenth or two quicker. Even though I have been really consistent and scored every race this year, I have got to finish ahead of Matt now and given that he’s the most experienced driver out there, it’s going to be a tough challenge.”
Reigning BTCC champion Gordon Shedden will start 5th in the second works Honda Yuasa Racing while 6th will be the returning Jeff Smith in the second Pirtek Racing Honda, after he put in a great display after missing the Knockhill round due to business commitments. 8th will be the sole Toyota inside the top 10, that of Dave Newsham in his Speedworks Avensis. Newsham perhaps hasn’t had the season he has hoped for so far this season since he stepped up to NGTC machinery, but reminded people of what he is capable of leading Free Practice 2.
The final man in the hunt for the championship, Colin Turkington in the West Surrey Racing prepared BMW 125i M Sport, will start 9th for tomorrows first race. Once again Turkington was the quickest eBay Motors driver with teammates Rob Collard and Nick Foster lining up 11th and 14th respectively.
A lot of attention this weekend will also be given to Tom Onslow-Cole following his departure from Team Hard and switching to the third Airwaves Racing Ford Focus. Sadly Onslow-Cole could only manage a disappointing 18th, however it will be carrying less turbo boost than its other two Motorbase team mates Mat Jackson who qualified 12th and Aron Smith who ended up qualifying just ahead of Onslow-Cole in 17th, but will also suffer a 6 place grid penalty for having 3 strikes given out for driving standards following the Knockhill round.
During the session the red flag did come out with just under 10minutes left on the clock to retrieve Frank Wrathall in his Dynojet Toyota Avensis after he had a spin in the gravel as he continued his disappointing season to end the session down in 19th place, with the times so close at the front with the top 14 all covered by less than 0.800 of a second.
Lea Wood was once again quickest of the Jack Sears Trophy competitors in his Wheel Heaven/Houseman Racing Vauxhall Vectra, as he heads a much depleted S2000 grid of just 3 cars for Rockingham as he edges closer to being the maiden recipient of the trophy.