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Priaulx's Pole as Plato Plummets at Knockhill Qualifying

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

As the BTCC takes its annual trip to Scotland, there is never any doubt that the action will be plentiful across the weekend. As qualifying draws to an end, Priaulx has pranced his way to pole position, followed closely by team mate Tordoff. With four of the top six drivers piloting a RWD car, Knockhill makes no secrets in which cars it favours. In a session that drew two red flags, for what seemed like the first time this year Team BMR were playing catchup, with Turkington their best finisher in 9th and Plato plummeting to a career worst 22nd. 

All eyes fell to Gordon Shedden as qualifying got under way; the Scot had dominated the first two free practice sessions. At his home circuit Flash was hoping to gain some redemption; gaining only 3 points from the 3 races at a shocking Snetterton, Shedden needed a recovery drive from the gods. The Honda has always gone well around the twisty Knockhill circuit, the same of which cannot be said of the other FWD cars. Despite the efforts of the other teams, it was BMW that would go into the weekend with the most confidence.

Knockhill may well be the most physically and mentally demanding track on the BTCC calendar. Not only does the relentless twists, turns, drops and rises put great physical strain on the driver around each lap but the short length of the circuit increases the problem of traffic exponentially. Setting a competitive qualifying time is never easy at the best of times, but this is something uniquely challenging.

As qualifying began, the now weightless Ford of Jackson rocketed up to the top of the times, followed closely by Priaulx’s BMW. For the second time this year, there was not one but two red flags in the session. The first of these was caused by Jeff Smith, while the second by Matt Neal, both of whom span their way off the track and into the rough stuff. Awkwardly for the Honda team, as Neal lost control of the car and brought qualifying to its second halt, Shedden was beginning a lap that was looking good for pole. He was forced to abandon and would never come close again, settling with an eventual 5th. Now that is a team debrief I would very much like to see!

Qualifying Times

Troubles continued for Team HARD and Welch Motorsport, with both suffering early exits. Gallagher would limp back to the pits after a gravel excursion, while Dan Welch suffered a collapsed suspension. Their troubled qualifying continues what has been a miserable 2015 campaign for both teams, let’s hope their luck turns soon! Speaking of changed luck, fan favourite Rob Austin qualified 6th; it is no wonder he enjoys the track so much!

It was the final 5 minute flurry for positions that produced the most action. It was almost like somewhere in the WSR garage, the team went into DEFCON 1. As the seconds ticked away, Priaulx stormed to the top of the times, followed closely by Tordoff, while Collard managed 4th. Frustratingly for Jackson, had his fastest lap not been disallowed due to exceeding track limits, he would have been sitting on pole.

In a shocking turn of events, the usually meteoric BMR team were struggling to keep pace with the rest of the field. As with the MG team last year, they may well be the best FWD car but the challenging Knockhill circuit does not suit them at all. The best they could manage was Turkington who qualified 9th. In what must be his worst qualifying session of his entire career, it was Plato that has stolen the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Whether it was due to the traffic and session stoppages, the best Plato could manage was 22nd, a whopping 0.771 seconds off the pole time.

You may be thinking that 0.7 seconds is not that much of a gap; in any other motor sport series you would probably be right. But this is the BTCC; there is a reason why it is the best tin top series in the world. If it is proof you want then how about this; take a look at the top 23, they are all covered by less than a second.

Expect Motorbase to be challenging for the win come race day. Photo credit:

Expect Motorbase to be challenging for the win come race day. Photo credit:

It has come to the point where I must make my predictions for race day. I often have a pretty good idea what will happen, but not this time. I imagine the BMWs will secure at least one victory, but no one can discount Jackson in his Ford rocket ship. Furthermore, with Plato starting so far down, will he decide to start from the pit lane to secure pole for race two? But with the handicap of driving a FWD car, will such a strategy even work? Turkington has always enjoyed Knockhill, and fresh off his victories last year will be hungry for points. As ever, there are so many ‘what ifs’ that it is impossible to call with confidence.

Weight and uphill power are not a amicable combination. With Knockhill providing more drops and rises than any other circuit on the calendar, success ballast may play a fascinating role in proceedings tomorrow.

At the end of the day, at the same venue of his first ever BTCC win, if my money was on anyone it would have to be Priaulx.

But with a field so close together, the only way to know what will happen will be to watch the races. Qualifying at Knockhill today has been nothing short of a testament to the high quality of the BTCC; low costs but highly entertaining and fiercley competitive.

But we knew that already.

Bring on race day!

Follow my race day updates on Twitter @lewisglynn69

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Peace and Love!