Jake Hill qualified an excellent second on the grid at Oulton Park as WSR and BMW secured a first front-row starting spot of the 2023 British Touring Car Championship.
The Kent ace put his Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport BMW 330e M Sport within two tenths of a second of pole position at the Cheshire track and credited his best qualifying spot of the year down to significant set-up changes to his BMW since the last event at Thruxton.
Jake’s result was achieved in the BTCC’s ‘Top-10 Showdown’ qualifying format, which gives the fastest 10 drivers from regular qualifying an additional 10 minutes to compete for pole position.
Having been third and fifth in Q1, Jake and Team BMW’s Colin Turkington both made it into the ‘Showdown’; four-time series champion and 10-time Oulton Park race winner Colin qualifying seventh.
Unfortunately he was put to the back of the grid for Sunday’s opener after not having enough fuel in his car for a post-session check.
This was due to having to complete additional laps on track after a red flag during Q1.
With eight tenths of a second covering the top 23 cars in afternoon practice, an ultra-tight session was anticipated, and so it proved with one tenth separating sixth and 12th places during Q1.
That left fellow Team BMW driver Adam Morgan – competing in front of his home crowd – agonisingly just 14 thousandths of a second away from making Q2.
Following the post-session alterations, the Lancashire racer was moved up to 10th on the grid for Sunday’s opener with team-mate and 2022 Oulton Park race winner Stephen Jelley 12th.
That race will be broadcast live on ITV’s flagship channel, ITV1 with Races Two and Three in the regular home of ITV4.
Jake Hill, Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport, said: “I am mega happy with that qualifying performance; my best of the year. I’ve been working with my engineer Craig on going a different way with car set-up since Thruxton and there was no chance to try it properly during practice because we were running old tyres, but with new rubber on it was as sweet as anything and the BMW was absolutely flying. Oulton’s a tough track to pass at so having a clear line of sight for the start tomorrow puts is in a very good situation.”
Colin Turkington, Team BMW, said: “It’s hard to know where we expected to be today. I didn’t have much hybrid because of my championship position, and with all the uphill exits, it’s going to make more of a difference here than most places. We had a nice balance on the BMW in FP1 and as the track temperature’s come up we’ve just fallen outside the window a bit with some of the changes we’ve made. We’ll make some tweaks for tomorrow and I’m sure we can nudge things in the right direction.”
Adam Morgan, Team BMW, said: “I’m pretty happy with where I’ve qualified. I was a bit off in practice so I went out in qualifying and gave it everything. It’s frustrating to miss Q2 by 14 thousandths and only be a tenth off getting in quite easily, but from where I am I can race and I can score decent points. It’s hard to pass here because it’s so narrow, but that means you can defend too. We should have good race pace from the BMW so if I can hang in there on the soft tyre and attack later in the race, I can definitely gain some places.”
Stephen Jelley, Team BMW, said: “The balance on the BMW is good and it definitely feels nice around here, so it’s frustrating to be where I am. The track did feel different as the temperature came up for qualifying, but the car felt good and the lap would have been good enough for the top 10 pretty much any other year. We have a good race car and I do expect to be strong in race trim. The weather’s the big unknown tomorrow so we’ll just have to see how we adapt to that.”
Dick Bennetts, Team Principal, said: “I’m very happy for Jake. He came here with a new set-up, persevered with it and it worked out nicely for him. I thought at one point we could have all four cars in the top 10, but the gaps were so close in Q1 that it was changing constantly. The fact that we have so many cars close together means it’s going to be difficult for anyone to make progress tomorrow, but I expect the BMWs to be fast on the soft tyre and if we’re sensible we should be able to make some progress.”