Warren Hughes and Colin Turkington each took their first wins of the season to give MG a victory double in rounds 15 and 16 of the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship in front of 16,000 spectators at Brands Hatch today (Monday). Vauxhall's Yvan Muller, meanwhile, took second and fifth place finishes to stretch his championship lead to 25 points over team-mate and defending champion James Thompson with four rounds to go.
In the Hilton Independents Trophy for privateer teams, GA Motorsports' Carl Breeze and Team Halfords' Dan Eaves shared the victory spoils. In the fight for the title, Collard Racing's Rob Collard retired from both races and saw his lead dramatically slashed to just six points by Synchro Honda Racing's James Kaye.
In the Production class, Edenbridge Racing's Michael Bentwood and Team Varta's Tom Boardman took a victory apiece as Barwell Motorsport's Luke Hines almost put the title out of reach with two podium finishes.
The first race saw Muller lead from pole position until falling to second behind Hughes during the mandatory tyre change pit stops. Muller started catching Hughes, but a sudden engine problem in the closing stages forced him to reduce his speed and settle for second ahead of MG's Turkington.
Hughes was delighted with his first win of the season, but admitted: "I was lucky that Yvan had his problem because he was catching me very quickly and I was a sitting duck. I would have defended as best as I could, but it would have been hard to keep him behind if he hadn't had problems." He added: "After some major disappointments in recent races, this is just what I needed and I believe the MG ZS will be very strong in all the remaining races."
Muller said: "I was coming for the win and was confident I could have made it past Warren, but then my engine's water temperature started to go up so I backed off." The Frenchman, though, was safe in the knowledge that title rival Thompson was trapped in fifth position behind Honda's Matt Neal who drove a defensive race in his Civic Type-R to keep the reigning champion at bay. "I was delighted with that result. This isn't the Honda's strongest track and the Civic Type-R was weighed down with maximum success ballast after our win at Snetterton two weeks ago," said Neal. Thompson, who had maintained his second position off the starting grid in the early stages, could count himself unfortunate to be behind Neal after being badly delayed by a lengthy pit stop.
Sixth, right behind this pair, was Vauxhall's Paul O'Neill, while MG's Anthony Reid, Honda's Tom Chilton and Petronus Syntium Proton's David Leslie - his team's Impian working well around Brands' twisty Indy circuit - completed the top nine. O'Neill had also been delayed when he had to take avoiding action to prevent himself accidentally being squeezed into the pit lane by Neal who was coming in for his tyre stop!
Tenth and taking his first Hilton Independents Trophy victory of the season was Breeze, in GA's Astra Coupe. "This is a long overdue win," said Breeze. "We were very close to it at Croft, but the car was damaged and I fell to second behind Rob at the end. This is the perfect result." Breeze's day was made when, just behind him on the track, Independents points leader Rob Collard spun out of the race, enabling him to take a full 15 points out of his rival's advantage. Collard's retirement was the result of a clash with fellow Astra Coupe driver, Team Dynamics' Gareth Howell, at Paddock Hill Bend. Howell was able to continue, but his Astra had been damaged in the collision and, as he nursed the car to the line, was also overtaken by rival Independents Kaye and Eaves.
Next up, after a spin following contact with Proton's Phil Bennett and having to serve a drive-through penalty, came Honda's Alan Morrison and Team Halfords' Daniel Buxton who had to pit twice after bizzarely being forced to abort his first stop when his team's pit box was accidentally blocked by GA's Paul Wallace. Wallace was also handed a drive-through penalty as punishment and, as a result, fell behind Production class winner Bentwood.
The Edenbridge driver moved to the front after leader Boardman's steering failed and he spun out of the race. Hines and Barwell team-mate Alan Blencowe took second and third in class, followed by Mark Fullaove, in Techspeed's Peugeot 306, and Team Varta pair Jay Wheals, also in a 306, and Richard Marsh, in a Honda Accord.
Collard and Boardman aside, retirements included Bennett, whose Proton's steering was smashed in its collision with Morrison's Honda, and Production class runners, Team Varta's Jim Edwards, whose Peugeot 307's engine developed a misfire, and Kartworld's Jason Hughes, his Nissan Primera suffering gearbox failure.
The second race came down to a dramatic last lap dash to the chequered flag following a late Safety Car period that bunched the field back up. At the restart, Muller led but at the first corner made a rare mistake and slid wide, allowing Turkington to slip past him into the lead for his first BTCC race victory. At the second corner, Reid tried to follow Turkington through into second but contact with Muller put them both off the track. Each was able to scramble out of the gravel trap, with Reid just ahead, but past them into second and third places had gone
The normally quiet Turkington was ecstatic with his win and was mobbed by his MG team as he climbed from his car in parc ferme. "I'm lost for words," said 21-year-old Turkington. "Going onto the last lap, I knew it would need a do or die move for me to get past Yvan and I wasn't going to risk that. But then he went wide and I was through. I had a big old grin on my face after that!"
O'Neill's second place moved him back into third in the title race past Neal who crashed out at the first corner after contact with Thompson who was later to spin at the same bend in a collision with Hughes, the incident dropping him down to 15th. He eventually fought back to 10th but admitted that with a 25-point gap to make up to Muller in the final four rounds his chances of retaining his crown now look slim. Thompson said: "This weekend has been a disaster for me. I will keep on fighting, but it's looking very difficult now."
Behind fifth-placed Muller came Hughes, Chilton, Proton team-mates Leslie and Bennett, who again were able to take the fight to the front-runners in their much-improved Impians, and the recovering Thompson. Eaves, who had kept the official manufacturer teams' cars in his sights throughout, took 11th to record his second Independents victory of the season. Team-mate Buxton had also briefly enjoyed a lap leading the race outright during the pit stops to score a bonus point until he, too, had to call in for his tyre change.
Second and third in the Independents Trophy fell to Howell and Wallace as Buxton finished fourth and 14th overall after a drive-through penalty for pitting outside his allocated box. The same punishment was meted out to Breeze who then received a second drive-through for speeding in the pit lane while serving his first penalty! Notably, both Collard and Kaye were missing from the list of finishers, each retiring in the pit lane with a broken drive shaft and electrical problems respectively.
Finishing 16th overall and taking revenge for his first race disappointment was Boardman with his sixth Production class victory of the season. The Team Varta driver's performance was all the more incredible considering he started the race from the back of the field after his earlier retirement. "It was all down to the amount of adrenaline I had going through my body and wanting to give my team the win they deserved for repairing my car just in time to make the start," said 19-year-old Boardman, who now heads points leader Hines by six to five in the victory stakes.
Chasing Boardman all the way after being passed by him into Druids Bend came Bentwood whose runner-up spot in class moved him past Hines' team-mate Blencowe and back into second in the standings by a point. Hines followed in third with Fullalove, Blencowe, Wheals and Marsh completing the runners. Edwards' misfire, meanwhile, accounted for his second retirement of the day.