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    On his first visit to Knockhill’s complicated circuit, Vauxhall's Italian superstar, Fabrizio Giovanardi, managed to record the third fastest time in Saturdays Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship qualifying.

    The 39-year-old took no time at all to master the undulating circuit and by this afternoon’s second free practice he was fastest overall for the Luton-based manufacturer as he excelled in Fife’s changeable weather.

    In the qualifying session Giovanardi left it until the dying seconds before launching the Astra Sport Hatch to the top of the timesheet in a thrilling spectacle for the Scottish fans.

    But in the drying conditions, the fastest time was always going to be set on the very last lap and the two SEATs of Jason Plato and Darren Turner, squeezed Giovanardi onto the second row of the grid as the chequered flag was waved.

    “It was a strange qualifying,” said Giovanardi, who has twice won the European Touring Car Championship during his acclaimed career in saloon car racing. “I put slicks on before anyone else and it was difficult to keep the car on the circuit at first but then I made better and better times.

    “Usually I’m fast in the wet. To find the limits you are always scared of locking the tyres. You don’t know where the limit is especially when you have to stop the car. You just have to feel the tyres slipping. I enjoy this.”

    VX Racing’s Technical Director, John Morton, was delighted with Giovanardi’s performance. “He was the first to identify that slicks were the way to go, which is good,” said Morton. “He was brave. Possibly at the end he had been on his slicks a little bit too long but it was all going to be down to the last lap and it just didn’t quite go his way.”

    Despite Giovanardi’s heroics, the majority of Vauxhall’s legion of supporters were left unfulfilled when the rest of the team failed to shine in the tricky conditions.

    “Today was really tough,” said Tom Chilton, who ended in 10th place. “Fabrizio managed to squeeze a good time on the last lap but I had a 360o spin after putting on slick tyres. It totally ruined any chance of me getting a good final lap as my tyres had cooled right down. It was definitely a bad day at the office.

    “Tomorrow we will look for a different set-up. I’ve had some great starts lately so I’ll be looking for another tomorrow. It’s not over until you pack up and go home.”

    Gavin Smith says delaying the decision to swap onto slick tyres cost him a good qualifying position. “I hate making excuses,” said the Dubliner, who will start tomorrow’s first race from 13th. “Granted, Fabrizio was quicker in today’s second practice but I wasn’t that far off and I was fastest of all the VX Racing drivers in the first session. That’s why it’s so frustrating. I know the circuit well and I know I could have done better. “

    1. Jason Plato (SEAT Léon) 57.467
    2. Darren Turner (SEAT Léon) +0.140
    3. Fabrizio Giovanardi (Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch) +0.210
    4. Gordon Shedden (Honda Integra) +0.253
    5. Matt Neal (Honda Integra) +0.366
    6. Colin Turkington (MG ZS) +0.756
    7. Gareth Howell (Honda Integra) +Honda Civic Type R +0.838
    8. James Kaye (Honda Civic Type R) +0.860
    9. Robert Collard (MG ZS) +0.885
    10. Tom Chilton (Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch) +0.887
    11. Mark Proctor (Honda Civic Type R) +0.916
    12. Mike Jordan (Honda Integra) +0.916
    13. Gavin Smith (Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch +1.050