Colin Turkington put Team BMW on the second row of the grid for the first of tomorrow’s three British Touring Car Championship races at Croft after an ultra-close qualifying session on Saturday.
Colin and team-mates Tom Oliphant and Stephen Jelley ensured that all three WSR-run BMW 330i M Sports qualified in the top half of an ultra-close grid in a session that was interrupted by several stoppages.
Honing the balance of his 3 Series throughout the day’s two free-practice sessions, Colin struck midway through qualifying with a 1m22.159s lap that briefly put him into pole position by more than a quarter of a second.
However, as other drivers improved their times in the dying seconds, the Northern Irishman – who was carrying 39kg success ballast due to his fifth place in the Drivers’ Standings – was pushed back to third spot, only 0.122s from pole.
It was the fourth time in seven race weekends this year that the ‘King of Croft’ has qualified on the front two rows.
Team-mate Tom staged a masterly recovery after an FP2 excursion at Turn 2 that resulted from a heavy landing from an exit kerb breaking his car’s left-rear suspension.
The persistent red flags in qualifying ruined his first two ‘push’ laps, but the Leamington Spa-based racer dug deep and improved on each of his two final flyers to climb to eighth and then sixth.
It was an excellent reward not only for Tom – whose best effort was just 15 hundredths of a second away from pole position -, but for the WSR mechanics that superbly completed a full repair job on the car just minutes before qualifying began.
Stephen Jelley sat on pole position midway through the session. But the Leicester racer had been denied an even faster attempt than he’d already set on his first set of new tyres by the mid-session red flag.
Not as comfortable on his second set once the session resumed, Stephen’s improvement was minimal compared to many of the other drivers, meaning he fell to 12th in the final standings.
Tomorrow’s three races – the third of which will be WSR’s 700th in the BTCC – will be broadcast live on ITV4 in HD.
As well as the Drivers’ individual aims, the team have targeted closing in on the Teams’ Championship lead and increasing BMW’s advantage in the Manufacturers’ standings as they chase a record-breaking sixth consecutive title.
Colin Turkington said: “I got the maximum from the BMW today so I’m pretty happy with third and to have the inside line for the first corner. We improved the car throughout the day and the balance I had in qualifying was definitely much better than we started off with. We made an adjustment for the final run to try and squeeze out a bit more speed, but I couldn’t improve with it. It’s the same aim tomorrow as for all racedays; score as many points as possible and keep getting those podiums and hopefully wins. I’m confident we have a fast car whether it’s wet or dry.”
Tom Oliphant said: “I’m actually a little bit disappointed with sixth, just because my best lap was a bit erratic. I was focusing on getting everything set right for a really fast push lap, but every time I did that, the red flag came out, so I didn’t even get a time on the board until the final eight minutes. I improved on my last two laps, which was good, but If I’d strung my best sectors together, I could have put the BMW in third. From there I’d have a great shout at a podium or even a win. From sixth that’s a bit tougher, but we have good speed in the car so if we have a clean day tomorrow I’m sure I can get some good points, wet or dry.”
Stephen Jelley said: “It’s a bit frustrating to be 12th, considering I was on pole at the halfway point of the session. The second red flag really hampered me because I’d been very careful with getting my tyres into optimum condition and was just starting what I’m sure would have been an even better time than I ended up with, and then I saw the red flags, which ruined that chance. The final set of tyres weren’t quite as good so I wasn’t really able to go any faster, but the time’s definitely there in the BMW so I’m sure I can go forwards tomorrow. I definitely have a good race car.”
Dick Bennetts, Team Principal, said: “To get all three BMWs through qualifying on the front six rows and without any major issues always makes for a good day. To have three drivers each with very good pace is even better. Whether it’s wet or dry tomorrow we’re confident of being in decent shape, but we’ll have to make sure we’re ready to take every opportunity that comes our way as we continue our fight for all three titles.”