Chevrolet locked out the front row of the grid for race one in tomorrow's British Touring Car Championship at Snetterton with Rookie Alex MacDowell setting the quickest time to clinch his first ever pole in the Series and taking the record for youngest pole sitter on the way. Having set the quickest times in both of the mornings free practices, Jason Plato had to settle for second place behind his 19 year old team mate.
After a lot of overnight rain, the track had dried out by the time the drivers headed out for the practice sessions which passed with no major incidents. The BMW's seemed to be running well with Rob Collard the quickest of them setting the third fastest time behind Plato and Tom Chilton. Winner of the last race at Croft, Andy Jordan had been producing good times and was fourth fastest ahead of the two Airwaves BMW's of Steven Kane and Mat Jackson. The Two Honda's of Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden finished 7th and 8th fastest followed by the second Ford Focus of Tom Onslow-Cole with Paul O'Neil rounding out the Top ten. Alex MacDowell had seemed to struggle setting twelfth fastest time, but his fortunes were to change later in the day.
Jason Plato had told the media that he expected the Fords to be quickest this weekend, but it was in fact himself who topped the time sheets again in free practice two. Team Mate MacDowell had improved and set the third quickest time. The two RML Chevrolet's were split by a fantastic time set by James Nash in the Triple Eight Vauxhall Vectra. Rob Collard continued his good pace setting fourth fastest time ahead of Jordan. The first of the Team AON gas powered machines was sixth quickest with Onslow-Cole behind the wheel. Chilton had set eleventh fastest time, but apparently the team were using the session to work on race set-ups. Matt Neal was off the pace with a tenth fastest time and Shedden only thirteenth fastest. Again it was the two BMW's of Kane and Jackson along with O'Neil in the ageing Honda Integra who completed the top ten times.
As qualifying approached, so did some rather large black clouds. Alan Gow, series director had gone on record saying he hoped rain would come in time for qualifying to spice it up a bit. He must have friends in very high places as five minutes before the session started, the rain came and there was plenty of it.
All the drivers hurried out with a combination of both slick and wet tyres to try and get in a quick early lap time before the track got even wetter. However, it seemed that it didn't matter too much, because as the track became evermore saturated and drivers were heading out with full wets, the early times were being beaten. Tom Boardman was setting some good times in his Seat Leon sitting nicely in the top three times for a while. The lap times slowly fell despite the rain as drivers got more accustomed to the poor conditions and some familiar faces were putting in some good times.
With six minutes of the session remaining, it was disaster for Tom Onslow-Cole. His Ford had failed a ride height check and all his lap times had been removed. This isn't the first time it has happened to Tom and he didn't have much time to set another flying lap. Unfortunately he was unable to set a time and will start from the back of the grid for the first race.
As the session ended, ironically so did the rain. But Alex MacDowell had already set the fastest time of 1:19.332 to secure his pole alongside the vastly more experienced Plato who was just 0.094 behind. The RML team were delighted having a huge advantage for tomorrow and showing just how good the Chevrolet Cruz's are around the Norfolk Circuit. Perhaps Plato's comments about the Ford's were just mind games. He ought to watch out though as it's a Ford starting just behind him. That of Tom Chilton who was confident of setting a good time in the rain. Mat Jackson finished with a strong fourth for the Airwaves team ahead of the Honda Civic of Gordon Shedden. Shedden had been slowly improving throughout the session and could have been starting tomorrow in a better position had it not been for a spin at the Esses with just a few minutes left. Andy Jordan will split the two Team Dynamics cars in sixth with championship leader Matt Neal just behind in seventh. Paul O'Neil guided the sunshine.co.uk Integra to a creditable eighth on the grid, with James Nash and Tom Boardman rounding out the top ten. This is the highest grid position for Boardman and his team but they were still left disappointed after running so well up the times in the first half of qualifying.
Another driver who will be disappointed will be Steven Kane. The airwaves driver who has been consistently scoring good points to see him fifth in the championship will have hoped to be in a better place than the eleventh he finished with. Rob Collard will start behind Kane in twelfth and will also be unhappy not to have been up with the front runners after some good practice sessions. Lea Wood showed his potential with an excellent thirteenth spot on the grid and will no doubt be looking to pick up a few places in the hunt for some championship points. Rounding out the grid will be Dave Pinkney in fourteenth ahead of Andy Neate's BMW. John George will start the second sunshine.co.uk Integra from sixteenth with Shaun Hollamby's AMD Miltek run Volkswagen Golf just behind. The two Forster motorsport BMW's struggled with problems throughout the day so Martin Depper and Arthur Forster will take up eighteenth and nineteenth places respectively. Martin Johnson only set a couple of lap times and will start twentieth ahead of the penalised Tom Onslow-Cole.
Tomorrow marks the long awaited return of racing in the BTCC and after a seven week wait, it can't come soon enough. After the action from today, I'm sure the fans will be in for a real treat whatever the weather conditions as the second half of the season gets underway.