Pat Cranham, BTCC correspondent
Reigning Champion Jason Plato for Silverline Chevrolet has taken pole position at Rockingham for round 23 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. A brief rain shower just before the start of qualifying made the opening part of the session difficult, however the main talking point was an on track collision between Plato and arch rival Matt Neal.
The incident was unseen, but Plato’s left rear had some damage whilst Neal’s front also had sustained some damage. As Plato emerged from his car he gestured to Neal and the pair then squared up with Neal even having his fist clinched at one stage before they were separated. The incident will now be investigated by the stewards.
I’m delighted as I really thought the turbocharged cars over a single flying lap would have the edge over us.
However, Plato refused to be drawn on the incident and said after qualifying, “I’m delighted as I really thought the turbocharged cars over a single flying lap would have the edge over us. We don’t know what the weather will bring tomorrow but I couldn’t be starting from a better position to get the job done.”
Making it an all Chevrolet front row, albeit in a different team, will be Paul O’Neill in his Go Mobile with tech-speed Chevrolet Cruze. Like Plato, O’Neill has benefited from the weight increase and boost reduction to claim his best ever BTCC start. A delighted O’Neill said afterwards, "For everyone in our team which doesn’t have the big budgets of some of the others this is a simply magical result. I just decided to ignore all the information from the read-outs on the dash and then ask over the radio what the time was – it’s just awesome.”
For the second race running Rob Austin has put in a superb performance to qualify on the second row of the grid albeit a place higher than Knockhill. Austin even set a stunning lap time in Free Practice 2 to end the session as fastest. Austin was delighted to prove Knockhill was no fluke result and has high hopes for tomorrow and said, “Having qualified fourth at Knockhill and been fastest in the second practice session here this morning, this proves we’re not one-hit wonders. We’ve really got the car working very well now on all types of circuit and I don’t really care who’s fighting for the championship around me – I’m going for three big results tomorrow.”
Lining up alongside Austin on row 2 will be Plato’s arch rival Matt Neal for Honda Racing. Crucially for Neal he will start in front of his Honda Racing team mate, Gordon Shedden, who heads him by 1 point in the championship entering the weekend’s first of three races. Shedden lines up sixth on the grid.
Between the two Hondas will be the sole Triple Eight Vauxhall Vectra of James Nash. Nash took a fine fifth during qualifying after ending free practice 1 down in a disappointing 14th. Critically for Nash he will start four places ahead of current Independent points leader Mat Jackson, who starts 9th for Airwaves Racing.
7th position sees Frank Wrathall in his Dynojet prepared Toyota Avensis. Wrathall had earlier made history in free practice 1 when he topped the times before Austin repeated the feat in free practice 2.
Andrew Jordan will be pleased to have made the top ten for the first time in a couple of race meetings, qualifying in 8th for Pirtek Racing. Rounding off the top ten will be Martin Byford in the AmD Miltek Golf; a position he has managed to achieve in only his third BTCC meeting.
In 11th will be Nick Foster for WSR who put in a great last lap to finish ahead of a lot more established drivers. He leads a trio of Team Aon Global Ford Focus’ with, surprisingly, Andy Neate the head driver to lead home Tom Chilton and Tom Onslow-Cole.
Next up are three drivers who would have all hoped for better. They are Alex MacDowall in the second Silverline Chevrolet, Foster’s WSR team mate Rob Collard and Knockhill’s controversial race 3 winner, Tom Boardman for Special Tuning Racing. Amazingly all of the top 16 drivers were covered by less than 0.900 seconds with Boardman only 1.008 seconds behind the quickest time.
Daniel Welch for Welch Motorsport will start 18th on the grid ahead of BTCC debutante Michael Caine for Airwaves Racing. Dave Newsham in the second Special Tuning Racing Seat will start ahead of Jeff Smith and John George in the second Pirtek racing and GoMobile with Tech-Speed respectively.
Tony Gilham lines up 23rd in his first race for Geoff Steel Racing whilst Chris James, for ES Racing, and Liam Griffin round out the Grid. Griffin went off in the gravel bringing out the red flag with just a few minutes remaining meaning all cars piled out following the green flag which was the instigator for Plato and Neal’s crash. Lea Wood for Central Group Racing, took part in free practice 1 before mechanical issues forced him to retire for the rest of the day’s sessions. He will start in 26th if the team has been able to remedy the issues. For the second race running tony Hughes will not be present for Speedworks.
That’s how the grid will line up for round 22 of the BTCC from Rockingham. To find out all the results and to keep up-to-date with the Plato/Neal rivalry, make sure you return to Motorsport.com after the weekend for a full round-up and images.