After Chevrolets topped both practice sessions Jason Plato waiting until the final four minutes to make the advantage pay dividends in qualifying for Sunday's British Touring Car race at Snetterton, taking a second pole position to add to the Croft honour he won before the summer break.
Much of the half hour session – delayed after problems with the track surface earlier in the day – was held by Honda Racing Team driver Gordon Shedden. The Scot – who took pole at Thruxton and Oulton Park earlier in the year lodged a time of 1:58.716 inside the first ten minutes of the session, comfortably eclipsing the practice pace as teams and drivers grow more familiar with the Snetterton 300 track.
After completing just three laps and with pole seemingly secured, with a 0.192 second advantage over first practice leader Alex MacDowall, Shedden returned to the pitlane, as rivals tried to dislodge the Civic from the top spot.
MacDowall, who took pole at the Norfolk track last season, looked capable but his session was cut short by a small fire in the car causing the fire extinguishers to go off as the car sat in the pitlane. The driver was unharmed, as largely was the car, but the RML run Silverline Chevrolet squad elected to clean the poetentially corrosive extinguisher residue from the inside of the car, costing the driver the second half of the session.
James Nash, on the pace once more for Triple Eight, Tom Chilton and a ballasted Matt Neal were all unable to improve their places in a tightly packed top ten where the top twelve were covered by less than a second on the three mile track.
One man who was able to improve, leaping into the top ten, was Frank Wrathall. The Dynojet driver was lying an already creditable 12th at the half way point of the session, but moved up to seventh in the closing minutes of the session to score by far his, and NGTC-spec machinery's, best qualifying result of the season to date.
“A little bit of relief,” Wrathall described the feeling after the session. “I know that the potential's been in the car for a long time it's been coming but to actually qualifying inside the top ten, four tenths off pole and a tenth off third is incredible. It just proves to everyone what I'm capable and what the Toyota can do.”
“I'm not even sure what my highest qualifying position was before this round, I'm pretty sure it wasn't even in the top 15, so to go from there to where we are now shows how much work has gone in behind the scenes, what a good job Paul, my engineer, is doing and all the mechanics and all the testing we're doing is paying off.”
Plato too was another to improve late, first moving to third with a lap of 1:58.932, then to pole with just three-and-a-half minutes left to run, 0.025 seconds faster than Shedden's long standing marker, Plato's pole time 1:58.691.
“We figured it might and out lap simulation software suggested it would do because of the nature of all the new twisty stuff,” Jason Plato told The Checkered Flag when asked whether the new '300' layout suits the S2000 Cruze. “I don't think I'm egging it up when I say we have the best chassis on the grid and I think everyone can take that on board because we're nowhere in the speed traps, so we must be making it up somewhere and that's on the brakes and in the corners. If got on pole I Think we could possible win, but if we're not on pole and we're in the pack we can't race anyone. Pole is crucial from here on in to the rest of the season.”
Shedden's time remained good enough for the Scot to join Plato on the front row – Shedden's last gasp attempt to retake pole coming up short. Their respective teammates MacDowall and Neal share the second row ahead of Nash, Chilton, Wrathall, Dave Newsham, Paul O'Neill and Tom Onslow–Cole.
The increase in pace left some behind, title contender Mat Jackson will start the first race from 13th, Martin Byford will start from 19th after turning a qualifying time slower than his second practice benchmark. Dan Welch will start one place further back in the Welch Motorsport Proton Gen-2.
Three races await the 26 car grid, with the first due to start at ten-past-noon.
“I think it will assist us because there's more corners,” Plato assessed how the new layout will impact on the races, “so if we get a good start we could pull away and eek out a bit of a gap in the first couple of laps and that gap could even grow a little bit. What we need to do is make sure that before the straight we've pulled out a bit of a gap because they'll be all over us by the end of the straight, so that's the key.”