In arguably one of the biggest qualifying shocks in recent British Touring Car history Dave Newsham will start the first race of the season from pole positing in his Team ES Racing Vauxhall Vectra.
The result backed up the pre-season optimism of Newsham and team principal Chris James and vindicated the results of the sole official pre-season test which Newsham also topped. Newsham took provisional pole with two thirds of the session still to go.
True to the formbook written in the morning's first practice session it was the rear-wheel-drive cars who set the pace early on as Rob Austin, Nick Foster and Tom Onslow–Cole all had the fastest lap as times tumbled from 55 to 49 seconds.
It was from Onslow-Cole that Newsham took the top spot, initially with a 48.892 second effort, before moving nearly half a second clear, slicing four tenths from his own time to record a 48.483 lap time.
Though in hindsight a further run was unnecessary, Newsham's session would end with a trip through the gravel after being caught out at Paddock Hill Bend as he tried set out with fresh front tyres. The off damaged the front of the yellow Vauxhall and consigned Newsham to the pitlane for the final five minutes of the session – minutes he described as the longest of his career as he watch timing on an iPhone sitting, waiting in the car.
“I don't think it's sunk in, it's kind of surreal really,” a slightly shell shocked Newsham told The Checkered Flag. “I've been comfortable in this car since the first time I put my backside in it and it's a quick car anyway and I'm obviously driving it pretty quick as well so I'm pretty pleased with myself.”
“We weren't going to go out,” he described the off. “We we're just going to hang on, but no, we didn't but new rears on, we just put new fronts on to find out what the balance is with that. The balance isn't good and it just oversteered and I corrected it but it just put me too wide. I literally put a wheel off into the gravel and gravel's just got hold of the front bumper and ripped it to bits.”
Before Newsham's long five minutes the chasing pack had begun eating into the healthy advantage. Rob Collard and Andrew Jordan had cut it to just two-tenths in taking what was then second and third places with the same exact lap time (48.698). The pair were bumped down a spot each and Newsham's advantage cut to just 0.132 by Matt Neal in the closing stages after the defending champion had set the fastest first sector, but then lost nearly two tenths to Newsham over the second half of the lap.
Collard will start third, sharing the second row with Andrew Jordan, who lost any chance to break the dead heat between himself and eBay Motors BMW driver with his final lap when Chris James held up the Pirtek driver after a miscommunication from the team.
Tom Onslow–Cole and Jason Plato will share row three, the MG driver missing the first third of the session, but still improving on successive laps from 17th, to seventh to fifth. Rob Austin, Frank Wrathall, Gordon Shedden and Nick Foster completed the top ten, Foster ensuring all three BMWs will start in the top ten.
Shedden, like Plato, was late to start the session after the Honda Yuasa Racing squad had replaced the wiring loom in an effort to end the electrics problems of both practice sessions. Also like Plato he was one to lose a fastest lap time as punishment for running off the track. However, where Plato's lap ultimately did not cost him, Shedden's penalty erased what had would have been the fifth fastest time.
Mat Jackson in 11th was the best a slightly disappointing Redstone Racing trio with Aron Smith 14th and Liam Griffin 17th. Ginetta GT Supercup champion Adam Morgan will start 13th for his BTCC debut.
Newsham now faces maybe the biggest test of his Touring Car career, having to perform a standing start in anger for the first time from pole position to start the 2012 BTCC season. The first race is scheduled to start at 11:47am.