BTCC: Howell puts in a screamer

Gareth Howell scorched to pole yesterday ahead of today's British Touring Car Championship showdown at Silverstone.

Gareth Howell scorched to pole yesterday ahead of today's British Touring Car Championship showdown at Silverstone.

The Team Halfords driver posted the fastest lap of the day around the short National Circuit in the stunning orange Honda Integra - while honorary Geordie Jason Plato watched his title hopes go out of the window after a dismal day at the office.

Howell set a hot lap of 1:00.411 minutes with eight minutes remaining of the half-hour session, and despite a hard charge from Irishman Colin Turkington in the dying moments, it was a time that was to stick until the chequered flag.

The Honda driver will line up at the top of the grid for the first of today's three races, with Team Rac's Turkington - driving the bio-ethanol powered MG - in second and championship-elect Matt Neal third.

"I'm happy with the session," admitted the elated youngster. "Everything was working well and the Honda feels as strong as ever.

"I could see it was going to be a close fight, with everyone doing similar times.

"I knew my lap was a good one and I couldn't better it myself so I just had to hope no one else could find that extra something.

"There's less than half a second separating the top 10 for Race One, so I think it's going to be a good, hard fight to the flag."

Plato, who yesterday turned 39, found his birthday didn't bring him good luck, after a troubled day which began with a gear selection problem during Free Practice One yesterday morning.

The 2001 champ was sidelined for most of FP2 later in the day, after the team were forced to fit a whole new gearbox. JP did make it on to the track to complete just four laps, but was unable to set a decent time.

And it seemed the troubles ran into the final qualifying half-hour yesterday, when the SEAT driver found himself languishing down in 13th spot almost a second off the pace, managing just a 1:01.073.

"It hasn't been a great day and it looks like the end of my championship hopes for this year," said a glum Plato.

"But that's racing, and that's the nature of the beast. We came here with the objective of taking the manufacturers' title and we'll be concentrating on doing just that today.

"After the two wins at Brands a fortnight ago, it had looked possible that we could claw back the Drivers' title, but with Matt third on the grid and me down here, it doesn't look likely now.

"But tomorrow is another day and in this game anything can happen, so it really isn't all over."

Plato currently lies 35 points adrift of Neal in the standings, and the reigning champ looks on course to take his second consecutive title today for Team Halfords.

"I'm happy with third," he said. "Obviously we would have liked to be at the front, but nevertheless we are in a good position for the race and the championship.

"My rival is a fair way down the grid so we'll just have to go out and be careful and do the best we can."

A team-mate of Plato, Harrogate's James Thompson will park up his SEAT Leon seventh on the grid after setting a time of 1:00.744, but lies behind the team's third driver Darren Turner, who shocked the paddock by being quickest SEAT boy and finishing fourth.

And privateer James Kaye, also of Harrogate, will start behind Plato in 14th in his Synchro Motorsport Honda Civic Type R.

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