Team BMW will start the opening race of the 2021 British Touring Car Championship from the second row of the grid after Colin Turkington qualified third in constantly-changing track conditions at Thruxton.
With team-mate Tom Oliphant also fighting for pole position and winding up sixth on the grid, two of the WSR-run BMW 330i M Sports will occupy spots in the upper reaches of the grid for Sunday’s first race.
Saturday dawned wet and never dried out; Colin, Tom and Stephen Jelley gaining critical information during a pair of practice sessions that offered up precious little time in total to scrub slick tyres for the rest of the weekend.
When slicks were eventually the tyres to be on, during the second half of qualifying, Northern Irishman Colin bided his time to build sufficient temperature, blasted up from 16th to sixth and then improved again on his final lap to qualify third.
The four-time BTCC champion’s final effort just nudged him ahead of Tom, who had been one of the earliest to switch to slicks and hit the top spot with eight minutes to go.
Unfortunately for the Leamington Spa racer, heavy traffic on-track at inopportune moments restricted him to just one clear lap.
As others improved in more favourable traffic conditions, he was left in sixth spot – still the best qualifying position he has achieved at Thruxton in the BTCC.
Stephen, making his first appearance in a WSR-run BMW since 2009, looked on course to join his team-mates in the fight for pole position and, after improving his times during the day, lay ninth at the midway point of qualifying after an early switch to slicks.
Unfortunately for the Leicester racer, he suffered a failure of a new component, leaving him stuck in the pits while the part was replaced. When he left, there was not sufficient time to safely complete a warm-up lap and a flyer, leaving him restricted to 18th on the grid.
Each of Sunday’s three races will be broadcast live in HD on ITV4 from 1050 am.
Colin Turkington said: “I’m really pleased with the result, especially after a tricky day with the weather. We don’t tend to do so well in qualifying at Thruxton as it’s more or a front-wheel-drive track, so to get on the second row is very good and puts us in a great position to score good points tomorrow. It was pretty clear from halfway through qualifying that slick tyres were the way to go and I gave myself a good few laps to get the temperatures up before I really went for it. When I asked for a bit more from the BMW, it delivered and we have a good chance to do well in all three races.”
Tom Oliphant said: “If you’d told me a day or two ago that I’d qualify sixth at Thruxton, I’d have taken it, but with the speed I had from the BMW late in the session, I thought a top-three start was on the cards. I went to slicks early, was patient, got the tyres warmed up over four or five laps, and then just kept getting blocked on my fast laps. I only got one clear lap and it was good enough for sixth. The aim is to score big points tomorrow and I’m sure I have the package underneath me to do that.”
Stephen Jelley said: “Everything was going so well before we had the issue in qualifying. I felt good on wets, had done one lap on cold slicks that had put me inside the top 10 and then to have an issue with a new component was just so unlucky. The team did a great job to fix it so quickly, but with only 90 seconds on the clock when I went out of the pits, it just wasn’t long enough for a flying lap. The positive is that I know the BMW is far better than 18th, so I know I can go forwards tomorrow. The key will be to be patient, take the chances as they come and hope for a bit of luck with the reversed grid for Race Three.”
Dick Bennetts, Team Principal, said: “To have two cars in the top six with Colin on the second row is actually a bit better than we’d have expected at Thruxton, though I’m sorry for Stephen to have a failure of a new component that cost him the chance to go and set a proper slick-tyre time at the end. We know we’re pretty solid here in the dry and all of the drivers have been comfortable with the BMW in the wet today too, so whatever the weather brings on Sunday, I’m sure we can do a good job at BMW UK’s local circuit.”