Jason Plato's stellar start to the 2012 season continued at Donington Park as the double champion used an early lap to take pole position.
Plato's surprise win with the new MG6 meant that he was carrying maximum ballast into qualifying for the second BTCC weekend of the year. However, after strong running in both practice sessions Plato moved onto provisional pole soon after the obligatory pitstop made by the front-wheel-drive runners after their outlaps.
That early rash of stops left the rear-wheel-drive cars – the three eBay Motors BMWs and Rob Austin's Audi to exchange fastest sector times and laps during the early laps, Rob Collard winning that exchange with a lap of 1:11.606 – seven-tenths slower than the best time of the day to that point.
Plato emerged, and promptly destroyed Collard's early time, besting it by over a second by lapping the 1.98 mile track in 1:10.604, confirming his pace the following lap – just a tenth slower.
Others flooded into the gulf between Plato and Collard. Both Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal dipped into the 1:10 bracket to shadow Plato, Shedden just five-hundredths slower, Neal a full three-tenths away from the MG KX Momentum Racing driver.
Mat Jackson, Andrew Jordan and Rob Austin followed. Austin's Audi perhaps had the pace to join the manufacturer cars at the front but a misfire frustrated Austin, bringing a premature end to his session at the end of a lap in which he set the best first sector time.
Austin's coming into the pits was almost simultaneous with the start of the rain. Through appearing more as drizzle the moisture was enough to steal the crucial amount of grip necessary for pole setting laps from under the drivers.
Though drivers continued to lap, there were few improvements.
More surprisingly there were few drivers caught out by the greasy conditions. Luckless Adam Morgan spun backwards into the Redgate gravel – his stay there, although brief – brought out the red flag.
Only with four minutes to go – after the drizzle had subsided – did times start to improve again, Andrew Jordan and Collard leapfrogging Jackson into fourth and fifth respectively. Brands polesitter Dave Newsham – who had been trapped outside the top ten by the rain improved to ninth and the seventh on successive laps to demote Austin to eight. Smiths – Jeff and Aron – will line up on the fifth row.
But the top times were unchallenged. Whether Plato would have clinched pole had the entire session been dry is debateable but in the dying laps he proved there was pace left in the car by setting the fastest time through the final sector. Shedden will share the front row, bouncing back from a horror weekend at Brands Hatch that yielded only a single points finish from a weekend dogged by electrical problem.
Any Triple Eight delight at Plato's pole position was tempered by the fact Andy Neate will start shotgun on the 23 car field after differential problems prevented him from setting a lap time during the half hour session.
The first of the three British Touring Car Championship races is scheduled for 11:37am, the second race for 2:12pm and the final race – wrapping up the Donington Park meeting – at 5:15pm.