Jason Plato took a dramatic pole position in an enthralling qualifying session for round four of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.
The championship leader jumped up the timing screen in the final stages to steal pole from Matt Neal, who had led for most of the session.
His laptime of 1min26.872s, half a second faster than he had managed in the shortened second practice session earlier in the day, shaded Neal's effort by just 0.077s. The Cheshire track had been subject to plenty of wind and rain but it remained dry, however, as the cars took to the circuit for the 30-minute session the kerbs and grass remained very wet – as many found out at Cascades.
Plato led the running early on, but Rob Collard and Andrew Jordan had spells at the front before Neal took over at the head of the pack.
At one stage little more than a second covered the top ten, with Adam Morgan, Lea Wood and Dan Welch – finally getting a chance to show the potential in his Proton – running well near the front. Then Mat Jackson, recovering from a crash in Free Practice 2, moved into fifth as he set his first flying lap.
Then came the first of a bizarre series of offs at the increasingly-tricky Cascades.
First it was Jordan, pushing hard to try and regain pole, who showed lightning reflexes to keep his Civic pointing in the right direction. He had already survived a slight scare just a lap earlier but this time went further, the rear of his car almost catching up with the front before he regained control.
Then Plato took over, his MG completely sideways but somehow not spinning the whole way round, before Jordan's team mate Jeff Smith went the whole hog at the same corner – all the incidents just moments apart.
Though none of the drivers had ended in the turn three barriers, it meant the exit to the corner was covered in water, compromising anyone looking to gain time – which meant anybody behind reigning champion Neal, who had just found half a second to increase his lead at the top of the timesheets.
His Honda teammate Gordon Shedden, desperately trying to claw back some time, was next to explore the Cascades scenery, just before Chris James had his own incident at the following corner.
Tom Onslow–Cole, who had also been making progress, then moved into third, with Frank Wrathall elevating himself to sixth.
With time running out and nobody seemingly able to bridge the gap to the Honda out in front, step forward, Jason Plato.
He delivered two brilliant laps in succession, first to leapfrog into second place, and then to steal pole positions by less than one-tenth of a second. Rob Collard was a further four-hundredths of a second back (1min 26.989s) with Andrew Jordan (1min 27.051s) and Gordon Shedden (1min 27.457s) completing the top five.
Behind them Onslow-Cole had to settle for sixth, ahead of Wrathall, Welch in the improved Proton, Dave Newsham – who had a low-key session by comparison to his early races – and Mat Jackson, who failed to improve in the latter stages, rounded out the top ten.
The first race begins tomorrow (Sunday) at 12:22pm, while the second race is scheduled for 14:34pm and the third at 17:16pm.