Colin Turkington heads a BMW one-two
Ulsterman Colin Turkington topped the times at a wet Oulton Park in free practice one with his eBay Motors team-mate Rob Collard in second position.
The BMW duo led the way from the moment representative times began to be set, and they held on to their positions with some ease despite conditions improving gradually during the 40 minutes of running. Turkington in particular was mightily impressive, ending up nearly one second ahead of Collard.
“It’s an encouraging start,” said Turkington. “It’s nice to have good pace in the very wet conditions this morning. Oulton Park is a track that we thought we would perform well at, the car was good here last year. We’ve come with a good base set-up and it’s worked which is the best way to start a weekend. I think just like everybody else we’re feeling our way around the conditions for this afternoon. Generally if we have the car working well in the wet it works well in the dry too. We haven’t perhaps been at our best in wet conditions in the past, so it’s good that we are this morning so I’m hopeful that we’ll be competitive.”
Cars were relatively slow to go out after a huge storm descended on the Cheshire countryside in the early hours, but with the weather expected to be mixed throughout the weekend it was clear that all teams wanted to gain valuable mileage in tricky conditions.
The Audi A4 of Hunter Abbott wasn’t so fortunate, however, when an alternator failure on track ended his session prematurely and brought about the red flags in order for his stricken car to be retrieved. Ollie Jackson’s Proton was another to miss out with his car still undergoing last minute repairs following his huge shunt at Thruxton last time out.
Some 29 cars circled without trouble as Jason Plato slotted his MG in behind the BMWs. The double champion dominated proceedings here last year, taking pole position and two race victories, and he’ll be looking to achieve something similar this weekend in order to get his title challenge back on track.
Both Plato and his stable-mate Marc Hynes ran in tandem for much of the session, with the latter continuing his BTCC learning curve while gaining valuable experience of the 2.77 mile International Circuit, which is being used here for the first time since 1996. Interestingly Hynes was racing at that event some 18 years ago, as a young driver in the supporting Formula Vauxhall Junior category!
Back to today and there was some joy for the Rob Austin Racing squad, as Austin himself positioned his Audi in the top five – marking a welcome return to the leading order for last year’s Rockingham race winner.
“This place suits us better than the last couple,” declared Austin. “I got a good lap in late on but there’s still a bit to find. Rear-wheel drive suits the track and conditions – I’ve not quite got a BMW underneath me – but we’ve got a lot of traction so I’m pretty happy with being right up there. I’m confident in the wet or dry – the new layout is great to drive but it’s going to make qualifying this afternoon even more important because overtaking out there is quite hard.”
Champions’ from the last two years – Gordon Shedden and Andrew Jordan – were next up in the timesheets. Jordan declared that he’d be hoping for a wet qualifying session this afternoon as he feels his ballast-laden Honda Civic may struggle to find the ultimate performance in the dry.
Sam Tordoff and Nick Foster confirmed the performances of MG and BMW respectively as they too secured top ten times, whilst sandwiched between them was the Team BMR VW of Alain Menu. The Swiss star returns to what he calls his ‘favourite circuit’ and remarkably due to the series not having raced on the International layout for many years, Menu actually holds the qualifying lap record from 1994!
The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship will be back on track at 12:45 for free practice ahead of the all-important qualifying session at 15:20, which will be streamed live on www.itv.com/btcc.
Click here for the full classification from Free Practice One.