Matt Neal will start tomorrow’s opening Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship race from pole position after the Halfords Yuasa Racing star set a blistering pace during qualifying at Oulton Park. The triple champion took his first pole position in five years with a stellar effort at Thruxton last time out, and the experienced racer backed up his fine form with yet another in successive events.
BMW Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan led the way early on as the 2013 champion looked to be a serious contender. Jordan had endured two relatively lacklustre weekends at Donington Park and Thruxton respectively, but he bounced back today with the potent ballast-free BMW 125i M Sport beneath him. The Bavarian machine has often gone well around the picturesque Cheshire venue and its credentials were also underlined by Rob Collard and Colin Turkington later on in proceedings.
Two Hondas endured offs as reigning champion Gordon Shedden recovered from a slide at Cascades, although Matt Simpson wasn’t so fortunate in a separate incident. The Simpson Racing Civic Type R ran wide at the exit of Druids and then speared into the barrier on the inside of the track as Simpson tried to correct his mistake. The red flags were thrown to recover the stricken Honda, but not before Aiden Moffat, Ashley Sutton and Mat Jackson had joined Neal and Jordan at the top of the timesheets.
A five minute shootout would determine the final grid positions although improvements were hard to come by for much of the field.
With Turkington languishing down the order, however, the Ulsterman produced heroics to haul his ballast-laden BMW up to fourth place ahead of Shedden’s Honda, who had himself responded well to his earlier moment.
So as the chequered flag waved, it was Neal from Jordan and Moffat’s Laser Tools Racing Mercedes – the young talent again showing his class following a maiden BTCC breakthrough victory earlier in the season.
Turkington and Shedden were next on the timesheets, ahead of Ash Sutton’s Subaru Levorg, who once more proved the pick of the Adrian Flux Subaru Racing squad. The two Fords of Mat Jackson and Josh Cook were seventh and eighth respectively, whilst Collard and rookie Senna Proctor initially completed the top ten. Proctor, however, along with another five drivers (see penalties below), lost his fastest time for a yellow flag infringement. This handed a top ten berth to Jake Hill in the TAG Racing VW while Proctor was classified in 16th.
Two high profile drivers endured tougher sessions than their younger team-mates as Jason Plato spun his Subaru Levorg before having to settle for 17th on the grid, whilst Power Maxed Racing’s Tom Chilton couldn’t match Proctor’s pace – he eventually finished 30th in his Vauxhall Astra.
The relentless pace of the session was proven as the top 25 drivers were covered by just over a second with the entire 32-car field blanketed by 1.797s. That final position unfortunately went to Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo driver Martin Depper, who also crashed into the barriers in the closing minutes.
Matt Neal said: “Fantastic! Pole positions are like buses at the moment, aren’t they – you wait for ages and then two come along all at once! I didn’t expect that. Given that we’ve got a bit of weight, I was aiming for somewhere on the first two rows but the car felt great – properly hooked-up. The session started out damp but really dried up quickly. We made a few last-minute changes and my engineer Barry worked his wizardry. It’s looking a bit tricky for tomorrow with two rear-wheel drive cars close behind me, but the Honda Civic Type R is great out of the blocks and we’ll give it our best shot.”
Andrew Jordan said: “That’s more like it! I’m very happy – just faultless from the team and I. This is the best I’ve driven the car all year, and it’s nice to start to feel like I’m getting on top of it now. I felt really at home in the car and it was a good session in general, which shows we’re making progress. We needed to do something like this. When you come here in a car like the BMW with no weight, you need to be up at the sharp end. We rolled straight out in the ballpark and we’ve been there all day. I wasn’t settling for second at the end – I was trying to snatch it off Matt [Neal], but we just came up short.”
Aiden Moffat said: “It certainly makes Sunday a lot easier when you get qualifying right! All credit to the Laser Tools Racing boys – they gave me the car to do the job. Achieving your first win like we did at Donington gives you a lot more confidence and with that a different mindset. We’ve proved we deserve to be here, so the pressure is off. We’ve always tended to struggle at this track, but today was the best the car has felt for a long time. I was really pushing on my fastest lap – it was certainly on-the-edge – but we got the most out of it!”
Colin Turkington said: “We’ve had a slight issue with the car all through the day. The most frustrating thing was we knew how much performance and potential was in the car, and yet we were languishing a long way down the timesheets with our hands tied. Thankfully, we just managed to get on top of it for the last run – the last few laps were do-or-die, and that’s where you really earn your money. To start on the first couple of rows is pretty good around here, and given the weight we are carrying, I think this is as high as we could have got today.”
Gordon Shedden said: “It’s tough out there – there’s no getting away from that. It was a good lap. Could I have found a little bit more? Maybe, but at least I can go racing from there. It was disappointing to lose out to [Colin] Turkington at the end, but I’m getting there and it’ll be a little bit about playing the long game tomorrow for me. It’s awesome for Matt – he’s finding a bit of form with this pole position lark! It just goes to show that when we hook it all up we’ve got a real good car and he’ll make the most of it. I’m sure there’s every chance he’ll take a couple of wins this weekend if he can get it off the line.”
2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship – Qualifying – Oulton Park
1 Matt NEAL (GBR) Halfords Yuasa Racing 1m26.151s (93.01mph)
2 Andrew JORDAN (GBR) BMW Pirtek Racing +0.126s
3 Aiden MOFFAT (GBR) Laser Tools Racing +0.249s
4 Colin TURKINGTON (GBR) Team BMW +0.458s
5 Gordon SHEDDEN (GBR) Halfords Yuasa Racing +0.461s
6 Ashley SUTTON (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +0.511s
7 Mat JACKSON (GBR) Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo +0.549s
8 Josh COOK (GBR) Team Parker with Maximum Motorsport +0.571s
9 Rob COLLARD (GBR) Team BMW +0.587s
10 Jake HILL (GBR) TAG Racing +0.650s
11 Tom INGRAM (GBR) Speedworks Motorsport +0.668s
12 Jack GOFF (GBR) Eurotech Racing +0.689s
13 Michael EPPS (GBR) Autoaid/RCIB Insurance Racing +0.728s
14 Rob AUSTIN (GBR) Handy Motorsport +0.791s
15 Matt SIMPSON (GBR) Simpson Racing +0.812s
16 Senna PROCTOR (GBR) Power Maxed Racing +0.819s
17 Jason PLATO (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +0.823s
18 Jeff SMITH (GBR) Eurotech Racing +0.894s
19 Ant WHORTON-EALES (GBR) AmDtuning.com with Cobra Exhausts +0.980s
20 Adam MORGAN (GBR) Ciceley Motorsport +0.996s
21 James COLE (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +1.002s
22 Ollie JACKSON (GBR) AmDtuning.com with Cobra Exhausts +1.005s
23 Stephen JELLEY (GBR) Team Parker with Maximum Motorsport +1.017s
24 Luke DAVENPORT (GBR) Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo +1.089s
25 Aron TAYLOR-SMITH (IRL) MG Racing RCIB Insurance +1.115s
26 Daniel LLOYD (GBR) MG Racing RCIB Insurance +1.181s
27 Will BURNS (GBR) Autoaid/RCIB Insurance Racing +1.242s
28 Dave NEWSHAM (GBR) BTC Norlin Racing +1.288s
29 Chris SMILEY (GBR) BTC Norlin Racing +1.451s
30 Tom CHILTON (GBR) Power Maxed Racing +1.455s
31 Josh PRICE (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +1.669s
32 Martin DEPPER (GBR) Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo +1.797s