Plato takes controversial Rockingham pole position

Jason Plato took his third pole position of the year in an exciting qualifying session at Rockingham this afternoon, although he was involved in a controversial incident with arch rival Matt Neal that saw the pair almost come to blows.

In dry conditions despite a downpour prior to the session the drivers all took a couple of minutes to start to push on slick tyres, Neal and then Tom Onslow-Cole taking turns at the top of the times.

Championship leader Gordon Shedden then surprised with the first real representative time by dipping under the 1m25s to go fastest, despite carrying the maximum 45kg of success ballast and the extra 20kg that all turbo cars have been forced to run this weekend.

The times were then changing fast as the track constantly began to get faster and less greasy, and Shedden’s time was then demolished by Dynojet’s Frank Wrathall setting a 1m24.186s lap, Wrathall continuing to impress in the NGTC Toyota Avensis.

Plato finally showed his face in the session and went second only 0.099s off Wrathall’s time, before grabbing the top spot a lap later with a 1m24.114.

After Shedden briefly took it back, Paul O’neill then put together a stunning lap to go fastest and become the first man to dip under 1m24s, following it up with a big moment at turn three in his excitement.

Plato then upstaged the fellow Chevrolet Cruze driver to snatch what would then be pole positon with a time of 1m23.745s, before a dramatic finale was set up by a red flag to remove the Motorbase Ford of Liam Griffin which had gone off the circuit.

When the session restarted with just over three minutes to go everybody jostled for track position where in amongst it Silverline’s Plato made contact with Neal, before on their flying laps imediately after, Plato appeared to slow in the middle of the hairpin which caused the Honda man to bump into the back of him, effectively ruining his lap.

Neal was furious with what had happened, and the two bitter rivals then had a heated argument in the pit lane at the end of the session that was broken up by their mechanics.

Behind Plato and the surprise star of qualifying O’Neill, third place went to the impressive NGTC Audi of Rob Austin ahead of Neal, while Triple Eight’s James Nash and the second Honda of Shedden rounded out the top six. Wrathall slipped down to seventh place ahead of Andrew Jordan, while championship contender Jackson could only manage ninth place ahead of the impressive Martin Byford in AMD Milltek’s Volkswagen Golf.

With the top 17 drivers seperated by a mere 1.008s, Rob Collard was outqualified by his WSR team-mate Nick Foster in their battle for 11th place, while the three Arena Ford drviers line up a somewhat disappointing 12th, 13th and 14th with Andy Neate the leader of the trio.

Michael Caine’s first qualifying session in the British Touring Car Championship saw him finish in 19th place overall, just over four tenths slower than Airwaves team-mate Jackson.

Qualifying results:

1.  Jason Plato      Chevrolet             1m23.745s
2.  Paul O’Neill     Tech-Speed Chevrolet    + 0.160s
3.  Rob Austin       Rob Austin Audi         + 0.225s
4.  Matt Neal        Honda                 + 0.261s
5.  James Nash       Triple 8 Vauxhall      + 0.269s
6.  Gordon Shedden   Honda                + 0.350s
7.  Frank Wrathall   Dynojet Toyota    + 0.441s
8.  Andrew Jordan    Eurotech Vauxhall     + 0.627s
9.  Mat Jackson      Motorbase Ford          + 0.713s
10.  Martin Byford    AmD Volkswagen         + 0.792s
11.  Nick Foster      WSR BMW            + 0.792s
12.  Andy Neate       Arena Ford          + 0.831s
13.  Tom Onslow-Cole  Arena Ford           + 0.833s
14.  Tom Chilton      Arena Ford            + 0.867s
15.  Alex MacDowall   Chevrolet            + 0.883s
16.  Rob Collard      WSR BMW              + 0.885s
17.  Tom Boardman     Special Tuning SEAT     + 1.008s
18.  Daniel Welch     Welch Proton           + 1.097s
19.  Michael Caine    Motorbase Ford         + 1.157s
20.  Dave Newsham     Special Tuning SEAT     + 1.164s
21.  Jeff Smith       Eurotech Vauxhall       + 1.344s
22.  John George      Tech-Speed Chevrolet    + 1.770s
23.  Tony Gilham      Geoff Steel BMW       + 1.922s
24.  Chris James      ES Chevrolet            + 2.994s
25.  Liam Griffin     Motorbase Ford        + 3.120s


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