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Ashley Sutton heads magnificent MG one-two

Young rookie grabs pole position ahead of team-mate Josh Cook

MG Racing RCIB Insurance scored a memorable one-two in qualifying for Round 4 of the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship after sensational performances from young duo Ashley Sutton and Josh Cook at Donington Park.

A breathless qualifying session in tricky conditions, which at one stage included sun on one side of the circuit and hail on the other, culminated in an enthralling finale as the 1.97-mile track eventually dried out.

Provisional pole position changed hands more than ten times in the latter stages of running, which had commenced in damp and greasy conditions. With practically all cars utilising the Dunlop wet tyres for the first 25 minutes there were several improvements, but almost as many off-track incidents as competitors struggled to cope with the conditions.

The BKR Volkswagen of Mark Howard was the first to go off and out of the session after just two minutes, whilst Jack Goff, Rob Austin and Matt Simpson all recovered from minor spins. Adding to the drama were issues for champion drivers Gordon Shedden and Andrew Jordan, as their respective machines failed ride-height checks.

Both Halfords Yuasa Racing and Motorbase Performance corrected their cars in order for Shedden and Jordan to rejoin the fray, but the session would go from bad to worse for the latter. Jordan’s Pirtek-backed Ford eventually set a blistering pace and briefly moved to the top of the times with just six minutes to go, but pushing further on the following tour proved a step too far as his Focus slid off the circuit and into the gravel.

The red flag was flown as sun scorched its way back through the clouds, and despite hail briefly making an appearance, when the action resumed, the track surface was ready for Dunlop SportMaxx dry tyres.

This meant we were set for a final five-minute shoot-out for pole as times immediately tumbled at the restart. P1 changed hands almost every time a car crossed the line, before Mat Jackson incredibly followed his Motorbase Performance team-mate’s lead.

Jackson crossed the line to top the times in his #7 Ford Focus, but then spun wildly out of contention on the very next lap. A gaggle of cars were still completing flying laps as Sutton took over at the top with his MG stablemate Cook slipping in behind, before the red flag came out with Jackson’s car languishing in a dangerous position.

Ironically the stoppage also aided Jackson as he hung onto third behind the MGs, while reigning champion Shedden ended up fourth after hauling his ballast-laden Honda Civic Type R up the order. Tom Ingram backed up his pole position at Brands Hatch with a top five placing, ahead of Rob Collard’s Team JCT600 with GardX BMW.

Aron Smith’s BKR VW was next in the order, whilst Jack Goff’s Team IHG Rewards Club BMW edged out Matt Neal’s Honda to take eighth. Jake Hill produced another impressive run as the young Team HARD-run racer completed the top ten.

Colin Turkington was the first of the new Silverline Subaru BMR Racing entries, in 11th while his trio of fellow Levorg runners had to settle for 16th, 17th and 18th, with Warren Scott getting the better of both James Cole and Jason Plato.

Ashley Sutton said: “We timed it right with the run and I’m over the moon. Everyone was in the same boat trying to find space on the track, and it ended up being whoever had the car beneath them at the right time and our MG Racing RCIB Insurance car did it for us. Whoever got on the slicks first was quickest. We went on the radio and told the team to do it and we got the rewards for making that decision. It’s a surprise to me as I didn’t know I had got pole until we stopped. It’s emotional, being congratulated by Warren Scott – I’ve gone a bit tearful! We didn’t quite show our performance this morning, though Josh did. It’s just a case of showing our pace over the course of the races tomorrow and really settling in.”

Josh Cook said: “I’m gutted – I thought I was going to have that. No, I’m happy for the team and Ash. Before the red flag came out, I was ahead. It just appeared at the wrong time and gave everyone a level playing field again. Credit to Ash – I want to kick him a bit really but to have a front row lockout for the MG team is credit to us and to their efforts. It’s great to have the MG team up there. They’ve done a fantastic job over the winter and it’s brilliant to be reaping the rewards. Team boss Ian Harrison rarely smiles, so we must have done a good job!”

Mat Jackson said: “It was entertaining! It was definitely the right choice to go onto slicks. There was a dry line beginning to form on the track and the sun came out for a few minutes. We then got the red flag, as did everyone else, which gave everybody the same opportunity to go and set a time. Dan (Welch) went off in front of me, which put me onto the wet stuff – the rest is history. We’ve got a good race car and we’re well-placed, so let’s see.”

2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship – Qualifying – Donington Park:

1 Ashley SUTTON (GBR) MG Racing RCIB Insurance 1m11.729s
Josh COOK (GBR) MG Racing RCIB Insurance +0.494s
3 Mat JACKSON (GBR) Motorbase Performance 0.532s
Gordon SHEDDEN (GBR) Halfords Yuasa Racing +0.589s
Tom INGRAM (GBR) Speedworks Motorsport +1.277s
Robert COLLARD (GBR) Team JCT600 Racing with GardX +1.410s
Aron SMITH (IRL) BKR +1.455s
Jack GOFF (GBR) Team IHG Rewards Club +1.718s
9 Matt NEAL (GBR) Halfords Yuasa Racing +2.151s
10 Jake HILL (GBR) RCIB Insurance Racing +2.264s
11 Colin TURKINGTON (GBR) Silverline Subaru BMR Racing +2.431s
12 Jeff SMITH (GBR) Eurotech Racing +2.562s
13 Hunter ABBOTT (GBR) Power Maxed Racing +3.061s
14 Adam MORGAN (GBR) WIX Racing +3.349s
15 Rob AUSTIN (GBR) Handy Motorsport +3.434s
16 Warren SCOTT (GBR) Silverline Subaru BMR Racing +3.701s
17 James COLE (GBR) Silverline Subaru BMR Racing +4.045s
18 Jason PLATO (GBR) Silverline Subaru BMR Racing +4.202s
19 Ollie JACKSON (GBR) AmD Tuning.com+4.542s
20 Daniel WELCH (GBR) Goodstone Racing +4.952s
21 Sam TORDOFF (GBR) Team JCT600 Racing with GardX +5.132s
22 Matt SIMPSON (GBR) Speedworks Motorsport +5.182s
23 Aiden MOFFAT (GBR) Laser Tools Racing +5.271s
24 Michael EPPS (GBR) RCIB Insurance Racing +5.485s
25 Andrew JORDAN (GBR) Motorbase Performance +5.543s
26 Martin DEPPER (GBR) Eurotech Racing +5.916s
27 Alex MARTIN (GBR) Dextra Racing +5.985s
28 Chris SMILEY (GBR) TLC Racing +9.146s
29 Stewart LINES (GBR) Maximum Motorsport +9.217s
30 Mark HOWARD (GBR) BKR No Time
31 Kelvin FLETCHER (GBR) Power Maxed Racing No Time

Tomorrow’s triple-header of races will be screened live and exclusively on ITV4 from 10:30am.