Not having taken a pole position since April at Donington Park Matt Neal timed his lap perfectly to take the top spot at Silverstone, and take a bonus point to add to his slim points' lead before the final races of the year.
Neal waited until just three minutes of the half hour qualifying session remained to take top spot, lapping the 1.64 mile National circuit in 59.131 seconds.
“The car felt great,” Neal told The Checkered Flag, “the engine was crisp, the engine was great and it was just that single lap I managed to do it on. I thought I'd wrung the most out of it before then but it was just that one final lap where I managed to squeeze that little bit more from it.”
Not only did Neal's late lap squeeze more from his Honda Racing Civic than he believed possible but he also timed the lap perfectly, completing the lap while Tony Hughes speared into the gravel on outside of Copse, bringing out local yellow flags, enough to blunt any would be challengers to Neal's position.
Chief among them may have be Mat Jackson. The Airwaves Racing driver had run well in both practice sessions, and continued to show pace during the session. He moved onto provisional pole with just nine minutes of qualifying remaining by beating Gordon Shedden with a time of 59.166 seconds, a tenth faster than the Scotsman.
Jackson returned to the pits shortly after, but had emerged from the pits for a final attempt, only for Hughes stranded Speedworks Motorsport Toyota to foil his plans.
Speaking after the session Jackson expressed a mix of disappointment in the result and pride in his and the team's performance.
“We're an independent team up against the manufacturers and look at the way the pole have gone, I don't think an independent has had a pole this year,” he explained. “We are an independent team, we can't forget that. We've led the championship and we're punching way above our weight but we just don't have the development that the other guys do. Today is as close as we're come and it's a shame that we got pipped by yet again another works car. It's a great achievement by all the guys at Airwaves Racing with what we've got it's brilliant to put it on the front row.”
Shedden had led for most of the session. His first stint at the top began just seven minutes into the session, with a lap of 54.431. He withstood challenge from Tom Chilton, who moved into second just a single thousandth of a second back, but later momentarily lost pole to a Mat Jackson time at the half way point of the session, before he improved his own time to 59.265. That marker would be his best lap, putting him third fastest, sharing the second row with James Nash.
Alex MacDowall was an impressive fifth fastest, out qualifying illustrious teammate Jason Plato, who was left disappointed in seventh, proclaiming that was all he could get from the car and all but ruling himself out of the title fight.
Unable to improve on the time that ran Shedden so close in the opening ten minutes Tom Chilton, split the two works Chevrolets in sixth.
Andy Neate, Frank Wrathall and Tom Boardman completed the top ten. Frank Wrathall will start tenth, the best of the NGTC runners. Rob Austin was the next best man in the new technology, but the Audi A4 driver could only muster twentieth.
Despite initially being credited with ninth Tom Onlsow-Cole was dropped to eleventh place, hacing his best time excluded as it was completed under yellow flags.
How the results of qualifying effect the title race remain to be seen. Neal promises to approach the races much like the rest of the season, though he emphasises the importance of staying out of trouble and the extra pressure the pole position brings with it.
His front row partner, who only has a slight chance of winning the overall championship from fourth in points at the time of writing, however appears geared towards a more aggressive approach.
“We'll fight until it's unachievable,” Jackson said. “You know what can happen, just as we lost the lead anything can happen to those guys. Yes, it's a lot to ask and realistically we're probably not going to do it but we're going to come out fighting and fight them all the way. Tomorrow we haven't got a championship to lose and Matt has and we share the front row. I've got no hesitation about sticking my car where I need to be, and that's at the front.”
The first of the three BTCC races at Silverstone is scheduled for 11:45am, with races two and three at 2:35pm and 5:15pm.