Colin Turkington out-paced all his key Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship rivals to qualify on the sixth row in an ultra-close session at Rockingham on Saturday.
The Team BMW driver was saddled with 66kg success ballast due to lying second in the championship, but despite this, did enough to qualify his BMW 125i M Sport 12th.
With none of the championship’s top-six drivers qualifying near the front of the grid, the Northern Irishman can make serious inroads into the series lead in Sunday’s three races. His best lap was just 0.4 seconds away from the pole position time.
His new team-mate, Ricky Collard, who is making his BTCC debut this weekend, spent both practice sessions gaining experience of the WSR-run BMW 125i M Sport.
Despite his lack of seat time in touring cars, and the 45kg newcomers’ ballast he must run, the BMW Motorsport Junior driver sliced more than half a second off his gap to the leaders between practice and qualifying.
The 22-year-old from Eversley, Hampshire, qualified 26th – ahead of several notable touring car drivers – and was just 0.9s off pole on a day when one second covered the top 28 drivers.
BMW lead the BTCC Manufacturers’ Championship into Sunday’s races while Team BMW are third in the Teams’ points table as they aim for a third straight title.
Colin Turkington said: “Weight affects your car here more than almost anywhere else, so we knew that coming here with 66kg was going to be a big disadvantage. It’s not just the speed that the weight affects; it’s the balance too, so we spent a lot of time in practice trying to work through this. We’re only four tenths off pole and ahead of all our main rivals, so it’s actually pretty good; it just doesn’t feel it. I think once the weight comes off for Race Two, you’ll see the true potential of the BMW around here.”
Ricky Collard said: “My aim for this weekend is to learn and I’ve definitely done a lot of that today. The GTs and single-seaters I’ve raced throughout my career have had lots of downforce and electronic driver aids, whereas a BTCC has none of these; I’ve never even raced with a stick-shifter before! I’m less than a second from pole and I’ve closed the gap to the front by over half a second since practice, so the progress we’ve made together has been pretty rapid. I’m aiming to make up as much ground as I can in tomorrow’s races.”
Dick Bennetts, Team Principal, said: “We are where we are purely down to weight. We pretty much had the sweet spot of the car sorted from quite an early stage, but the times weren’t coming, so we tried some pretty radical things in practice to address this. For Colin to only be 0.4 seconds off pole – and ahead of all his major title rivals – is very good and when you look at what Ricky’s done in closing the gap by half a second since practice, he’s performed well too.”