Extra grip from a new track surface always meant the previous record – set by Coates last year – was under threat.
Ultimately it was decimated by over a second as Coates and arch title rival Jack Young pushed each other to the limits in the qualifying session’s closing minutes.
Young looked to have done enough only for Coates to suddenly jump from fourth to the top of the timesheets with a lap in 1m30.182s – enough to unseat Young by just 0.010s.
He then set an even better 1m30.107s but Young was not done. The 17-year-old, who currently leads the standings, set the fastest first sector of anyone as he improved again but it wasn’t quite enough – his lap in 1m30.134s leaving him 0.027s shy.
It means a much anticipated head-to-head between the pair is in store when they line up on the grid for the first of their two races this weekend later this afternoon (16:20).
Behind, Young’s MRM team-mates Brett Lidsey and Nathan Edwards took third and fourth while Westbourne pair (and brothers) James and Ben Colburn were fifth and sixth.
There was double delight, too, for Coates for he had also set the second best time of anyone to put him on pole for race two which takes place on Sunday. Young will again line up in second ahead of Lidsey, Coates’s Team HARD team-mate Jamie Bond, Edwards and James Colburn.
However, this morning's qualifying session ended badly for Lidsey whose car suffered significant damage in an impact with pit lane barriers. By contrast, Edwards will be delighted with his performances on his first outings in the championship this year…
Coates said: “I knew I had to push – the first lap felt very quick; the second lap when I went even faster… I can’t say how fast that felt because it wouldn’t be appropriate on the public address system!
“I would say these two pole laps are the best of my career so far. The tricky bit comes this afternoon – getting the car off the line cleanly and then taking on Jack.”
Young, who’d set the pace in free practice on Friday, added: “It looked like it might be going our way, but then I came past the pits and saw P2 on my board so I pushed again.
“The tyres were past their best by then but I was still able to find more. It was close with Max – I think we could have some great races here.”
Leading times: Qualifying, Race 1 (Round 5), Croft
1. Max Coates (Team HARD), 1m30.107s (84.90mph)
2. Jack Young (MRM), +0.027s
3. Brett Lidsey (MRM), +0.310s
4. Nathan Edwards (MRM), +0.366s
5. James Colburn (Westbourne Motorsport), +0.456s
6. Ben Colburn (Westbourne Motorsport), +0.476s
7. Jamie Bond (Team HARD), +0.512s
8. Ethan Hammerton (Team HARD), +0.645s
9. Jade Edwards (Team HARD), +0.863s
10. Finlay Robinson (Westbourne Motorsport), +1.004s
11. Luke Warr (Specialized Motorsport), +2.833s
Leading times: Qualifying, Race 2 (Round 6), Croft
1. Max Coates (Team HARD), 1m30.182s (84.82mph
2. Jack Young (MRM), +0.010s
3. Brett Lidsey (MRM), +0.267s
4. Jamie Bond (Team HARD), +0.454s
5. Nathan Edwards (MRM), +0.471s
6. James Colburn (Westbourne Motorsport), +0.495s
7. Ben Colburn (Westbourne Motorsport), +0.694s
8. Ethan Hammerton (Team HARD), +0.759s
9. Jade Edwards (Team HARD), +1.465s
10. Finlay Robinson (Westbourne Motorsport), +1.493s
11. Luke Warr (Specialized Motorsport), +2.847s
FULL TIMES & ANALYSIS HERE