As the sun broke over the crest of Oulton Park, it was Rob Smith who took pole in a dramatic MINI Challenge – JCW qualifying session. It’s Smith’s first pole of the year as many of the front-runners struggled.
It proved to be an elongated session for most of the drivers as red flags held up proceedings. While the drivers each got a banker lap in the opening minutes, this running proved to be short-lived as five cars needed to be recovered.
With fourteen minutes left of the session, the cars headed back out with David Robinson and Smith already at the top after their earlier efforts. While Nathan Harrison managed to sneak into second, the order barely had time to move as four minutes later another red flag interrupted proceedings.
The clock again restarted, with the drivers being alloted six minutes, setting up a sprint to the flag. A couple of improvements further down benefitted the out-of-place runners, while at the front all eyes were on Smith.
In a final lap attempt, the MINI UK VIP racer became the only driver to drop below the 1 min 32 sec barrier with a time of 1min 31.973 putting him on pole. Robinson lined up alongside him, unable to improve by enough to keep his early session advantage.
Another driver leaping up the order in the dying moments was Rory Cuff. He lines up third, a personal best for the year so far, as he displaces Harrison, who will be hoping to make the most of a poor qualifying for his rivals.
A personal best for one was quickly followed by a worst qualifying of the year for Ant Whorton-Eales. The championship leader lines up sixth, behind Jack Davidson, hoping to hit back after his Silverstone misnomer. Completing the top eight would be Lewis Brown and guest driver Paul O’Neill.