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Jason Plato snatches pole in frantic qualifying

Jason Plato grabbed pole position for tomorrow’s opening British Touring Car Championship race at Brands Hatch with a stonking final lap, ending the session ahead of teammate Sam Tordoff and Honda’s Gordon Shedden as a red flag ended the action early.

The result was just what Plato would have been hoping to take into tomorrow’s races, and with Tordoff between himself and championship rival Colin Turkington – who was fastest in the day’s two practice sessions but will start race one from fourth – the double champion can at least hope to extend his challenge into the penultimate round of the season.

The session got going 15 minutes later than its 15:35 scheduled start time in glorious sunshine, but with the circuit still damp as a result of rain between the end of second practice and qualifying, cevery driver opted to start on wet tyres.

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The two MGs were the first two drivers over the line, with Plato setting the initial pace with a tentative effort of 1:41.239s, as drivers weighed up their tyre options. Alain Menu switched to slicks, but waited in the pitlane as those who continued to circulate dried the circuit.

Matt Neal took the opposite approach to the Swiss, and pitted for a fresh set of wet tyres. That choice appeared to have paid off, at least in the short term, as he went third fastest with his first flying lap before taking provisional pole with a 1:41.177s.

The Honda driver’s time at the top of the standings was short lived however, as Marc Hynes went fastest – albeit only briefly before his effort was disallowed for exceeding track limits – before Menu, now on dries, set a time of 1:40.072s. Not content with that, the Team BMR Restart driver continued to better his time, with an effort of 1:38.806s.

Shedden then took his chance to get in on the action with an effort of 1:37.795s, but Menu came back with a 1:37.015s. It was then that Plato – who had earlier spent some time at the top – split the pair with a time of 1:37.627s, as the times at the front continued to tumble.

It then looked for some time as though 2012 champion Shedden had pole position in the bag as a lap of 1:34.908s put him well clear of his rivals, but in the last three minutes of the session the times were rapidly improving with every lap, and Tordoff first jumped into second on a 1:34.844s, while Plato usurped his teammate with a 1:33.949s.

With drivers then gearing up for one final attempt, a frantic and enticing end to the season as brought to a premature end as Dave Newsham beached his AmD Tuning Ford Focus in the gravel, which brought the red flag out and saw the session ended with two minutes to spare.

Turkington had looked set to make a late dash for the top spots, and although fourth is still a strong position for him to start from, a win for Plato in the first race tomorrow would mean that no matter where the eBay Motors driver finishes, the title fight will go into the second event.

Behind the front four, the weather conditions certainly played their part in mixing up the order. Adam Morgan ended up an excellent fifth in his WIX Racing Mercedes, while Fabrizio Giovanardi claimed a sixth place grid slot in the final qualifying session of his comeback campaign. James Cole was an outstanding seventh in his United Autosports Toyota Avensis, taking full advantage of the conditions to score his and his team’s best qualifying result in the series to date, ahead of Mat Jackson, Nick Foster and Newsham, who still claimed a first top ten qualifying result of the season despite ending his day in the gravel trap.

Race one gets underway tomorrow at 11:32 BST.

Session results

1 99 M Jason PLATO MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save MG6 13 1:33.949
2 88 M Sam TORDOFF MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save MG6 13 1:34.844 0.895
3 52 M Gordon SHEDDEN Honda Yuasa Racing Honda Civic Tourer 13 1:34.908 0.959
4 5 I Colin TURKINGTON eBay Motors BMW 125i M Sport 13 1:35.279 1.330
5 33 I Adam MORGAN WIX Racing Mercedes-Benz A-Class 11 1:35.661 1.712
6 7 I Fabrizio GIOVANARDI Airwaves Racing Ford Focus ST 13 1:36.064 2.115
7 20 I James COLE United Autosports Toyota Avensis 12 1:36.380 2.431
8 6 I Mat JACKSON Airwaves Racing Ford Focus ST 14 1:36.410 2.461
9 18 I Nick FOSTER eBay Motors BMW 125i M Sport 14 1:36.462 2.513
10 17 I Dave NEWSHAM AmD Ford Focus ST 10 1:36.552 2.603

Complete session results

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