Racing Silverline ace Jason Plato secured his fourth pole position of the 2009 HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) campaign at Rockingham, as Jonny Adam spoiled an all-Chevrolet front row, Johnny Herbert broke into the top ten at only the second time of asking and the two chief title protagonists struggled to find much pace at all.
The 2001 BTCC Champion wound up just over a tenth of a second ahead of the impressive Adam, with the young Scot leaving it late before achieving a career-best starting slot of second aboard his Airwaves BMW to split the Lacettis of Plato and Silverstone star Mat Jackson, who indeed for much of the half-hour session had looked like making it two successive poles, only to slip back to third as the track temperature dropped.
“I'm really pleased with my lap considering my car is carrying success ballast (27kgs), which we reckon is worth another three tenths of a second,” remarked pole-sitter Plato, who currently lies third in the chase for the coveted crown, 42 points adrift of long-time leader Colin Turkington.
“I really nailed it and I think there's a sniff of a couple of wins tomorrow, but don't ask me about the title. Colin and Fabrizio [Giovanardi] are way too far in front to catch. Anyone asking me about it I'm telling to behave.”
“I'm delighted with that,” enthused 24-year-old Fife-born Adam of his breakthrough BTCC front row start. “I was quick here in the mid-season test and was quick out of the blocks again in practice this morning. I really want to get my first win in the BTCC, and hopefully I can take advantage of the BMW's rear wheel-drive traction and get away in the lead – but Jason is always a tough nut to crack.”
Fourth on the grid will be the ever-improving Stephen Jelley in the lead Team RAC machine, but team-mate Turkington endured a disastrous time of things ten spots lower down in 14th, more than seven tenths of a second away from the front-running pace and around a track that most had believed would suit the Beemer down to the ground.
“We've been chasing our tails all day with car set-up,” revealed the frustrated Irishman. “Sure, my car is carrying the most success ballast (45kgs), but I don't think that's the problem. We need to have a good look to see if we can turn it around for tomorrow.”
Turkington's closest pursuer in the standings, defending double BTCC Champion Giovanardi, meanwhile, will begin race one from seven places higher up the order in seventh, as the only one of the three VX Racing drivers to make the top ten, with Andrew Jordan and Matt Neal – the latter a Rockingham winner last year – respectively just eleventh and 15th. As he bids to close down the eleven-point gap separating him from the top of the points standings, the Italian warned that only a fool would write off his old nemesis Plato just yet.
“He tells people he has no chance, but he is always crying too much,” contended the man from Modena. “He could win twice tomorrow and me and Colin only pick up third and fourth places, and suddenly he is there right with us before we go to Brands Hatch.”
Fifth and sixth were 'giant-killer' Paul O'Neill in his older BTC-spec sunshine.co.uk Honda Integra and Gordon Shedden in newly-formed outfit Club SEAT's SEAT Leon, whilst former British Grand Prix-winner Johnny Herbert turned heads and proved that he is fast getting to grips with tin-top racing by vaulting up to an excellent ninth in only his second outing in the Team Dynamics Honda Civic, seven positions and more than four tenths of a second ahead of Dave Pinkney in the sister car.
Tom Chilton, finally, was a highly encouraging tenth in Team Aon's Ford Focus ST to make it six different makes of car representing seven different teams inside the top ten, with less than a second covering the leading 15 contenders at the close.
To see the qualifying times in full, click here