Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
Plato leads 26 car strong grid at newly redeveloped Snetterton Circuit
Silverline Chevrolet’s Jason Plato took the accolade of being the first driver to take pole position for tomorrow’s first race of 3 in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at the newly redeveloped Snetterton Circuit, where he will lead a massive 26 car grid away – the biggest for 4 seasons.
Plato left it to the dying minutes of the session before posting a time just a mere 0.025s quicker than Gordon Shedden around the 2.99 mile Norfolk circuit.
Plato admitted after that he gave it everything and said, "That was the limit, absolutely the limit. But pole for us is everything as starting in front of the turbo cars is the only real chance I have of taking it to them in a race. It is going to be a massive fight between us and them tomorrow."
It could however quite easily have been another Chevrolet on pole instead though had it not been for a small pit lane fire for team mate Alex MacDowall putting an early end to his session after just 4 laps after he had earlier topped Free Practice 2.
Series leader Matt Neal with full ballast starts in 4th although he could have gone higher had it not been for a spin on quickest lap of the session at the final corner Russell. Leading Independent driver James Nash was in 5th for Triple 8 racing with Tom Chilton top Ford man in 6th completing row 3.
Star of qualifying undoubtedly was Frank Wrathall in his NGTC Dynojet prepared Toyota Avensis who put in a great display to qualify 7th. Wrathall admitted before the event that much work had gone in over the summer to prepare the car and said after his superb performance, “From the morning practice sessions I knew the car was good and then I just nailed it in qualifying – when I saw 59-zero come up the on the dash I was absolutely delighted. It’s absolutely mega for everyone in the team as we’re still new to the BTCC. We’ve made lots of gains during the summer break – chassis development has been the biggest area. What’s even more impressive is we’re only just over three tenths off pole on a two-minute lap plus it’s a very technical lay-out, which really shows what this car is becoming capable of.”
Alongside Wrathall also putting in a great performance was Dave Newsham for Special Tuning Racing as he made it into the top 10 for the first time as well. The team had undergone a positive test at Oulton just prior to the event and Newsham said afterwards, “We’ve always known the car is quick in race trim but perhaps not so strong in qualifying. The team tested at Oulton last week, refining the turbo and the electrics, and it has really moved us forward. I’m still learning how to use the tyres in qualifying – they are quite different to the slicks used in the Clio Cup – but I’m starting from a much better place on the grid and hopefully therefore out of the danger zone. The car is handling brilliantly.” However there was less good news for the second STR Seat Leon with Tom Boardman stopping on track failing to set a lap time and as a result will start from the last of the 26 cars on the grid.
Rounding off the top 10 will be Paul O’Neill who despite stopping on track during Free Practice 2 makes a welcome return to the top 10 in his Go Mobile with Tech-Speed Chevrolet Cruze with Tom Onslow-Cole in the second of three Team Aon’s starting in 10th. Just outside the top 10 will be 3 drivers who all would have hoped and expected for better, they are Andrew Jordan for Pirtek Racing, man in form and many people’s tip for victory this weekend Rob Collard and current second in the points man Mat Jackson.
BTCC debutant Martin Byford will line up 19th despite performing well in Free Practice 2 and being in the top 10 for a period of time in qualifying in his AmD Miltek Racing.com Golf. After his first day in the big-time Byford said, “I think my debut was good. We had a good start this morning, but I didn’t quite hook it up in qualifying – I think I pushed a little too hard and didn’t get the best out of the car and, if I’m really honest with myself, I just overdrove it. Maybe I was a bit over-ambitious after this morning. But it’s all part of the learning curve and I think we’ve got a good race car. The changes we made between the first and second practice session transformed the car. I could hustle it through the corners but, as a driver I didn’t make the most of that. If it was a school report, it would say ‘nice try, could do better’.”
Lining up 20th and putting in an incredible performance considering the circumstances was Dan Welch in the brand new Gen-2 Proton. The worked miracle just to get the car ready for its debut race and had completed just 2 runs up a runway before entering Free Practice 1. The car worked without trouble all day to qualifying ahead of John George, Liam Griffin, Lea wood and Tony Hughes. Former Seat Cupra driver Welch was also more than happy with his days’ work and said, “We’re very happy and what we’ve achieved is all down to the team and the guys at GPRM. The aim turning up here was to not make ourselves look silly and I think we’ve proved that we can run a car. We’ve got a few teething problems that we can work on, but I think it’s been a good start. The main target this weekend is to get three race finishes.”
So that concludes where the main runners and riders ended up in qualifying. Tomorrow will be a day of unknowns as the teams and drivers complete a full race for the first time around the new 300 Snetterton circuit. So be sure to return to Motorsport.com after the days preceding to find out who faired best around the highly technical and challenging all new configuration.