Pat Cranham, BTCC Correspondent
Last month Frank Wrathall claimed pole position in a special Touring car race during the Silverstone Classic for older generation cars and he has now topped that off by claiming his first Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, and will start from pole position for the first of tomorrow’s three races as he attempts to take his maiden victory in the series.
Wrathall beat Jason Plato in the MG KX Momentum Racing MG 6 by just 0.015 seconds to claim the first pole position for a Toyota since Julian Bailey at Knockhill and afterwards an overjoyed Wrathall who won the 2010 Ginetta supercup said, “That was very close as Jason and I were trading fastest times but in the end I came out on top. I‘d come back into the pit lane and knew he was out giving it one final go, but it seems he made a mistake and went off the track-when the team told me I was shouting in the car. To beat a driver of his stature makes it all the more rewarding and I’m delighted.”
Plato will still be more than happy with second on the grid particularly as the two Honda Yuasa Racing Civics of Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden, who he goes into the day 29 points behind, are back in 7th and 22nd.
As for Shedden, he suffered a nightmare day after he had a dramatic fire in Free Practice 1 and then after his Honda team worked miracles to get the car repaired, then suffered more mechanical issues before being able to complete a competitive lap.
After qualifying Plato was quick to point out the importance of having some distance ahead of the Honda’s whilst being quick to congratulate Wrathall and said, “Congratulations to Frank, it’s always nice to see a young driver doing well even if it is at my expense! The important thing is I’m ahead of the two drivers I’m chasing for the title and from here I can start thinking about taking some points back.”
In third was a superb Dave Newsham in his ES Racing Vauxhall Vectra who was still only just 0.054 seconds off Wrathall’s time. Newsham was a star in the opening rounds of the series qualifying on pole for the opening meeting of the year but has struggled in recent meetings with the new generation touring cars being ahead of his S2000 spec car and has suffered from a number of bumps recently.
Newsham now believes he has the car back under him that he did at the start of the season and said, “Finally the Vectra feels like it did back at the start of the year season when I had three really strong opening events. From what I have seen in the earlier practice sessions our tyre wear rate is also excellent so I am hoping for three very strong races tomorrow.”
Andrew Jordan in his Pirtek Racing Honda Civic starts the weekend in 4th in the championship and will start in the same place tomorrow as he goes for his first win of the year.
In 5th and 6th are two drivers who managed to achieve their best ever qualifying positions as both put in great performances. In 5th will be the current Ginetta supercup champion Adam Morgan who hopes at last to turn his great pace into a good result in his NGTC Speedworks Toyota Avensis and 6th will be Dan Welch in his NGTC Welch Motorsport Proton Persona.
Behind Neal in 7th, and also equalling his best ever qualifying position, will be Lea Wood in his S2000 Binz Racing Vauxhall Vectra. Rounding off the top 10 will be the first of the three eBay Motors BMW’s of Tom Onslow-Cole with Jeff Smith in the NGTC Pirtek Racing Honda Civic in 10th.
Just outside the top 10 will be the first of the two Redstone Ford Focus' of Aron Smith. However Aaron Smith will be the only Redstone Racing Ford Focus built to the older S2000 spec as Motorbase Performance shocked the paddock by unveiling an all new NGTC Ford Focus for Mat Jackson.
The team had been working secretly on the car during the 7 week summer break and literally only finished the car in the early hours of the morning, meaning the first time the car ever turned a wheel was during Free Practice 1 and Mat Jackson eventually finished in 16th 2.5 seconds off of the pace.
Rob Collard goes into the event 5th in the current standing but the ever fast starting Collard will start a disappointing 12th in the second eBay Motors BMW. Two more drivers behind Collard that will be disappointed are Andy Neate in the second MG KX Momentum MG6, after he has started to show some good progress and Rob Austin in the sole Rob Austin Racing Audi A4, after his podium last time out at Croft and was inside the top 10 during both mornings free practice sessions.
Further down the field in 19th will be Tony Gilham competing for the first time for this weekend only in the returning NGTC Vauxhall Insignia belonging to Thorney Motorsport. One place behind Gilham will be the man taking his regular seat for his own Team Hard Honda Civic, and the first American to take to the grid in 37 years, Robb Holland.
After qualifying speaking to Holland he commented, “I’m as satisfied as I can be. The plan tomorrow is to stay out of trouble make a few places in race 1, hopefully then a few more in race 2 and see where we end up from that but the positive is that we keep progressing every time we go out and that’s what we have done today.”