Experienced heads fight back in BTCC qualifying

Halfords Yuasa Racing’s Matt Neal produced a mind-blowing lap during qualifying for Round 7 of the 2018 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, smashing his own lap record by nearly half a second to grab pole position at Thruxton.

In a season that has so far been largely dominated by the ever-growing number of emerging young talents in the field, it was elder statesman Neal who produced the goods at the UK’s fastest circuit.

Team BMW’s Colin Turkington – another of the experienced heads in the ultra-competitive 32-car line-up – looked to have taken pole when he dipped under Neal’s 2017 benchmark, but the Ulsterman still secured an impressive place on the front row for tomorrow’s opener.

Brett Smith admitted he was literally sick with nerves prior to the session, with few predicting his high-rise finish. The WIX Racing with Eurotech man was confident however, and the 26-year-old duly obliged with a stellar lap to take third.

Dan Cammish was among a number of drivers to lose their fastest lap times, due to track limit infringements, but the BTCC rookie bounced back well to claim fourth at the flag – making it three Hondas in the top four of the final classification.

Power Maxed TAG Racing is enjoying something of a breakthrough season in the BTCC – with Senna Proctor and Josh Cook having taken a maiden win apiece at Brands Hatch and Donington Park respectively – and both young racers also starred today at a sun-baked Thruxton. With a ballast-laden Vauxhall Astra for Cook, however, it was this time left to Proctor to perform well during qualifying.

The Yorkshireman grabbed fifth, ahead of championship leader Tom Ingram – the Toyota marksman taking sixth place on-the-road despite his Avensis carrying maximum weight. Ingram, however, was later adjudged to have exceeded track limits. Speedworks Motorsport appealed the post-qualifying judgement, but stewards upheld the original decision of the Race Director. Subsequently Ingram dropped down to tenth on the grid.

Ford duo Sam Tordoff and Tom Chilton were next up in the timesheets, with the Motorbase-run machines showing solid pace around the Hampshire speedbowl. BMW Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan is looking to ignite his championship challenge and he’ll have to do so from eighth on the grid, whilst Chris Smiley was ninth – another notable result from the fledgling BTC Norlin Racing squad.

There was little by way of off-track incidents during the 30-minute session but there were a number of notable front-running absentees from the top ten, including Adam Morgan (12th), Jack Goff (14th), Josh Cook (15th) and Ash Sutton (18th).

Rounds 7, 8 and 9 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship will take place at Thruxton tomorrow (20 May) with a huge crowd expected to descend onto the sunny grass banks of Hampshire, and many more watching the action live and exclusively on ITV4 from 11:15.

Matt Neal said: “I was hanging everything out there! I honestly didn’t think we had that kind of pace in the car, but it just shows that this new Civic Type R is really up for it. I’m well-chuffed. This event is like a home grand prix for us, with Honda and Yuasa based just up the road in Swindon and a different livery on the car this weekend in recognition of Yuasa’s 100th Anniversary. Things haven’t gone our way so far this year, but we always remain hopeful. We did a good race simulation this morning, and the car was really kind to the tyres. The trouble, obviously, is I’ve got Colin [Turkington] alongside me with his fast-starting rear-wheel drive BMW, but it would be nice to break our 2018 duck tomorrow…”

Colin Turkington said: “I’m really pleased. The BMW has been fantastic all day. Thruxton is not somewhere that is generally one of our best tracks – it tends to be a little bit more difficult for us here – so all credit to Team BMW for this effort. They’ve kept improving the car bit by bit, and whilst it’s tough for us to match the front-wheel drive guys here over a single lap, this is the fastest time I’ve ever done at Thruxton. We are hoping the race will come to us, and the warmer the better for us tomorrow. It’s not going to be won at the first corner – it will be all about tyre management. We need to think long and hard tonight about how to optimise the car over a race distance, and hopefully we will come out firing on all cylinders.”

Brett Smith said: “I knew coming into this weekend that Thruxton would be my best chance for a podium so far. This has always been a Honda circuit – it tends to favour front-wheel drive anyway, but I think the Honda is the best chassis on the grid – and I’m chuffed to bits with P3, right behind the pole man. I knew it was in the car and me, but I got myself so worked up beforehand that I ended up being sick. I was that nervous – proper James Hunt style. I’ve not got any ballast on-board, so the goal has to be to get a podium tomorrow – at the very least.”

2018 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship – Qualifying – Thruxton

Matt NEAL (GBR) Halfords Yuasa Racing 1m15.612s (112.17mph)
2 Colin TURKINGTON (GBR) Team BMW +0.235s
Brett SMITH (GBR) WIX Racing with Eurotech +0.435s
Dan CAMMISH (GBR) Halfords Yuasa Racing +0.477s
5 Senna PROCTOR (GBR) Power Maxed TAG Racing +0.533s
Sam TORDOFF (GBR) Team GardX Racing with Motorbase +0.609s
Tom CHILTON (GBR) Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Gallagher +0.644s
Andrew JORDAN (GBR) BMW Pirtek Racing +0.706s
Chris SMILEY (GBR) BTC Norlin Racing +0.783s
10 Tom INGRAM (GBR) Speedworks Motorsport +0.795s
11 Matt SIMPSON (GBR) Simpson Racing +0.845s
12 Adam MORGAN (GBR) Mac Tools with Ciceley Motorsport +0.901s
13 Rob COLLARD (GBR) Team BMW +0.911s
14 Jack GOFF (GBR) WIX Racing with Eurotech +0.926s
15 Josh COOK (GBR) Power Maxed TAG Racing +0.991s
16 Tom OLIPHANT (GBR) Ciceley Motorsport +1.020s
17 Rob AUSTIN (GBR) DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing +1.029s
18 Ashley SUTTON (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +1.078s
19 Mike BUSHELL (GBR) Trade Price Cars with Brisky Racing +1.154s
20 James COLE (GBR) Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Gallagher +1.167s
21 Aiden MOFFAT (GBR) Laser Tools Racing +1.193s
22 James NASH (GBR) BTC Norlin Racing +1.215s
23 Josh PRICE (GBR) Autoglym Academy Racing +1.282s
24 Jason PLATO (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +1.306s
25 Jake HILL (GBR) Trade Price Cars with Brisky Racing +1.325s
26 Rory BUTCHER (GBR) AmD with AutoAid/RCIB Insurance Racing +1.471s
27 Stephen JELLEY (GBR) Team Parker Racing +1.722s
28 Michael CAINE (GBR) Team HARD with Trade Price Cars +1.958s
29 Ollie JACKSON (GBR) AmD with Cobra Exhausts +2.056s
30 Bobby THOMPSON (GBR) Team HARD with Trade Price Cars +2.161s
31 Tom BOARDMAN (GBR) AmD with AutoAid/RCIB Insurance Racing +2.501s
32 Sam SMELT (GBR) AmD with Cobra Exhausts +2.659s