Jason Plato took one more step towards taking the BTCC title, the Silverline Chevrolet driver clinching a potentially vital point for taking pole position – incredibly his first of the season – ahead of Sunday's deciding races.
Already entering the weekend with a seventeen point lead Plato lapped the 1.2 mile Brands Hatch Indy circuit in 48.647 seconds to win the first of the weekend's points – smashing the tracks qualifying record by over two tenths in the process. All despite carrying 45kgs in success ballast.
“My first pole of the season – I couldn't have timed it better!” Plato told BTCC.net. “It's been a fantastic qualifying – not just the session but the way everyone has prepared for it and gone about today. We were fastest in both practice sessions this morning and again now. To do that with maximum ballast in the car is very pleasing.”
Plato headed a trio of the title hopefuls at the top of the qualifying order. Matt Neal, second in the championship will line up alongside Plato for the first race – scheduled for 11:30am on Sunday. Neal, of course now finds himself one point further back in the championship, and one record lighter, the track's previous qualifying record his last year. It should, however, be noted that Neal's time (48.780) was also faster than his 2009 effort.
Neal's Honda Racing Team teammate Gordon Shedden will line up third fastest, sharing the second row with Alex MacDowall – turning in another top quality qualifying performance in his BTCC rookie year to be the first non-title contender on the grid.
With the two Honda's on the pace Neal was full of confidence, issuing something of a warning to Plato as the battle between the two veterans comes to a head. “I had a difficult couple of practice sessions and never thought I'd get it onto the front row in qualifying so I'm over the moon with that,” he said. “As for tomorrow, Gordon is always fast out of the blocks, Jason's going to have his mirrors full of Honda and I'm not here to make friends.”
The fourth of the title contenders faces a struggle in the first race. Tom Onslow-Cole will start the race from a comparatively lowly tenth place, the Team Aon driver struggling with set-up of his Ford Focus.
“I've bounced back from worse before and still think a top five, maybe even a podium is possible in race one,” said an optimistic Onslow-Cole. “Ideally, though, I need Jason and the two Hondas to have a moment and, with them all together at the front, tenth place could even be a blessing in disguise.”
The performance is clearly there in the Team Aon package, Tom Chilton putting the team's other car fifth on the grid.
Elsewhere there was a promising performance by the latest Clio Cup graduate in the BTCC Sam Tordoff, who put his Triple Eight Vectra eighth fastest (48.947), just 0.045 seconds behind teammate James Nash.
Ben Collins, driving for a third Airwaves BMW for the weekend failed to set a timed lap after mechanical problems with the car. West Surrey Racing driver, Rob Collard, was another BMW driver to struggle. Collard, a winner at the track last year will only start thirteenth.