The half-hour session around the 2.4-mile Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch in Kent had begun under darkening skies, with drivers rushing to set a time before the rain hit.
With only eight minutes of the session complete Aron Smith’s Volkswagen flew off at Hawthorn’s bend, dug into the gravel trap and rolled onto its side, bringing the session to a halt. As the rain began to fall it looked increasingly as if the already set times would form the grid, placing Tom Ingram’s Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis on pole position ahead of Jason Plato’s BMR Subaru Levorg, and with championship leader Sam Tordoff’s West Surrey Racing BMW down in 15th place.
With the accident cleared up and the rain easing the session resumed but for a long while it looked as if the track would not dry fast enough for any improvements. But suddenly times started tumbling and with six minutes left Colin Turkington put his Subaru on pole position, and continued to improve right through the rest of the session.
The final minutes were frantic as times tumbled, and when the chequered flag fell Turkington held top spot, though Ingram failed by just six thousandths of a second to take his place back. The similar Avensis of Handy Motorsport’s Rob Austin took third, and then Plato and the equally impressive Powermaxed Racing Chevrolet Cruze of Hunter Abbott.
Behind Turkington and Plato, the other six of the eight drivers still in with a chance of taking the championship had mixed fortunes. Best of the rest was the Team Dynamics Honda Civic Type-R of current points second-place holder Gordon Shedden, taking eighth spot three spots in front of Tordoff’s BMW.
The second Honda of Matt Neal, currently third in the points just two behind his team-mate, qualified right behind Tordoff, having languished outside the top 20 with only five minutes of the session remaining. The second title contending BMW of Rob Collard was next up, having pulled a result from potential disaster when he lost the first part to the session in the pits with a gear selection problem.
Big losers in the session were the Motorbase Ford Focus pairing of Matt Jackson and Andrew Jordan, fifth and sixth in the points. Having held fourth grid spot when the session was stopped, Jackson slipped to 20th, his team-mate in 14th.
However some time after the session had finished it was announced that Ingram’s second-placed Toyota had failed a check of its ride height, relegating the car to the back of the grid, moving everyone else up a spot and further tightening the title battle.
Tordoff takes an 11-point advantage over Shedden into the first of Sunday’s three 15-lap races. While the Subarus have the qualifying advantage, they are the rank outsiders in the title chase, Turkington 37 points back from Tordoff, Plato 58.
With 66 points still to be awarded, however, the potential destination of the 2016 BTCC is no clearer. Race one is due off the grid at 11.32am on Sunday but the outcome could be in doubt until race 3 at 5.09pm – The Car Expert will carry a full report on what is bound to be an action-packed finale.