Triple World Champion heads West Surrey Racing 1-2-4
West Surrey Racing enjoyed yet another stellar outing at Knockhill with Andy Priaulx heading a BMW 1-2-4 in Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship qualifying earlier today (22 August).
A breathless session saw a quite staggering 23 cars blanketed by just eight tenths of a second with positions changing at almost every moment. Such was the competitiveness that the ballast-laden VW of Jason Plato could only manage 22nd on the grid, although the double champion has cited an as yet unknown problem with his Team BMR RCIB Insurance machine.
Sam Tordoff looked to have stolen pole position from under the nose of Motorbase Performance’s Mat Jackson, with the latter combination going for their first ever P1 in qualifying. Tordoff’s BMW 125i M Sport flashed across the line to move to the summit with just two minutes to go, but before he had time to celebrate, his team-mate Priaulx had blasted through to set an all-new qualifying lap record of 51.671s.
Tordoff and Jackson held on to second and third, while WSR’s Rob Collard moved into fourth after recovering from an off-track excursion during one of his late flyers.
Gordon Shedden – who had dominated both practice sessions earlier in the day – had to settle for fifth, just 0.005s off the second row pace. It could have been better for the Scotsman but one of his fastest attempts was scuppered when his Honda Yuasa Racing team-mate Matt Neal went off, bringing about one of two red flag periods. The 2012 champion shook his head as he returned to pit lane, possibly in the knowledge that his best opportunity had been wasted.
Regular Knockhill front row starter Rob Austin could only manage sixth this time around, but it still represented his best performances of the season in the Exocet AlcoSense Audi A4. Neal held on to seventh despite his spin.
MG’s Andrew Jordan took eighth with his last attempt also ruined after he ran wide and into the gravel in his Pirtek-backed MG6.
Ninth wouldn’t normally be something to celebrate for Colin Turkington, but the reigning champion was Team BMR RCIB Insurance’s top performer and he also maintained his record of qualifying inside the top ten of every 2015 event. Adam Morgan’s WIX Racing Mercedes was relegated to tenth by Turkington with the duo split by just 0.001s.
Unbelievably close gaps continued throughout the order with the likes of Snetterton race winner Jack Goff, Aron Smith and Plato among the notable absentees from the top ten.
Plato was another to abort his last flyer attempt following a trip through the gravel and the double champion had to settle for the lowest grid position in his BTCC career – the championship leader will have it all to do from 22nd on the grid. Plato has suggested, however, that he’ll likely start from the pitlane – as he did at Croft earlier this season – in a bid to grab pole position for race two.
All three races will be broadcast live and in high definition on ITV4 from 10:45 tomorrow with the opening BTCC encounter taking place an hour later.
Andy Priaulx said: “It was a tough session, there was only a very short window to squeeze the lap out, but I managed to put it all together. It’s dangerous to expect anything, I knew coming into the weekend that we’d be strong, but to be fair I’ve had to get my head around the circuit, it’s been a long time since I raced here! A few things have changed, the kerbs are different through the chicane for example which makes a big difference. The track was going up and down in grip level, and while it didn’t drop massively it was pretty greasy and in those conditions it’s very easy to make a mistake. I knew that we had to be out there and get that free lap, and we stole it right at the end which is mega really.”
Sam Tordoff said: “Considering that I was in the fence on lap three and still hadn’t done a time after 20 minutes I’m really pleased with the outcome. To pip Mat Jackson for second was an added bonus. We kept ourselves in the hunt at Snetterton and now we need to do the same again and score big as it’s a circuit that benefits us and can hurt the VWs. I’m looking to score as many points as I can and might even be P3 by the end of the weekend. I wasn’t sure of our pace after FP2 and we’ll be kept honest with some quick drivers around us. We need to keep an eye on the weather, but we’ve got a good race car and to be honest I’m just enjoying what is by far the best car I’ve ever driven around Knockhill. It likes kerbs and that’s a big thing here, so I’m really happy.”
Mat Jackson said: “It was good – we were P1 for almost the entire session. To get pipped right at the end is frustrating, but P3 isn’t bad. We need to see where we are compared to the BMWs off the start, that’ll be interesting as we’ve not been up against them yet. They’ve got a championship fight to think about and we don’t – we’re ballast-free and are out for wins, so we could have some good races. I think we’ve got a good race car, it’s consistent. A lot tends to happen in races at Knockhill, but it’s exciting to be back challenging at the front in the BTCC.”
Rob Collard said: “You have to push so hard here because it’s so so close, and there wasn’t a bit of the track I didn’t use out there including kissing the barrier on the exit of turn seven! I’ve always done very well around here and to start P4 is a good thing for us. I think if we can get a good start in race one then it could be another very good day for us, then we can start building our championship again. I know we can’t win it without a miracle, but we can hopefully get back into the top six by the end of the season.”
Gordon Sheddon said: “The session just wasn’t very smooth. There was rain at the wrong times, traffic at the wrong times, but that’s the nature of the circuit, it all has to fall into place for you to nail the lap. It didn’t quite work out for me, but the time was still strong and the car is in a good place and I know I can race from where we are. We knew the BMWs would go well, but we’ll go racing tomorrow and see what happens. It was a difficult one for Jason Plato, but after Snetterton, I know where he’s coming from!”
Rob Austin said: “I felt I could have put the lap together a little bit better but we’re happy. I had a bit of traffic which was frustrating – the car was good enough for a little bit more but we knew we didn’t have the pace of the BMWs coming into today so when you look at it like that we’ve done alright. We can definitely fight from where we are and end up with a good weekend. I need it to be dry tomorrow, rear-wheel-drive over wet kerbs makes this a completely different track.”
Jason Plato said: “It was completely off plan to be honest. Something’s happened with the car – we don’t know what it is yet but I think it might be a damper. Something fundamental has happened because it was a completely different car to the one we had in free practice. There was masses of understeer, I couldn’t go near any bumps which isn’t ideal around Knockhill. It’s a pain, but it is what it is. I’ll be starting from the pit lane, it’d be stupid to start from 22nd with 75kgs of ballast on board as I won’t be able to overtake. We’re 16 points in the lead, at best Colin will take a few points out of me in race one, but what I need to do is put the soft tyres which we’re running, get some space, get a good lap time in and I’ll be right back up there. OK I’ve lost a few points, but that’s that.”