Alex MacDowall has become the youngest driver in history to qualify on pole position for a round of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.
The Carlisle youngster, aged just 19 years and 197 days, mastered wet conditions to qualify on pole at Snetterton, Norfolk in a time of 1m19.332s – just pipping experienced team-mate Jason Plato who was second fastest. Notably, Plato was just 0.094s behind in a car handicapped by an additional 36kgs of success ballast due to his current second position in the championship standings.
Their performance also meant a front-row lock-out for the Silverline Chevrolet team whose car, the Cruze, had never qualified higher than third until today.
“Being the youngest makes it extra special, to be part of BTCC history, but I’m already thinking about tomorrow,” said MacDowall as he stepped from his car. “I don’t mind what the weather throws at me tomorrow. I just want to make sure I stay in front at the first bend and then get on with it.”
Plato’s second place surely gives him an opportunity to get on terms with championship leader, Honda Racing Team’s Matt Neal who was back in seventh – his Honda Civic laden with the maximum 47kgs of ballast. Neal leads Plato by eight points at the top of the table going into tomorrow’s three races with each win earning 15 points.
Oxford-based Plato added: “It’s an opportunity of course but we’re only just starting the second half of the season. The main thing at this stage is to stay in the game. Credit to young Alex though – he’s done the business in tricky conditions. The lad's done well!”
Worcestershire’s Neal commented on his seventh place: “That’s slightly disappointing but not a disaster and if it’s fully wet tomorrow I don’t mind. We didn’t have chance to put the full wet set-up on our car today so I know we can be a lot faster in these conditions. Let’s see what we get tomorrow.”
Qualifying third fastest was Tom Chilton in his Team Aon Ford Focus, but the session was a disaster for team-mate Tom Onslow-Cole who was relegated to the bottom of the times after his car failed a mandatory ride-height check.
The top six were completed by Airwaves BMW’s Mat Jackson, Neal's team-mate Gordon Shedden, currently third in the standings behind Plato, and Croft winner just prior to the recent break Andrew Jordan in his Pirtek Racing Vauxhall Vectra.
There was a best-ever tenth-placed qualifying performance from Tom Boardman in his Special Tuning UK SEAT Leon. And there could have been a best-ever 12th for Lea Wood, the series newcomer in his small Central Group Racing team's older Honda Integra instead having to settle for 13th as Robert Collard put in a late lap to out-do him by just 0.047s. WSR's Collard has been by far the fastest BMW driver in recent qualifying sessions but this time he was frustratingly behind both rival Airwaves drivers (Jackson and Steven Kane) having joined the session late after his mechanics had worked in vain to apply a suitable wet weather onto his car.
Martin Johnson, meanwhile, managed just two laps as his Boulevard Team Racing Vauxhall Astra lost fifth and sixth gears after being hit in the rear by Onslow-Cole's Ford which the latter felt may have accounted for the Focus's overly-low front-end when it came to be checked.
Pos Driver Car Time Gap
1. Alex MacDowall Chevrolet 1m19.332s
2. Jason Plato Chevrolet 1m19.426s + 0.094s
3. Tom Chilton Ford 1m19.675s + 0.343s
4. Mat Jackson BMW 1m20.094s + 0.762s
5. Gordon Shedden Honda 1m20.206s + 0.874s
6. Andrew Jordan Vauxhall 1m20.487s + 1.155s
7. Matt Neal Honda 1m20.613s + 1.281s
8. Paul O'Neill Honda 1m20.688s + 1.356s
9. James Nash Vauxhall 1m20.695s + 1.363s
10. Tom Boardman SEAT 1m20.752s + 1.420s
11. Steven Kane BMW 1m20.827s + 1.495s
12. Rob Collard BMW 1m21.303s + 1.971s
13. Lea Wood Honda 1m21.350s + 2.018s
14. David Pinkney Vauxhall 1m22.278s + 2.946s
15. Andy Neate BMW 1m22.357s + 3.025s
16. John George Honda 1m22.358s + 3.026s
17. Shaun Hollamby Volkswagen 1m22.963s + 3.631s
18. Martin Depper BMW 1m23.598s + 4.266s
19. Arthur Forster BMW 1m23.656s + 4.324s
20. Martin Johnson Vauxhall 1m40.092s + 20.760s
21. Tom Onslow-Cole Ford (penalised for failing two separate ride-height tests)