Triple BTCC champ heads Honda 1-2-3 at Thruxton 

Halfords Yuasa Racing’s Matt Neal has claimed his first Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship pole position in nearly five years after setting a qualifying lap record at Thruxton.

The triple champion hauled his Honda Civic Type R around the 2.356-mile circuit – the fastest track in the country – with supreme style to claim top spot ahead of his team-mate Gordon Shedden.

Neal had set the early pace before getting loose on the following tour, initially scuppering his chances of further improvement. On his ultimate lap, the experienced racer also locked up slightly going into the final chicane, but the stellar effort was still enough to grab an historic pole position – his first since Croft in 2012.

Jack Goff and Tom Ingram were at the top of the order mid-session, though the young duo eventually had to settle for third and fourth respectively. Eurotech Racing’s Goff had been on the pace throughout the day and the 26-year-old made it a one-two-three lockout for Honda machinery, whilst championship leader Tom Ingram also produced heroics in his ballast-laden Speedworks Toyota.

Handy Motorsport’s Rob Austin proved the potency of the Avensis by claiming fifth, backing up his own pole position at Donington Park last time out. Austin has shown speed throughout the 2017 season so far but has been caught up in a number of unfortunate incidents on race day – a factor he will be looking to overcome tomorrow.

Jeff Smith had a wild ride to sixth, which included a session stopping accident on the exit of Allard. The Eurotech man had already set a solid lap time before running wide on the opening turn, resulting in his Honda car sliding across the grass and into the barrier.

Ciceley Motorsport’s Adam Morgan surged to seventh in his Mercedes A-Class, while Ashley Sutton continues to fly the flag for Adrian Flux Subaru Racing as the young gun claimed eighth.

Team BMW endured a challenging session overall with Colin Turkington’s ninth place the best result on the day for the Bavarian marque. Mat Jackson brought his Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo Ford Focus around in tenth spot – a high for a Motorbase-backed car on a Saturday this year.

A host of famous faces had to settle for places outside of the top ten with the top 21 cars covered by less than a second. Such is the competitiveness in the series this season that it was double champion and BTCC legend Plato in that 21st position, just 0.999s behind Neal’s benchmark.

Three thrilling BTCC races are expected at Thruxton tomorrow with the entire race day being broadcast live and exclusively on ITV4 from 11:15.

Matt Neal said: “I actually can’t remember the last time I was on pole! After the disappointment of Donington, we needed to bounce back and this is a great start – although ‘Flash’ certainly made me work hard for it. For Honda, this is like our home event with the cars manufactured up the road and it’s great to see so many guys from the factory here and to reward them with a one-two in qualifying. Now we just need to try to convert it tomorrow.”

Gordon Shedden said: “To be on the front row with 75kg in the car definitely exceeded my expectations – it was a proper lap and a fair chunk quicker than we went in FP2. Realistically, I’d thought we would be doing well even to sneak into the top ten so I’m dead chuffed! Every lap was an adventure out there as I tried to keep my foot in for as long as possible through the faster corners out the back of the circuit – there wasn’t much left in the tank.”

Jack Goff said: “If I’m honest, I wanted a bit more there and pole position was definitely in the car, but I locked up and missed the chicane when I was three tenths-of-a-second up on my quickest lap. Our race pace seems strong too – we showed that in both free practice sessions and did more than a full race run in FP1 – so it’s all about getting a clean start and clean first lap and with Gordon [Shedden] carrying maximum ballast, hopefully we can then pick him off and go from there.”

Tom Ingram said: “We were really struggling for balance in both practice sessions – we couldn’t get the Avensis hooked up at all – and that left us all sat inside the truck scratching our heads. We just threw everything at it and managed to get on top of the issues, and full credit to the Speedworks boys for getting the job done. Given the ballast we’re carrying and the way our day started, I think we can be more than happy with P4 on the grid.”

Rob Austin said: “I’m absolutely over the moon with that – my best lap in qualifying was properly on the edge! We knew we didn’t have the best-suited car for this circuit – I think it’s clear the Hondas are something else round here – and when we tested here a couple of weeks ago, we struggled with the balance. The boys did an awesome job and changed pretty much everything on the car, and from the moment we hit the track in FP1 it felt so much better. All of our work has been geared around race day, and I think we now have a very strong car for tomorrow. I’m very happy with my day’s work.”

2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship – Qualifying – Thruxton

Matt NEAL (GBR) Halfords Yuasa Racing 1m16.040s (111.54mph)
2 Gordon SHEDDEN (GBR) Halfords Yuasa Racing +0.035s
Jack GOFF (GBR) Eurotech Racing +0.160s
4 Tom INGRAM (GBR) Speedworks Motorsport +0.196s
Rob AUSTIN (GBR) Handy Motorsport +0.337s
6 Jeff SMITH (GBR) Eurotech Racing +0.355s
7 Adam MORGAN (GBR) Ciceley Motorsport +0.454s
Ashley SUTTON (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +0.548s
9 Colin TURKINGTON (GBR) Team BMW +0.582s
10 Mat JACKSON (GBR) Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo +0.600s
11 Tom CHILTON (GBR) Power Maxed Racing +0.608s
12 Aiden MOFFAT (GBR) Laser Tools Racing +0.613s
13 Matt SIMPSON (GBR) Simpson Racing +0.616s
14 Senna PROCTOR (GBR) Power Maxed Racing +0.662s
15 Luke DAVENPORT (GBR) Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo +0.702s
16 Andrew JORDAN (GBR) BMW Pirtek Racing +0.824s
17 Josh COOK (GBR) Team Parker with Maximum Motorsport +0.894s
18 Rob COLLARD (GBR) Team BMW +0.922s
19 Ant WHORTON-EALES (GBR) AmDtuning.com with Cobra Exhausts +0.926s
20 Michael EPPS (GBR) Autoaid/RCIB Insurance Racing +0.934s
21 Jason PLATO (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +0.999s
22 Dave NEWSHAM (GBR) BTC Norlin Racing +1.020s
23 Aron TAYLOR-SMITH (IRL) MG Racing RCIB Insurance +1.090s
24 Jake HILL (GBR) TAG Racing +1.208s
25 Ollie JACKSON (GBR) AmDtuning.com with Cobra Exhausts +1.212s
26 James COLE (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +1.215s
27 Chris SMILEY (GBR) BTC Norlin Racing +1.243s
28 Stephen JELLEY (GBR) Team Parker with Maximum Motorsport +1.411s
29 Daniel LLOYD (GBR) MG Racing RCIB Insurance +1.420s
30 Will BURNS (GBR) Autoaid/RCIB Insurance Racing +1.531s
31 Martin DEPPER (GBR) Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo +1.727s
32 Josh PRICE (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +2.132s