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Jackson hat-trick as Shedden jumps title rivals

Mat Jackson blitzed the Brands Hatch GP qualifying lap record on his way to a third consecutive Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship pole position today (10 October).

Team BMR RCIB Insurance’s Aron Smith and WIX Racing’s Adam Morgan were second and third respectively, but it was Gordon Shedden that led the championship challenging quintet in the final qualifying session of the BTCC season.

Shedden’s Honda Civic Type R – carrying maximum success ballast – was some way down the order in the early stages as the Scotsman’s closest rivals flew to the top of the timesheets. Team BMR RCIB Insurance’s VWs initially held a 1-2-3 but Colin Turkington and Jason Plato eventually had to settle for fifth and sixth respectively. Plato made one last attempt to move further up the order but he ran wide at Graham Hill Bend on his final tour which put paid to any chances of improvement.

Despite Turkington and Plato’s obvious frustrations at not being able to qualify ahead of championship leader Shedden, it does mean that the championship top three will line-up together on the grid for tomorrow’s opener. A final day of no-holds-barred racing looks assured with Plato and Turkington needing to overcome a significant points deficit to Shedden over the course of Sunday’s triple header.

Tom Ingram’s Speedworks Toyota claimed seventh ahead of Honda’s Matt Neal, who himself still harbours intentions of claiming his fourth BTCC title.

The IHG Rewards Club BMW of Andy Priaulx and Power Maxed Racing’s Josh Cook were at the very sharp end of the times at mid-session before both faded late on to finish ninth and tenth respectively.

The flickering title hopes of MG Triple Eight Racing’s Andrew Jordan – currently fifth in the standings – will not have been helped as the 2013 champion could only manage 13th on the grid as he struggled with set-up on his Pirtek Racing MG.

Such has been the rate of development up and down the BTCC pitlane in recent times that the top 12 drivers dipped under the previous qualifying lap record.

The Drivers’ championship picture sees Shedden (325 points) holding an advantage over Plato (302), whilst Turkington (293), Neal (288) and Jordan (261) ensure that the title will be fought out between five former champions on the final day of the 2015 BTCC season. It’s all still play for with 66 points on offer and the BTCC, as ever, is likely to provide plenty of thrills and spills before this year’s champion is crowned.

Honda holds a commanding lead in the Manufacturers’ order, whilst Team BMR RCIB Insurance is close to securing both the Teams’ and Independent Teams’ titles. Turkington tops the Independent Drivers’ table and Josh Cook holds an unassailable lead in the Jack Sears Trophy.

Rounds 28, 29 and 30 of the 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship take place at Brands Hatch tomorrow. A huge crowd is expected to descend on the legendary Kent circuit with many more set to watch the action live on ITV4 from 10:15am.

Mat Jackson said: “We’d had a lean spell in terms of qualifying so to come back really strong and get three in a row is fantastic. We’ve got our own race to run tomorrow – hopefully we can pull a gap and get a win in the opening race. It won’t be easy, however, as Aron [Smith] and others will obviously be fighting hard. The championship race is not for us to interfere in but we’ll just be trying to get the right results for our team, and hopefully that includes a victory.”

Gordon Shedden said: “We were hanging it out there to get that kind of time with the ballast onboard, so I am really chuffed with that. The car felt good in qualifying and it should be good over a race distance too. Jason [Plato] is only just behind us though , Colin [Turkington] and Matt [Neal] too, so we’re all in a bit of a gaggle. We’ve got to play it by ear and see how the day develops. It’s going to be tough that’s for sure, but we obviously hope and believe we can get the job done.”

Jason Plato said: “We’re losing time in the straights to Colin [Turkington] but we can’t quite work out exactly what it is. I am getting pretty much all I can out of the car. We can’t compete with Mat [Jackson] and Aron [Smith] when they’re not carrying any weight so we’re about where we should be. Gordon [Shedden] needs to have some bad luck tomorrow, like we’ve had in the past, because he has too much of a buffer. You never know – I got a puncture here earlier in the season with one lap to go and that sort of thing can happen to anyone. I’m not fired up for that to happen to him because I’m fired up anyway – let’s just see how it goes.”

Colin Turkington said: “I am pleased with that performance. I gave it 110% and I was right on the limit. I improved on my second run to get it up to fifth, but it’s just so hard on a circuit like this, with high and low speed corners, to get the perfect lap. I feel we got pretty close and we’re in the mix for tomorrow. You’d always like to be higher but it’s also so easy to qualify outside the top ten, so we have to be happy with that. It’s not critical to get by Gordon [Shedden] in race one but we obviously need to make up 32 points over the course of the day – the sooner we do that the better.”

Matt Neal said: “I didn’t leave anything on the table but I just can’t believe how close it is out there. The car feels great but I was just about a tenth of a second too slow. It’ll be an interesting race day – we’re all running different strategies with tyres so we’ll see how it pans out. I plan to get my head down and get some points – I want to get strong finishes for myself and the team, and hopefully that means getting by Jason [Plato] and Colin [Turkington].”

Andrew Jordan said: “There was something fundamentally wrong with the car which is making it really unpredictable – not what you want on the Brands Hatch GP circuit! It’s just not consistent enough so I don’t feel like I can push, which is why we’re further down than we should be. We’ll have to hope for some fireworks at the front tomorrow and then play the long game. If we can find what’s wrong then we should be able to work our way up – hopefully we’ll be in the position to end the season on the podium.”

Click here for the final classification from qualifying for Round 2 of the 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.

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