Fabrizio Giovanardi insisted he was still smiling at Brands Hatch despite missing out on a place in the top ten in qualifying for the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship season finale.

The VX Racing man heads into the final three races of the year with a comfortable lead and needs to score just eight points on race day to be certain of the title - even if closest challenger Jason Plato picks up the win and fastest lap in each of the three races.

Despite carrying maximum ballast on his Vectra, Giovanardi was a solid seventh quickest in the opening practice session before ending the second session eleventh, a result he matched in qualifying despite being only two-tenths of a second slower than surprise pole-man Stephen Jelley.

"I am still smiling, because even though I will be starting lower down the grid that I would have liked, I am immediately behind Plato, and he is really my only concern," he said. "My fastest lap was only a few tenths of a second off the polesitter's time, and the car feels great.

"I pushed it to the limit, and when everything feels as right as this, you have nothing to complain about. It's all about other people's points this weekend, I just keep doing sums in my head!"

Team-mate Tom Onslow-Cole starts just behind Giovanardi on the grid despite being one of the pacesetters in both free practice sessions and he admitted that he had hoped for more.

"I was really hoping for a much better qualifying performance today, especially after I led in free practice two," he said. "We kept the car set-up the same, and the track temperature stayed the same too, so I'm disappointed that I'll be starting from twelfth.

"I really wanted to finish in the top five for race one tomorrow, so I will still be aiming for this, I'll just have to push really hard."