Stephen Jelley led the Team BMW charge by qualifying eighth for Sunday’s first of three British Touring Car Championship races at Oulton Park with team-mates Colin Turkington and Tom Oliphant hot on his heels.
In an ultra-tight session the Leicester racer extracted all he could from his WSR-designed, built and run BMW 330i M Sport, getting to within just 0.290 seconds of pole position in a time that would have put him on the front row last year.
It was his best Oulton Park qualifying performance in the BTCC since 2008.
“I’m pleased for Stephen, who’s the fastest Team BMW driver today on only his fourth event back with us,” commented Dirk Bennetts, team principal. “That’ll be good for his confidence and I’m sure he can do well tomorrow. Colin (Turkington) set an almost identical laptime to Stephen, which was two tenths quicker than the lap that put him third last year, and significantly he’s ahead of every driver that’s above him in the championship. Tom (Oliphant) went for quite a different set-up, but it didn’t work for him today. We’ll go through everything in a lot of detail tonight to find some extra performance for tomorrow.”
Team-mate Turkington was just 0.020s slower, despite carrying 48kg success ballast by virtue of his fourth spot in the Drivers’ points table. His ninth spot meant he out-qualified every driver ahead of him in the championship.
The four-time champion from Northern Ireland had earlier been third and 16th in a pair of free-practice sessions that were each affected by rain at the Cheshire circuit.
Tom Oliphant, who grew up just three miles from Oulton in the village of Tarporley, began the day superbly by setting the pace in a damp opening practice session.
With rain also affecting FP2, the local hero opted for a different car set-up for qualifying, which left the BMW’s handling not to his liking.
He qualified less than 0.3s behind his team-mates in 14th, carrying 33kg success ballast as a result of his Brands Hatch win last time out moving him up to sixth in the points.
Sunday’s three races will give the WSR-run team the opportunity to increase BMW’s lead in the Manufacturers’ Championship as they aim for a record-breaking sixth-straight title together.