After a comparative struggle at Knockhill the Team Aon Fords returned to qualifying form at Donington Park, Tom Chilton and Tom Onslow-Cole completing an ominous front row lock out for the LPG fuelled Focuses.
A lap of 1:11.328 around the revamped and reconfigured track was enough to earn Chilton his fourth pole of the season. He was 0.081 seconds clear of his namesake and teammate as the pace of the Fords once again proved too much for the chasing pack of Hondas, Chevrolets and BMWs.
However, the team claimed the pace was a surprise. “I didn't think we'd have the pace to qualify on the front row so it's a nice bonus,” said Onslow-Cole, who begins the weekend third in the championship. “The main aim tomorrow has to be to finish in front of both Jason [Plato] and Matt [Neal] so it edges me just that bit closer but obviously I could with them getting stuck behind a few other cars.”
The series enters its penultimate round with the championship still very much to be decided. The top five – Plato, Neal, Onslow-Cole, Gordon Shedden and Chilton – covered by 58 points with a maximum of 52 available for a perfect weekend across the three races on Sunday.
Fittingly it is the top five in the title race who occupy the top five spots in qualifying Honda's Shedden and Neal sandwiching points leader Plato in fourth.
“Again we're near the sharp end of the grid with maximum success ballast (45kgs) in the Chevrolet which we calculate is costing us half a second a lap,” he says. “So I'm pretty pleased with that and I really think in race trim our car can come back at the others.”
“I've got a lot of ground to make up tomorrow if I'm to stay in the hunt going to the final round at Brands Hatch next month but this is a great start,” said Chilton. “Ideally, I need to come out of the first corner tomorrow in the lead, look in my mirror and see the other four taking each other off into the gravelâ€¦”
Andrew Jordan was sixth fastest ahead of Paul O'Neill, Rob Collard, Tom Boardman and Alex MacDowall.
Airwaves BMW suffered a poor qualifying session. Mat Jackson will line-up eleventh while Ulsterman Steven Kane – Onslow-Cole's chief rival in the independents' drivers' title was unable to set a time, his BMW crippled with mechanical failure. Dave Pinkney, Arthur Forster and Andy Neate also encoutered problems during the 30 minute session, Neate bringing out a red flag after spinning at Redgate.
James Kaye – the independents' champion in 1992 and 1994 – was decent 13th best in his Honda Integra, racing in the series for the first time in four years.