Aron Smith secured pole position for Sunday’s opening BTCC race at Thruxton in a closely contested qualifying session interrupted by two lengthy red flag periods.
The first of these came after just six minutes of running, when Simon Belcher’s Toyota and Mike Bushell’s Ford collided at high speed as the latter left the pits, both drivers badly damaging their cars with hefty contact with the barriers.
Bushell was hospitalised as a result with a suspected broken left femur, while Belcher escaped injury but is unlikely to take further part in the event.
Works Honda driver Matt Neal was the man to beat in the running that followed, sitting atop the timesheets with a 1m16.969s when the session was stopped once more after Hunter Abbott’s Audi ended up in the barriers at Village corner.
Action resumed with just seven minutes left on the clock, with Dave Newsham setting the exact same time as Neal to briefly jointly lead the way, only to have the time deleted for violating track limits.
Adam Morgan then went quickest on a 1m16.802s, but that too was disallowed, but the Mercedes driver moved to provisional pole as his next effort of 1m16.916s was allowed to stand.
It proved to be a short-lived spell at the top for Morgan however, as Smith improved to a 1m16.785s to secure pole in the closing stages, Gordon Shedden securing a front-row slot with a time just 0.020s adrift.
Neal finished third, also lapping within a tenth of the pace, narrowly ahead of Morgan, Andy Priaulx’s West Surrey BMW, and the second BMR Volkswagen of Jason Plato.
Jack Goff was best of the Triple Eight MGs in seventh, with Josh Cook (PMR Chevrolet), Colin Turkington (BMR VW) and Rob Collard (WSR BMW) completing a tightly bunched top 10.
Martin Donnelly was unable to take part in the session after being ruled out by a power steering failure on his Infiniti Q50.