Tom Chilton continued his qualifying form, clinching pole at Croft – his third British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) pole position in only the series' fifth race weekend of the year.
Chilton took his LGP-fuelled Team Aon Ford Focus around the 2.25mile track in 1:24.629, just 0.077 seconds faster than Gordon Sheddon who will line up alongside him in the first of three BTCC races tomorrow (Sunday).
However, Chilton's session started inauspiciously the 25-year-old having earlier needed to be pulled from a gravel trap in a session which seemed destined to end in disappointment.
I only just got back out of the gravel trap after I’d been off. Then on my second run, when I set the time, I hit a kerb really hard and thought I'd punctured a tyre but it all held together. Other than that it was the perfect lap but I admit I was very lucky.”
Behind Chilton's Ford and Sheddon's Team Dynamics run Honda Civic Rob Collard and Alex MacDowall qualified third and fourth, making it four different manufacturers in the top four positions.
Tantilisingly the third row sees championship rivals Matt Neal (1:25.234) and Jason Plato fifth and sixth fastest respectively in cars laden with success ballast from Oulton Park. The pair's laps were separated by eight-tenths of a second apart, the duo only split by eight points in the overall championship.
“I initially set a 25.5s and thought about parking it – I didn't think any more was possible with the success ballast in the car,” said Neal. “But I gave it another go and it's important I did or I'd have ended up in ninth. Initially, Jason was three or four places behind me but when I looked at the times at the end he's right there with me! That's going to be a very busy first corner tomorrow.”
Plato, who will be chasing Neal on track and in the points in tomorrow's first race, which is due to start at noon was more downbeat. “This is the sort of circuit where success ballast does give you a bit of a kick in the teeth. I've got it again for race one tomorrow and don't expect to be able to make any progress. I think the best I can hope for is sixth and then for the weight to come off for race two. Then we'll have a car that can move forward.”
18-year-old BTCC rookie Daniel Lloyd, stepping up from the Renault Clio championship was a surprising 11th fastest in his Triple Eight Race Engineering prepared Vauxhall Vectra.
BTCC Croft Qualifying Top Ten
1. Tom Chilton – Team Aon/Ford Focus ST 1:24.629
2. Gordon Shedden – Honda Racing Team/Honda Civic +0.077
3. Robert Collard – WSR/BMW 320si +0.476
4. Alex MacDowall – Silverline Chevrolet/Chevrolet Cruze +0.528
5. Matt Neal – Honda Racing Team/Honda Civic +0.605
6. Jason Plato – Silverline Chevrolet/Chevrolet Cruze +0.688
7. Tom Onslow-Cole – Team Aon/Ford Focus ST +0.708
8. James Nash – Uniq Racing with Triple Eight/Vauxhall Vectra +0.710
9. Paul O'Neill – Sunshine.co.uk with Tech-Speed/Honda Integra +0.851
10. Andrew Jordan – Pirtek Racing/Vauxhall Vectra +0.964
Photo credit: SJK Photography