Chilton takes first pole for new Ford Focus as underdogs shine in Knockhill

Tom Chilton finally claimed his and the new ‘global’ Ford Focus’ first pole position of the season at Knockhill this afternoon in a session that saw three stoppages and a surprise second row.

After a solid performance in the damp free practice sessions earlier in the day, Chilton went one better in the dry half-hour qualifying session by setting a series of stunning laps around the twisty 1.3 mile circuit in Scotland, dipping under the 53s mark on his way to setting pole position for the first time this year after a trying development season in the new Focus.

The two Honda Civics of local favourite Gordon Shedden and his team-mate Matt Neal set the early benchmark times of the session, before Chilton then bettered their times by two tenths with a lap of 53.123s just before the first of three red flag stoppages occurred to move the Chevrolet Cruze of John George which had ground to a halt at the chicane.

Once the session had restarted, the battle between the Hondas and Chilton again started to fall the way of the Arena Ford man as he set a series of quick lap times that lowered his time to a 53.038 while Neal, driving with a broken hand from a martial arts incident, matched his team-mate Shedden’s time for second place before another stoppage.

This time it was for Andy Neate, who suffered his third off in the day after losing the back end of his Ford coming out of the second corner and sliding off into the gravel.

The action was stopped for a third time shortly after as Paul O’Neill ran wide at the first corner and spun through the mud, after which Chilton killed off the chances of his rivals with a stunning lap of 52.999s for his first pole since Donington last year, 0.202s ahead of second place man Neal.

Behind them, nobody could have predicted the second row of the grid as Rob Austin briefly took third position in the Audi A4 in the dramatic dying moments of the session, before being pipped by Frank Wrathall who continued from his giant-killing Snetterton performance with a brilliant third place on the grid, the best qualifying by far for the NGTC (next generation touring car) Toyota Avensis.

Austin’s equally spectacular effort was good enough for a personal best fourth place on the grid, all coming at the expense of Shedden who slipped to a somewhat disappointing fifth place for his home round, in a tight session where the gap between second-placed Neal and his team-mate Shedden was less than a tenth of a second in the end.

Jason Plato was the best of the normally-aspirated cars in sixth place as he struggled with the brake bias setup of his Chevy Cruze after a mistake at Scotsman’s corner on his first lap, eventually ending the session 0.3s slower than Chilton.

Championship leader Mat Jackson will start from row four of the grid in seventh place, an impressive performance considering carrying the maximum 45kg penalty ballast for leading the series, ahead of the second works Chevy of Alex MacDowall, Chilton’s team-mate Tom Onslow-Cole and Rob Collard for BMW rounding out the top 10.

The Vauxhall drivers struggled in qualifying, Andrew Jordan ending the session in 11th place just ahead of Triple Eight Racing’s James Nash in 12th.

The kerbing around the circuit had been modified and raised significantly to stop corner cutting, which provided some spectacular viewing for the fans as many drivers – including Chilton himself – scared themselves with some two-wheeled acrobatics through Clark Curve and the chicane.

Plato, Jackson and Onslow-Cole were all to be caught out on fast laps by over-attacking the kerbing, while Chris James proved the most entertaining as he even came close to rolling his ES Racing Chevrolet Lacetti. Aron Smith was another, the Irishman qualifying 15th for his BTCC debut.

Qualifying results:

 1.  Tom Chilton      Arena Ford                 52.999s   

 2.  Matt Neal        Honda                     + 0.202s

 3.  Frank Wrathall   Dynojet Toyota            + 0.223s

 4.  Rob Austin       Rob Austin Audi           + 0.228s

 5.  Gordon Shedden   Honda                     + 0.299s

 6.  Jason Plato      Chevrolet                 + 0.339s

 7.  Mat Jackson      Motorbase Ford            + 0.378s

 8.  Alex MacDowall   Chevrolet                 + 0.423s

 9.  Tom Onslow-Cole  Arena Ford                + 0.473s

10.  Rob Collard      WSR BMW                   + 0.581s

11.  Andrew Jordan    Eurotech Vauxhall         + 0.598s

12.  James Nash       Triple 8 Vauxhall         + 0.708s

13.  Tom Boardman     Special Tuning SEAT       + 0.736s

14.  Paul O’Neill     Tech-Speed Chevrolet      + 0.797s

15.  Aron Smith       Triple 8 Vauxhall         + 0.829s

16.  Daniel Welch     Welch Proton              + 0.868s

17.  Nick Foster      WSR BMW                   + 0.887s

18.  Martin Byford    AmD Volkswagen            + 1.125s

19.  Jeff Smith       Eurotech Vauxhall         + 1.252s

20.  Andy Neate       Arena Ford                + 1.335s

21.  Dave Newsham     Special Tuning SEAT       + 1.416s

22.  Liam Griffin     Motorbase Ford            + 1.778s

23.  John George      Tech-Speed Chevrolet      + 2.426s

24.  Chris James      ES Chevrolet              + 2.905s


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