James Thompson narrowly missed out on a front row grid slot by only nine hundredths of a second in qualifying for round 19 of the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship. However, a huge impact at the end of the session caused significant damage to the rear of the Vauxhall Astra Coupe, and throws Thompson's participation in the event in to doubt. The VX Racing team are now racing against the clock to repair the car in time for tomorrow. Team mates Luke Hines and Yvan Muller made steady improvements throughout the qualifying session, and will start the race from eighth and ninth positions respectively.
The 30-minute qualifying session saw a four way battle for the pole between Thompson's Vauxhall Astra Coupe, Anthony Reid, Colin Turkington and Tom Chilton, but a blown head gasket only 30 seconds from the chequered flag prematurely halted Thompson's charge for the front spot. As the VX Racing driver was pulling off the track, Matt Neal careered into the back of his car, smashing the rear end and badly winding Thompson. After a brief visit to medical centre, Thompson was given the all-clear.
Reid had set the early pace, but Thompson started the session in blistering form despite running with success ballast. Thompson stayed in the top three for the majority of the session, and was poised to make a final strike for the pole minutes from the end, but was struck down by the engine problem that ultimately led to his retirement.
Similarly, Luke Hines started the session well, setting third fastest time on only his third lap. Despite his limited experience at Knockhill, Hines improved throughout the half hour and will start from eighth position tomorrow. Yvan Muller endured a difficult session and failed to improve on his time from the morning's free practice. Although the Frenchman began with a strong lap to take him to fourth position, he could not find a set up to suit the undulating Scottish circuit and the improvements he made were not enough to take him further up the grid. Frustrated with the lack of pace, he will start from ninth.
James Thompson, Car No. 2
"It's frustrating as I want to win this championship, and was looking good for the pole. I had saved a set of tyres until the end of the session and was waiting to go out for a last stab at pole, but when I went out I felt the engine tightening so I backed right off to take the car back to the pits. Coming through the chicane the head gasket blew, sending the water temperature through the roof. I had to pull off the track, and was just about to get out when Matt Neal came over the hill and lost control on some water on the track. He came spearing into me causing huge damage. The chassis leg is doubled back, and we've now got a long night ahead of us. This session was full of frustrating what ifs.?. The biggest 'if' now is if we can repair the car in time for tomorrow."
Luke Hines, Car No. 57
"We had a much better time in qualifying than we had in the free practice this morning. I'm only three tenths of a second behind the pole, which can be worked on - it's all about the racing now. It's very close out there, with the top four separated by less than a tenth of a second, so we're in for a tight race. I'm now edging closer and closer to my team mates and am making positive progress. It's good to have Yvan behind me for once - he's normally in the top three!"
Yvan Muller, Car No. 1
"I am extremely disappointed with today. We made changes to the set-up in between free practice and qualifying, but unfortunately we went the wrong way. The end result reflects our struggle to get the balance of the car right this weekend. Knockhill has been an unlucky circuit for me in the past, but I'm hoping to change that tomorrow. We've got three races, and as always, I'll be looking for the win."