Three-time BTCC champion Gordon Shedden took pole position on his TCR International debut at the Dubai Autodrome.
Despite only getting his first running in the Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf GTi upon arrival in the United Arab Emirates, Shedden posted an early effort of 1m27.849s – the fastest time of the weekend so far – from which he was never headed.
Crucially, his Leopard Racing teammate and championship leader Jean-Karl Vernay completed the front row 0.196 seconds adrift, with the Frenchman only needing to finish ahead of M1RA's Attila Tassi, who starts back in 10th, to secure a first title.
With the top-10 on the grid reversed for the final race of the weekend, Tassi will start at the head of the field, but by that stage Vernay is likely to have clinched the crown.
Leopard put new brake discs on Shedden's car as standard procedure before the session, but on his first qualifying run a lack of performance became quickly clear to the Scot, who elected to pit for another set mid-session.
“We put new brakes in it for qualifying and it just didn't stop, there was no retardation, it didn't matter how hard I hit it," he explained.
“It was a big call to make that change in the session. I thought it was worth the risk. It's never a nice thing to ask mechanics to change brakes in a session, under pressure, but they did a great job.
“They ended up with burnt arms changing brakes, but at least it was worthwhile in the end for them.”
The qualifying format takes place across two sessions, with the fastest 12 going through to a pole-position shootout.
Both Hyundai i30 cars are not permitted to take part in the second qualifying session due to the same temporary homologation that prevents them scoring championship points, and with both Alain Menu and Gabriele Tarquini within the top 12, Shedden – back in 14th – was handed a second chance.
“In a really funny way it was just a strange and kind of awkward session," Shedden added.
"We were sixth at the start, we only got one run at the end, then I was 14th and thought 'well, that's it, we're out', so I got out and I'm in the garage.
"Everyone was saying 'both Hyundais are there, they don't take part', so I had to get back in, missed the start of the next session."
Despite starting from the sharp end of the field, Shedden is conscious about completing the task for which he has been hired, deputising for regular driver Rob Huff who is racing in Macau in the WTCC.
“It'd be nice to have some fun out there, but very clearly the number one priority is that he [Vernay] wins the championship," added Shedden.
Story by Damian Meaden
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