Yvan Muller got the better of a tense qualifying battle with his Vauxhall Motorsport team-mate James Thompson to grab the pole slots for rounds five and six of the BTCC, which will be run at Thruxton tomorrow (Monday).
"The best lap was nearly perfect," said Muller. "I think I could do that one twice."
Muller had set the first super-quick time of the weekend early in part one of the double-barrelled session (20 minutes split from a second 20 by a three-minute neutral period), but his 1m16.776s lap was almost immediately put in the shade by Thompson's 1m16.588s. However, after a quick re-group Muller put in another scorcher to put the mark at 1m16.567s and that was good enough to keep the pole.
In the second session the Frenchman pulled out his near-perfect effort for a 1m16.369s lap. Thompson kept trying right to the end, aborting his final attempt after he braked just too late at the chicane and went straight ton. The Yorkshireman acknowledged that Muller had this time done the better job, though he did muse that with hindsight he might have used his tyre allocation slightly differently.
Muller though has his worries about tomorrow's races. "It's good for a lap, but then we get oversteer," he said. For a man who normally only complains of understeer, this handling imbalance must have been severe. "Yes," he explained. "Ask Paul O'Neill. He saw me through the side window at Church." Broadside-on at 135mph is a little strong even for Muller.
The rest were well in the shade. Matt Neal, disappointed because he felt he'd never really hooked up a decent lap in the Egg Astra, vied with MG's Anthony Reid to be best of the rest. Reid secured third on the grid for the sprint race with a lap that was just over a second slower than Muller's, with Neal fourth. For the feature Neal was third and Reid fourth.
Andy Priaulx kept up Honda's good showing to be sixth quickest for the sprint and fifth for the feature. "We're getting there," said the Guernseyman. "This is much more the level that we expected. A second is still a long way off, but we'll find it and a podium this weekend is realistic."
James Kaye's Synchro Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R was the best of the BTC Production runners, securing both poles, with Mark Fullalove in the Techspeed Peugeot 306 and Gavin Pyper in the GA Motorsport Alfa 156 each taking a turn at being second and third.