Neal bags crucial pole for Silverstone BTCC Race 1

Even with maximum ballast on his car, Matt Neal achieved pole position during this afternoon’s Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship qualifying session ahead of tomorrow’s three title-deciding races at Silverstone.

Neal, who leads the championship going into this weekend, decimated the previous qualifying lap record to set pole in a time of 59.131s – just shy of the average 100mph mark – in his Honda Racing Team Civic that is carrying 45kgs of extra weight.

And he needed to as the fastest 11 of the 29 runners were all under the previous record. It looked as if Mat Jackson, his Airwaves Racing Ford Focus laden with 18kgs of ballast, would take the pole with a time of 59.166s until Neal found an extra burst of speed. Jackson was then denied any chance when Tony Hughes's Speedworks Toyota crashed at Copse Corner and instantly turned that section of track into a yellow flag ‘caution zone’.

Jackson thus had to settle for second, missing out on pole by just 0.035s. Neal’s team-mate Gordon Shedden and a poorly James Nash, battling the effects of flu in his 888 Racing with Collins Contractors Vauxhall Vectra, were third and fourth fastest. Shedden’s Civic and Nash’s Vectra are carrying 27kgs and 18kgs of ballast respectively. Currently lying third and fifth in the standings, both can also win the title tomorrow with Nash eager to stay ahead of Jackson in the battle for Independents Trophy honours as well.

The other driver who can be crowned Champion in tomorrow’s finale is Jason Plato who qualified seventh in his Silverline Chevrolet Cruze, ballasted with 27kgs. Just ahead of him, fifth and sixth fastest, were his team-mate Alex MacDowall and Tom Chilton in his Team Aon Ford Focus.

Chilton's team-mates Andy Neate and Tom Onslow-Cole were eighth and ninth behind Plato while Frank Wrathall’s Dynojet Toyota Avensis completed the top ten, the fastest of the newer Next Generation Touring Car specification machines.

Former double Champion James Thompson, drafted into the Airwaves team this weekend, was 15th fastest and the last of the drivers to get within a second of the pole time.

Meanwhile the Geoff Steel Racing team's new turbocharged BMW 320si was 22nd fastest in the hands of Tony Gilham.

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