Team BMW drivers Colin Turkington and Rob Collard will start from 3rd and 19th respectively on the grid for the first of three Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship races at Brands Hatch tomorrow (Sunday 8 April) after a hard-fought qualifying session in their WSR-run BMW 125i M Sports.
The Sunbury-on-Thames-based team, who are the reigning BTCC Teams’ and Manufacturers’ Champions, worked hard during the two 40-minute free practice sessions to solve a balance issue that had slightly slowed both cars.
An electrical problem also cost Colin valuable running time in FP2, but it was fixed in time for the 36-year old from Portadown, Northern Ireland, to set some solid lap times and line himself up nicely for qualifying.
Having assessed the data and fine-tuned the set-up, Colin found an early clear lap and punched in a 48.143s best, a mere 0.105s off pole, to put him on the inside of row two for the first BTCC race of 2018.
Like his team-mate, Rob found that the 1.2-mile Brands Hatch Indy Circuit had a lot more grip now than it had during pre-season testing in March – unsettling the finely-balanced car sufficiently to put the experienced driver from Eversley, Hampshire well down the order.
A puncture in FP2 brought Rob into the pits, but he was soon back on-track to complete free practice with 52 laps – giving the WSR engineers vital data for them to refine the car’s set-up.
Rob set a qualifying time that was 0.719s faster than he’d achieved in practice – a huge improvement over such a short lap – and while he was only 0.313s behind team-mate Colin, Rob will start 19th on the grid, on the inside of Row 10.
Colin Turkington said: “We’re very pleased with today’s final results – indeed third on the grid is more than I thought we were capable of. We’ve had a difficult day through free practice, trying to tune the car to the track conditions, but so many people along the pitlane were in the same boat. Track time is so important, and to sacrifice half of FP2 puts you on the back foot, so I was pleased to have had an early clear lap in qualifying and set a good time. Once again, the team has got the car on the money when it counts and it’s been another good day for Team BMW.”
Rob Collard said: “We’ve made significant improvements in time and performance in the car, and while I’m only three tenths off my team-mate, he’s third on the grid and I’m 19th. That shows the competitiveness of the BTCC. I’m disappointed to be 19th, but I do know that we have a good race car, so we have to put today behind us and focus on raceday tomorrow. It’s going to be a very busy Race One starting 19th and I have the current champion, Ash Sutton, across the grid from me. It’s not been a great day for me, but the BMWs do look strong, so I’ll take the positives, look at the data from both cars and see where we can find more time.”
Dick Bennetts, Team Principal, said: “We tested at Brands Hatch twice in March and we weren’t too far off the pace, but today the two cars have had the same balance problem, which caused a bit too much understeer. We had to scratch our heads and change our known set-ups for qualifying – we just made a couple of little changes and we’re very pleased that it worked so well for Colin with P3. Colin did a very good job to be so high up, considering where we were in practice – plus he had to miss a part of FP2 with an electrical issue, and we’re carrying more weight owing to a regulation change for rear-wheel drive cars. Rob’s P19, but he’s only three tenths away. Around Brands you have to get that one good lap in or you find yourself starting in the middle of the pack. Rob is one of the best racers on race day and he can put on a good charge from there.”