Jeff Smith secures maiden pole position
Eurotech Racing’s Jeff Smith has scored a sensational maiden Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship pole position, as the experienced driver mastered tricky, damp conditions at Brands Hatch.
A disjointed opening qualifying session of the 2017 BTCC season was interrupted by incidents and inclement weather, as drivers and teams strived to be on track at the perfect time.
It was Smith and Eurotech that played the right hand as the Honda Civic Type R crossed the line shortly before a deluge of rain fell at the Kent venue. This had followed two earlier stoppages for separate incidents at Paddock Hill Bend, which saw the Chevrolet of Dave Newsham and Subaru of Ashley Sutton beached in the gravel.
Rain came and went throughout much of the running, but it was the shower following Smith’s lap that would scupper any chance of further improvement. The Midlander’s performance should not be underestimated, however, as his 48.367s lap time was just two tenths shy of Tom Ingram’s practice benchmark, despite the afternoon’s less-than-ideal conditions.
Speedworks Motorsport’s Ingram backed up his own pace-setting performance in practice by taking an impressive second in qualifying, whilst the Halfords Yuasa Racing duo of Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal will line up on the second row for tomorrow’s season-opener.
Reigning champion Shedden and team-mate Neal both had to recover from wild rides across the grass on the exit of Surtees, as did the likes of Rob Collard and Ollie Jackson, with the entire 32-car field trying to manage the ever-changing atmospherics.
BMW returnee Colin Turkington claimed fifth ahead of Adam Morgan’s Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes, whilst Jack Goff cemented Eurotech’s joy with seventh. Rob Austin (Handy Motorsport), Jake Hill (TAG Racing) and Matt Simpson (Simpson Racing) completed the exciting top ten order, which meant all five Hondas in the field took prime positions.
Former champions Andrew Jordan and Jason Plato had to settle for 11th and 18th respectively for BMW Pirtek Racing and Adrian Flux Subaru Racing, whilst Vauxhall’s BTCC race return will commence from 12th and 16th on the grid with Tom Chilton and Senna Proctor.
Jeff Smith said: “Matt Neal was in front of me and I just managed to tuck in behind him for a couple of laps. One of them was quick enough for pole as it turned out. I’ve been on pole before from a reverse grid but I head into every qualifying session believing we can do it, it’s just about executing it. FP1 was a bit of a disaster for us but since then, the car came into its own and it’s been stunning this afternoon. I must admit, I’ve left it to the guys over the winter to sort things out behind the scenes and they have just done a fantastic job. A lot of work has gone in and on my side, I’ve been focussing out on track and getting the laps in over the winter.”
Tom Ingram said: “We were more than happy with that in those conditions, it can go one of two ways. I’d have loved pole but I’m more than happy with second. We can do something from here. Gordon (Shedden) is third, Jeff (Smith) will be pushing for the win so we’ll have to try and get him off the line and try and get clear but we’ll see. I’ve had a cold this week, so I’m not feeling 100 per cent, but I’ll be fine for the morning!”
Gordon Shedden said: “That was a bit of a random one! It was never totally dry. I think a few tried to get on it a little too quickly for the tyre. I had a little moment, well a huge moment, but I don’t think I was the only one! I’ll put that down to an experience and get on with it. It’s the same for everybody but it’s a shame with these conditions. That said, you want to be somewhere rather than nowhere so it’s OK, I’m happy.”
Matt Neal said: “The car’s perfect but the the track was changing corner-by-corner, lap-by-lap. With all three of our cars in the top ten, we’re really chuffed and with Jeff (Smith) on pole it’s three Hondas in the top four – pretty special.”
Colin Turkington said: “We were just hampered by the weather at the start of the session when it was spotting with rain, but then it cleared and we got a go at it. Really quickly the weather turned on us after that. I think everybody feels frustrated at not being able to get a clear run and see what the cars are capable of, but the end result is good for me. I’ve been running in and around there all day so it’s probably representative. We’ve been nudging the car in the right direction. In FP1 we had a bit of a balance issue but we’re improving it.”
2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship – Qualifying – Brands Hatch (Indy):
1 Jeff SMITH (GBR) Eurotech Racing 48.367s (89.90mph)
2 Tom INGRAM (GBR) Speedworks Motorsport +0.062s
3 Gordon SHEDDEN (GBR) Halfords Yuasa Racing +0.160s
4 Matt NEAL (GBR) Halfords Yuasa Racing +0.176s
5 Colin TURKINGTON (GBR) Team BMW +0.185s
6 Adam MORGAN (GBR) Ciceley Motorsport +0.229s
7 Jack GOFF (GBR) Eurotech Racing +0.299s
8 Rob AUSTIN (GBR) Handy Motorsport +0.452s
9 Jake HILL (GBR) TAG Racing +0.494s
10 Matt SIMPSON (GBR) Simpson Racing +0.532s
11 Andrew JORDAN (GBR) BMW Pirtek Racing +0.552s
12 Tom CHILTON (GBR) Power Maxed Racing +0.570s
13 Michael EPPS (GBR) Autoaid/RCIB Insurance Racing +0.575s
14 Mat JACKSON (GBR) Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo +0.581s
15 Rob COLLARD (GBR) Team BMW +0.659s
16 Senna PROCTOR (GBR) Power Maxed Racing +0.673s
17 Luke DAVENPORT (GBR) Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo +0.744s
18 Jason PLATO (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +0.751s
19 Aron TAYLOR-SMITH (IRL) MG Racing RCIB Insurance +0.762s
20 Stephen JELLEY (GBR) Team Parker with Maximum Motorsport +0.811s
21 Josh COOK (GBR) Team Parker with Maximum Motorsport +0.813s
22 Ashley SUTTON (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +0.826s
23 Aiden MOFFAT (GBR) Laser Tools Racing +0.884s
24 Martin DEPPER (GBR) Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo +0.962s
25 Daniel LLOYD (GBR) MG Racing RCIB Insurance +1.022s
26 Ant WHORTON-EALES (GBR) AmDtuning.com with Cobra Exhausts +1.065s
27 James COLE (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +1.175s
28 Chris SMILEY (GBR) BTC Norlin Racing +1.192s
29 Ollie JACKSON (GBR) AmDtuning.com with Cobra Exhausts +1.214s
30 Will BURNS (GBR) Autoaid/RCIB Insurance Racing +1.427s
31 Josh PRICE (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +1.480s
32 Dave NEWSHAM (GBR) BTC Norlin Racing NO TIME