Vauxhall Clinches 2002 Btcc Manufacturers' Title
Vauxhall successfully defended it's Champion Manufacturers' crown today (Monday 26 August) at Brands Hatch, Kent after scoring enough points in Round 17 of the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship to wrap up the title with three rounds to go. And to complete the double, Vauxhall Motorsport secured the Champion Teams' title giving the Triple Eight Race Engineering-run team back-to-back honours.
The Drivers' title meanwhile hotted up considerably as championship leader, Astra Coupe driver, James Thompson's lead was cut from 19 points to just four by his teammate, Yvan Muller after the Yorkshireman suffered two non points scoring races. Egg Sport Astra Coupe driver, Matt Neal has also gained ground and although he continues to lie in overall third place, he has cut the points deficit from 37 to 26 points.
It was a weekend of mixed results though for the Vauxhall drivers with the Sprint race honours going to MG's Anthony Reid and Warren Hughes whilst Vauxhall Motorsport's Muller crossed the line in third ahead of fourth placed Neal. Championship leader, Thompson, fell foul of suspension failure and a blow-out in his front right tyre whilst lying in fourth place and despite the efforts of his team to return him to the fray, he failed to register a finish in the Safety Car interrupted race. The result was to see Muller move even closer in the points and as they lined up for the extended 45 lap Feature race, the pressure was on Thompson who now only held a nine point lead.
But, it seemed that Thompson's luck had deserted him. A mistake under braking on cold tyres by Muller, whilst battling side-by-side with his teammate, resulted in both drivers heading to the gravel trap at Paddock Hill Bend. Unfortunately for Thompson, it was to end his race. Fortunately for Muller, the Frenchman was able to rejoin the field and eventually cross the line in sixth place giving his title hopes a considerable boost.
In what proved to be one of the most exciting races of the season however, the Egg Sport Astra Coupe drivers were meanwhile fighting battles of their own. After some confusion with pitstops and Safety Cars, O'Neill found himself in second position and with a genuine chance at taking the race lead. And although a gearbox selection problem put paid to those hopes, the BTCC newcomer settled for a well-deserved fourth place. His teammate, Neal was also in amongst the action and although he had to settle for eighth place, his two points scoring finishes of the day has put him right back in the title fight.
Whilst all the action was going on between the Vauxhall drivers however, MG took its second win of the day with Hughes. Honda's Alan Morrison and Peugeot's Tim Harvey followed him home in second and third respectively.
Mike Nicholson, Vauxhall Motorsport Operations Manager
"Vauxhall is delighted to have won the Manufacturers' championship two years on the trot. Our rivals made it a little bit harder this year than last but I think we demonstrated that the Astra Coupe is still by far the class of the field. We're extremely pleased for everyone involved in the effort including Triple Eight Race Engineering and all four drivers, Vauxhall Motorsport's James Thompson and Yvan Muller and Egg Sport's Matt Neal and Paul O'Neill, who have done a great job for us. We look forward now to seeing the drivers' championship decided at the final round at Donington."
Yvan Muller, Car 2, Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe
Sprint - 3rd, Feature - 6th
"A top five finish in the Sprint race was a good performance with the amount of ballast I was carrying. But the Feature race was a strange race. My job is to push for as good a result as possible but the incident with James was unfortunate. I pitted one lap after James and came out ahead of him. As we went up Paddock Hill James was on my left but I broke a bit too late for cold tyres. It was my mistake and unfortunate. I went straight because I couldn't steer and because he was on my left, he went off with me into the gravel. It was definitely side-by-side racing though today."
James Thompson, Car 3, Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe
Sprint - NCF, Feature - DNF
"Obviously a very disappointing weekend for me. First a blow out in the Sprint race left me several laps down and with a non-classified finish and then I didn't finish the second race at all. Yvan had just pitted but he tried to race me on cold tyres. We made contact and I went off into the gravel."
OTHER VAUXHALL NEWS
Matt Neal, Car 0, Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe
Sprint - 4th, Feature - 8th
"For once I think I lost out by pitting too early and then I had my race wrecked by the Safety car period. I thought I was in with a chance there. But I'm still in with a chance for the drivers' title at Donington and that's what matters!"
Paul O'Neill, Car 29, Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe
Sprint - 10th, Feature - 4th
"I'm a bit gutted about missing out on a podium but it certainly made up for my qualifying sessions. I really tried to attack in the Feature race. When the Safety car came out and my board had second place on it, I thought, yes, let's go for it! Unfortunately, I then had a gearbox selection problem but at least I was up there."