Tom Chilton achieved pole position – the first for Team Aon’s Global Ford Focus – in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship’s qualifying session at the Knockhill circuit in Fife.
On a dry track and watched by the visiting Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore MP, Chilton set a qualifying lap record around the 1.3-mile circuit in a time of 52.999s. Matt Neal, driving with a broken bone in his right hand, was a courageous second fastest in his Honda Racing Team Civic.
But the sensation of qualifying was the performance of the latest Next Generation Touring Car-specification cars, as Frank Wrathall’s Dynojet Toyota Avensis and Rob Austin’s Audi A4 ended up third and fourth fastest.
Neal’s team-mate Gordon Shedden, the home hero at Knockhill, was fifth ahead of Jason Plato’s Silverline Chevrolet Cruze and Mat Jackson’s Airwaves Racing Ford Focus. Jackson will go into the first of tomorrow’s three races leading the series ahead of Shedden, Neal and Plato. Just 20 points cover them with a possible maximum of 51 on offer from the three races which will be covered live during a seven-hour broadcast (11.00am-6.00pm) on ITV4, ITV4 HD and the www.itv.com website.
Chilton, from Reigate in Surrey, said: “It’s been a long time coming but this is exactly where the Global Focus should be. We’ve been developing it all season and now we’re starting to see the results. This is fantastic for everyone in our team who have put so much effort in. And of course I’m also delighted, personally, to be back on pole. Tomorrow’s going to be tough but I’m here to win.”
Worcestershire’s Neal commented: “I’m very happy with that – the hand isn’t giving me too much jip but it still isn’t fully healed which has made gripping the wheel a bit awkward. Congratulations to Tom who put in a stonking lap but, thinking of the championship, it’s good for me to be in front of the others – after losing the championship lead at Snetterton I’m looking to come back strong here.”
Wrathall and Austin – separated by just 0.005s and whose performances are the best ever for drivers in NGTC cars – were elated. Preston’s Wrathall enthused: “This car just gets better and better – after the fourth place we achieved in the race at Snetterton, I’m now staring at a possible first outright podium result.” And added Austin, from Pershore: “The development of this car which is still very new is starting to pay off. We showed at Snetterton we had great pace and I knew we’d improved it since then. I’m really up for a fight tomorrow.”
Shedden, fastest in both of this morning’s practice sessions, believes he can improve on his starting position in the first of tomorrow’s races and said: “The session just didn’t quite come together for me – there were three red flag stoppages which ruined a couple of my runs. The grid has a bit of a different look to it which adds to the unpredictability, but the Honda has great race pace and I know a few tricks around here…”
But there was disappointment for fellow Scottish driver, Inverness’s Dave Newsham, as an electrical problem with his Special Tuning SEAT Leon kept him back in 21st out of the 24 runners.
BTCC qualifying, Top Ten, Knockhill (Sat 3 Sept)
1. Tom Chilton (GBR), Team Aon/Ford Focus, 52.999s
2. Matt Neal (GBR), Honda Racing Team/Honda Civic, +0.202s
3. Frank Wrathall (GBR), Dynojet/Toyota Avensis, +0.223s
4. Rob Austin (GBR), Rob Austin Racing/Audi A4, +0.228s
5. Gordon Shedden (GBR), Honda Racing Team/Honda Civic, +0.299s
6. Jason Plato (GBR), Silverline Chevrolet/Chevrolet Cruze, +0.339s
7. Mat Jackson (GBR), Airwaves Racing/Ford Focus, +0.378s
8. Alex MacDowall (GBR), Silverline Chevrolet/Chevrolet Cruze, +0.423s
9. Tom Onslow-Cole (GBR), Team Aon/Ford Focus, +0.473s
10. Robert Collard (GBR), WSR/BMW 320si, +0.581s
* All times provisional