Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
Jason Plato’s incredible start to his MG career has continued today by taking Pole position at Donington Park for round 4 of the 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. In doing so Plato made history by becoming the first driver to take pole in a next generation touring car and the first pole position for MG since returning to the series in only its second outing.
Plato set his lap early on in the session and was helped by a bit of rain mid-way through the 30minute qualifying to take his 36th career pole position. Speaking at the circuit Plato admitted he had some extra insight into the weather forecast by sending up his helicopter pilot for some inside information. He then declared this pole as one of his best and said, “This is one of the most satisfying of all. We knew the rain was coming so pooped in a fast lap early on, but what a great result for the team and the car. It’s still very new to racing and we got a win out of it on its debut race at Brands and it just keeps getting better and better.”
The only man to get near the MG was the Honda Yuasa Racing Civic of Gordon Shedden. Shedden wasn’t carrying any ballast after a nightmare opening round at Brands Hatch, where he suffered with constant electrical problems and got disqualified from race 3 after his team were adjudged to have carried out repair work to the car during parc ferme conditions during a red flag. Despite not carrying any ballast Shedden admitted he couldn’t give any more and finished 0.054s behind Plato and said, “I had a few hairy moments out there and that is the maximum I could achieve with the car. But I am on the front row of the grid so can’t complain too much, given my problems at Brands Hatch.”
Reigning champion Matt Neal in the second Honda Yuasa Racing finished third but still 3-tenths behind his arch-rival. After qualifying a slightly miffed Neal admitted it’s going to be a tough job to keep up with the MG, “Even though my car has slightly less ballast than Jason the gap to him is still three-tenths of a second. We have no more left in the tank. We need Jason to make a mistake and he doesn’t make many of those.”
In 4th was yet another Honda Civic this time belonging to local man Andrew Jordan for Pirtek Racing. Jordan was one of the few drivers to improve his time in the closing stages of qualifying as the track dried following that bit of rain. Another man to improve was Rob Collard of eBay Motors. The day hadn’t started great however for the BMW man in Free Practice 1 when he spun down at the Old Hairpin bring out a red flag.
Mat Jackson was the first Redstone Racing driver in 6th although he had earlier topped the first Free Practice session of the day. Dave Newsham topped the second Free Practice session of the day. Following his shock pole position at Brands Hatch another pole position had been on the cards, but eventually he had to settle for only 7th after the rain.
Despite qualifying a respectable 8th yet again Rob Austin was left to rue what could have been. This is because he broke a spark plug during the session on his own prepared Audi A4 whilst on an even quicker lap. Rounding out the top 10 is the two Smiths with Jeff of Pirtek Racing just ahead of the impressive newcomer for this season Aron for Redstone Racing. All of the top 10 were still within a second of the quickest time belonging to Plato.
Just outside of the top 10 was Frank Wrathall in his Dynojet prepared NGTC Toyota Avensis. Much was expected of Wrathall this year after a stunning debut season but a late finish to the car turned the opening meeting of the year more into a shakedown and he will be hoping for more this time. Dan Welch is going better in his NGTC Proton Persona which has undergone a major rebuild after being involved in that multicar pile up last time out at Brands. He will start 13th sandwiched between the other two eBay Motors of Tom Onslow-Cole and Nick Foster who is in a new shell following his spectacular roll last time out.
In 15th will be the second ES Racing Vauxhall Vectra of Chris James who is now looking a lot happier than last year and he will start alongside the 3rd Redstone Racing Ford Focus of Liam Griffin. Binz Racing’s Lea Wood will start 17th in his Vauxhall Vectra, ahead of Tony Gilham in last year’s Gordon Shedden Honda Civic for his own team, team HARD with Ollie Jackson in 18th in his VW Golf from AmD Tuning.com.
Another man in the wars from Brands Hatch was Adam Morgan for Speedworks in an NGTC Toyota Avensis. Morgan had yet another eventful day with a number of spins including a rather scary moment in Free Practice 2 when he had a tyre blow out at the frighteningly quick Crainer Kerbs going for a high-speed trip across the grass ripping off the front bumper. Qualifying was yet another eventful session which was brought to an early end for him after causing a red flag by spinning off at Redgate and he will start alongside his team mate Tony Hughes.
While one MG is on the front of the grid the other belonging to Andy Neate wasn’t as fortunate after he had a mechanical issue leaving the pits and, although he was able to limp back to the pits, he never rejoined the session.
One driver that we will sadly not see during the races is John Thorne in his Thorney Motorsport NGTC Vauxhall Insignia. Once again Thorne suffered a number of troubles throughout the day and completed just 4 laps in qualifying 19 seconds off of the pace. As a result he has announced that he will sit out tomorrow’s races.
So that concludes the grid for round 4 of the BTCC. There is little doubt heading into the first of tomorrow’s three races that the man to catch is MG KX Momentum racing driver Jason Plato. So can anyone catch him? Well of course there is only one way to find; out by logging back into Motorsport.com for a full report following tomorrow’s action.