Jason Plato heading out of the Rockingham pit lane ahead of his pole position lap

Jason Plato has qualified on pole position for the first of tomorrow’s three Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship races at the Rockingham circuit in Northamptonshire.

Reigning Champion Plato set a best time of 1m23.745s in his Silverline Chevrolet Cruze to achieve his third pole this season and the 34thof his career. It could prove crucial tomorrow as he tries to claw back a 35-point deficit to championship leader Gordon Shedden.

Paul O’Neill and Rob Austin were second and third fastest – the best qualifying performances of their careers to date – in their GoMobileUK.com with tech-speed Cruze and Rob Austin Racing Audi A4 respectively.

Matt Neal in his Honda Racing Team Civic and, on his home circuit, Newport Pagnell’s James Nash in his 888 Racing with Collins Contractors Vauxhall Vectra were next up to make it four different makes of car in the top five. Neal’s team-mate Shedden was sixth, his Civic laden with the maximum 45kgs of success ballast.

Scotsman Shedden will go into tomorrow’s three races – being shown live on ITV4, ITV4 HD and www.itv.com from 11.00am-6.00pm – holding a one-point lead over Worcestershire’s Neal at the top of the table. Warwickshire’s Mat Jackson, third in the standings and 23 points behind Shedden, qualified ninth fastest in his Airwaves Racing Ford Focus.

Reigning Champion Plato from Oxford commented: “I’m delighted as I really thought the turbocharged cars over a single flying lap would have the edge over us. We don’t know what the weather will bring tomorrow, but I couldn’t be starting from a better position to get the job done.”

An elated O’Neill, from Widnes, added: “For everyone in our team which doesn’t have the big budgets of some of the others this is a simply magical result. I just decided to ignore all the information from the read-outs on the dash and then ask over the radio what the time was – it’s just awesome.”

Pershore racer Austin said: “Having qualified fourth at Knockhill and been fastest in the second practice session here this morning, this proves we’re not one-hit wonders. We’ve really got the car working very well now on all types of circuits and I don’t really care who’s fighting for the championship around me – I’m going for three big results tomorrow.”

Elsewhere, following on and off-track incidents during today’s qualifying session between Jason Plato and Matt Neal, the championship stewards have fined both drivers £1000 and applied three penalty points to both their competition licences. The stewards have also requested that the BTCC Administrator imposes a six-place grid penalty (applicable to both drivers), suspended for the balance of the 2011 season.

BTCC Qualifying, Top Ten, Rockingham, Sat 17 Sept (provisional):

1. Jason Plato (GBR), Silverline Chevrolet/Chevrolet Cruze, 1m23.745s
2. Paul O’Neill (GBR), GoMobileUK.com with tech-speed/Chevrolet Cruze, +0.160s

3. Rob Austin (GBR), Rob Austin Racing/Audi A4, +0.225s
4. Matt Neal (GBR), Honda Racing Team/Honda Civic, +0.261s
5. James Nash (GBR), 888 Racing with Collins Contractors/Vauxhall Vectra, +0.269s
6. Gordon Shedden (GBR), Honda Racing Team/Honda Civic, +0.350s

7. Frank Wrathall (GBR), Dynojet/Toyota Avensis, +0.441s
8. Andrew Jordan (GBR), Pirtek Racing/Vauxhall Vectra, +0.627s

9. Mat Jackson (GBR), Airwaves Racing/Ford Focus, +0.713s

10. Martin Byford (GBR), AmD Milltek Racing.com/VW Golf, +0.792s