Defending champion Colin Turkington claimed pole position for the opening round of the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship at Donington Park this afternoon.
The Northern Irishman got his quest for a record fifth BTCC title off to the perfect start by smashing the qualifying lap record at the Leicestershire circuit in his BMW 330i M Sport.
However, it was a dramatic, tightly fought session in which several drivers took turns to top the timesheets. There was also a slight sprinkling of rain which made it even more challenging for the drivers.
It was Toyota’s Tom Ingram who set the pace in the opening ten minutes at the same venue where he guided his Corolla to its maiden victory last season.
He was displaced at the top by 2017 champion Ash Sutton, who produced a strong showing in his first qualifying session in the Laser Tools Racing Infiniti Q50.
Turkington then shot to the top of the pile, continuing the trend of a day which had seen him top both free practice sessions. His lap of 1:08.998s was enough to secure his 21st career pole position and his third in the last six seasons around the Donington circuit.
He said: “It just feels so good to be back driving in anger. I’m very proud of the team, we’ve worked extremely hard over the extended break. It’s been a really good start for us so I’m looking forward to all of the action again tomorrow. I’m always worried about everybody else, you see how close the times are and it’s just about putting the lap on the table when you can, when you’ve got some track time. The guys are hot on my heels so it’s not easy by any chance and it’s going to be a scrap tomorrow.”
Honda Yuasa Racing’s Dan Cammish left it late to secure a front row berth with a lap just 0.087 seconds adrift of Turkington’s benchmark.
He said: “Team Dynamics did an amazing job and again proving why they’re such a great team. To get me out there and not only that but in a car which is capable of challenging for the outright pole position. I knew I had to get on with it, we’ve all been watching the weather that last hour or so.”
Sutton held on for third, with less than a tenth of a second separating the top three.
He said: “It’s our first proper run out in the dry so the Laser Tools Infiniti Q50 has done me proud. It wasn’t quite right, we’re still tinkering, still trying to get in that window. But we’ve delivered when it matters and to be standing in P3, on the second row, inside, it’s going to be interesting. We’ve got a good race car. The boys have worked phenomenally to deliver what we’ve got and I know it’s been hard work playing catch up when Colin and Dan have got a few seasons under their belts.”
Ingram will line up fourth, meaning there are four different makes of car in the top four proving the competitiveness of the field and boding well for the rest of the season.
Tom Oliphant was fifth in the second BMW ahead of the Motorbase Ford Focus of Rory Butcher who managed sixth despite an early off track excursion across the grass.
Next up were a trio of Hondas, with MB Motorsport accelerated by Blue Square’s Jake Hill taking seventh and edging BTC Racing’s Josh Cook into eighth. Three time champion Matt Neal was close behind in ninth but traffic prevented him from getting a clean lap in the book much to his frustration.
Adam Morgan rounded out the top ten in the Carlube TripleR Racing with Mac Tools Mercedes.
It was a session to forget for Nicolas Hamilton whose session ended early when the bonnet of his Volkswagen CC broke and covered his windscreen; this meant he was unable to set a time and will therefore start the first race from the back of the grid.
For the full classification, please see here: http://www.btcc.net/results/
Rounds one, two and three of the championship take place tomorrow and will be shown live on ITV4 from 10:35am.