By: Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
- Jason Plato out qualifies his turbo rivals
- Matt Neal can not match Plato's wet pace
- Rob Collard's BMW is a threat to front row
Defending champion Jason Plato has ended Honda’s qualifying dominance and will start the first of tomorrow’s Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship races from Croft on pole position after posting a time of 1m24.839s.
Plato admitted he gave it his all during qualifying in the lighter Chevrolet, although he feels it will be difficult to lead into the first corner due to a high starting BMW and said, “I gave it the full berries there – just how a proper qualifying lap should be. But I’m aware my car has quite a bit less success ballast in it compared to Matt's so let’s see how things play out tomorrow. Matt and I will need to make our cars pretty wide off the line because the BMW’s rear-wheel-drive gives it an advantage at the start and Rob will be feeling punchy.”
Championship leader Matt Neal had looked like grabbing pole position after he had toppled long time pole sitter Rob Collard in the last 5 minutes of the session before Plato beat his time by a large margin (in Touring Car terms) of 0.372s. Neal said he gave everything he had and hopes for dry conditions tomorrow by saying, “That was everything we’ve got – I could not have made the car go any quicker in qualifying. I’d prefer it to stay dry tomorrow – in wet conditions our turbo engine will chew up the wet weather tyres more than the normally aspirated cars.”
If it’s wet then the BMW will be much closer to the Hondas and Chevrolets.
Collard was in inspired form in the earlier Free Practice sessions both wet and dry after finishing Free Practice 2 in the top spot. Sadly for him he just missed out on his maiden BTCC pole, eventually having to settle for 3rd behind Plato and Neal. Collard was however delighted to be back at the sharp end of the grid, although slightly disappointed not to take his maiden pole. Yet agrees with Plato’s earlier statement and said, “I’m delighted to be third but still gutted not to get the pole – I really thought we’d got it then. Jason’s right about him and Matt needing wide cars at the start tomorrow – too right I’ll be trying to get past them into the first corner. Rain would be a bit of a saviour for us. I had the car on the ragged edge there in qualifying and can’t do that every lap tomorrow. If it’s wet then the BMW will be much closer to the Hondas and Chevrolets.”
Fourth was the second Silverline Chevrolet of Alex MacDowall who had earlier topped the times during the wet first practice session. Two Vectras came in 5th and 6th. with the first belonging too Andrew Jordan of Pirtek Racing followed by James Nash for Triple 8 in 6th. Nash had earlier in the day made light contact with the barriers at the complex after spinning his Vectra backwards during Free Practice 1.
Current second place driver in the championship, just 2 points behind his Honda Racing team mate, Gordon Shedden will start 7th ahead of the first Ford belonging to Tom Chilton for Team Aon who was also the final driver to qualify within a second of Plato’s time.
Mat Jackson will start 9th in his Airwaves Racing Ford Focus with Paul O’Neill rounding out the top 10 in his Go Mobile with Tech-speed Chevrolet Cruze. Just outside the top 10 and causing a huge surprise was Rob Austin in his own run Audi A4. The former F3 racer was in inspired form all day and even finished Free Practice 2 in 6th place, albeit not all leading competitors set a competitive time due to the wet conditions. Austin will be delighted by his qualifying position and the ever improving pace of the Audi and said, “It’s getting better all the time but I don’t want to get my hopes up too much.”
Tom Boardman will start 12th in his Special Tuning Seat Leon having earlier finished 3rd in Free Practice 2. The second WSR belonging to Nick Foster will start 13th although he ended his session slightly early after picking up extra sponsorship at the front of his BMW and having to pull over. Dave Newsham in the other Special Tuning Seat will start 14th with Newsham earlier having a scary moment in Free Practice 1 spinning in the middle of the track narrowly being avoided by several other competitors.
15th will be Tom Onslow-Cole who will be driving for Team Aon for the first time this season after announcing his return to the team after the last meeting at Oulton. He will start ahead of Jeff Smith in the second Pirtek Racing Vectra with Frank Wrathall in 17th putting in a good display to out qualify several more fancied cars, including the third Team Aon Focus of And Neate who will be disappointed in 18th after qualifying 3rd last time out at Oulton.
The latter two earlier had a bit of bizarre contact when Wrathall spun, hitting the kerb too hard which as a result knocked out his front window. As Wrathall was recovering to rejoin the circuit and drive slowly to the pits Neate, who was having a separate spin, collected him.
Tony Gilham will be disappointed to start 19th in the second Triple 8 Vectra with Lea Wood who also probably hoped for better after his points scoring return to the series last time out in 20th. The returning Shaun Hollamby will start 21st in his AmD Miltek VW Golf with Liam Griffin in 22nd in the second Airwaves Racing Ford Focus.
The final row of the grid will be made up of the second Go Mobile Tech-speed Chevrolet Cruze and another Chevrolet this time a Lacetti belonging to Chris James in 24th position.
So that’s how the grid will line up for round 13. The racing is always fierce and unpredictable at Croft, with a chance of more rain we're certainly in for a thriller. So for full race coverage of tomorrow, be sure to stay logged into Motorsport.com to find out who will lead the standings into the summer break.