Double champion Jason Plato bagged his 50th career pole position for the opening race in today’s British Touring Car Championship triple-header at Knockhill in Fife.
The 49-year-old from Oxford, who has a record 95 BTCC wins, finished top of the timesheets after a manic 30-minute qualifying session on the twisty 1.3-mile circuit.
As the track dried following a rain shower minutes before the session started, times tumbled over the closing five minutes. And it was Plato, the last to cross the line in his Subaru, who clocked 52.579secs to pip his team-mate and championship contender, Ash Sutton, by just 89/1000ths of a second.
“That was close,” said Plato, who won the corresponding opening race at Knockhill from pole position last year. “It’s the team’s first 1-2 in qualifying this season, and means I can help Ash in his bid for the title.
“It’s no secret we’ve had a pretty tortuous year with my car, but finally it was great to get really tricky conditions where I was able to pull something out of the bag.
“I’d like to think experience played a part in this result too, because I knew when to switch to slicks, and doing it when I did meant we got an extra lap.
“That made the difference: that, and the two Tunnock’s Caramel Logs I had before the start of the qualifying session.”
Local favourite and championship leader Gordon Shedden, meanwhile, was left ruing what might have been, despite carrying the maximum 75kgs success ballast.
Having at one time topped the screens midway through the session, he finished it frustrated with his ninth position.
“Normally, ninth with maximum ballast would be a great result, but I know I had a car which was much faster than that,” admitted the 38-year-old from Auchterarder, bidding for his fourth title, and third in succession.
“The last five minutes, as the track got quicker and quicker, was hugely frustrating. Everywhere I looked there were just loads and loads of cars. I couldn’t find the space to get a good, clear lap. It was manic.”
Shedden takes a slender two-point lead over the BMW of Colin Turkington – who qualified third – into today’s opening race, with the BMW of Rob Collard a further two points adrift, and 11 ahead of Sutton.
It was a frustrating session for the other two Scots in the field. Rory Butcher, the 30-year-old from Kirkcaldy, starts 25th on his BTCC debut in his Ford, while Dalkeith 20-year-old Aiden Moffat lines up a disappointing 27th in his Mercedes.