WSR locked out the British Touring Car Championship second row at Snetterton as all four BMW 330e M Sports qualified inside the top 10 in a frantic session that was red-flagged twice on Saturday afternoon.
Team BMW’s Colin Turkington and Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport’s Jake Hill start third and fourth in Sunday’s opening race while season’s-best results for Adam Morgan and Stephen Jelley place them sixth and 10th on the grid.
Such an achievement looked impossible a third of the way into qualifying – which this time featured the standard, 30-minute format – as Colin and Adam, along with four other drivers, spun off at the ultra-quick Coram bend after skidding on fluid dropped by another car.
While Adam spun harmlessly before regaining the track, Colin hit the tyre barrier hard, but miraculously escaped with only cosmetic damage; proving the strength and durability of the hybrid BMW 330e M Sport.
The Northern Irishman, who has won six of the past 12 races at Snetterton in the BMW 3 Series, had not even completed a lap at this point, but drew on the experience garnered in his more than 500 BTCC races to qualify third.
Kent racer Jake was fortunate to avoid going off on the same fluid and matched Colin for pace throughout the session. While he set an ultimately faster lap than the four-time title-winner, this was later removed due to him exceeding track limits.
He instead starts fourth as both he and Colin maintained their records of qualifying inside the top four at every event so far in 2023.
Behind them, Adam, who had struggled to find a balance that suited him during practice, made huge progress on track to qualify sixth; the Lancashire racer’s best result since becoming part of the Team BMW line-up at the start of this year.
Stephen was another to score a season’s-best result in the session as he made the top 10 for the first time in 2023 in 10th.
The Leicester racer was frustrated, however, after being baulked by a slower car on several occasions, and showed individual sector times that added up to a top-six result. He is confident of showing his true pace in race trim tomorrow.
All three of Sunday’s races – in which all three of Goodyear’s tyre compounds must be used by every car for the first time in 2023 – will be broadcast on ITV4 from 1045.
Colin Turkington (Team BMW) said: “Qualifying is normally our strength, but that was a really tough session on what’s been a tough day. The wind is really strong and it means that the balance is affected in the high-speed corners. Normally we’re quick out of the box here but today it’s taken until qualifying – which was a big step forwards from practice. We still need to work on the balance, but what I had from the BMW was good enough for third. Perhaps there was a little damage from the contact with the tyres, but we won’t know for sure until we do a set-down. The steering was fine, at least, and to have such minimal damage was incredible.”
Jake Hill (Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport) said: “I’m enjoying driving the BMW as it’s doing everything I want it to, and above all, it’s fast. Hopefully we can have a strong day on Sunday. It wasn’t ideal to lose my best lap to track limits, but it was marginal and it’s only lost me one place, so that’s third, third and fourth at the three events so far. I’m pleased with the consistency. Colin and I have two quick front-wheel-drive cars ahead of us, but we’re quick and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Adam Morgan (Team BMW) said: “I think there was more to come. We struggled in practice with the set-up, but it was fixed for qualifying, the BMW felt really strong and it seemed to get better every lap, even if it was a bit of a scare when I spun on the fluid and just missed the wall. To have a spot on the third row – my best result since joining WSR – when it could have been a disaster leaves me very happy with the result. I still want to be closer to Colin and Jake, but tomorrow’s a good chance for some big points.”
Stephen Jelley (Team BMW) said: “It’s my best qualifying of the year, so I should be happy, but my best sectors add up to a top-six start, so I’m disappointed not to string them together into that lap. I kept getting held up by the same car and easily lost a couple of very fast laps that way. I’ve done a 55.5 while overtaking someone, which shows I haven’t got the most out of a great racecar. If we’d had the ‘Top-10 Showdown’ qualifying here, I know I could have been in the top six, looking at my best sectors. I think the soft tyre’s going to be very fast tomorrow and if the lap record falls, I’m getting it!”
Dick Bennetts, Team Principal, said: “Having all four BMWs qualifying in the top 10 is a very good result in what was a messy session with the red flags and the fluid on the track. The tyre strategy could be critical tomorrow so we need to consider very carefully which route we go with each car. We suffered tyre failures with the soft at Brands Hatch so avoiding a repeat is something we’re all aiming for. If we can do that, there’s no reason why we can’t have a very strong raceday.”