To the victor, the spoils!
They've each led the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship at some stage throughout the twenty-round series but as Vauxhall Astra Coupé drivers, Yvan Muller, James Thompson and Matt Neal line up for perhaps the biggest showdown of their careers, they know that only one man can be crowned 2002 BTCC Champion this Sunday. The question is, which one?
The venue for Rounds 19 and 20 is the 2.5-mile Donington Park GP circuit and with the season's tussles behind them, and the Manufacturers' and Teams' titles secured by Vauxhall for a second consecutive year, the Astra Coupé drivers have just two races, a 15-lap Sprint and 25-lap Feature, to stake their own claim for supremacy.
Having led the championship for much of the season, and as current points leader, Vauxhall Motorsport's Thompson arguably has the psychological advantage. But teammate, Muller has been here before. As runner-up in 2001, the Frenchman will want to make amends for losing out last year and, renowned for being as cool as a cucumber on the race track, he will make short work of his four point deficit given just half a chance.
The Vauxhall Motorsport pair have notched up five wins apiece this season and are more than a match for each other. Thompson knows the gloves are off and is heeding the warning served by his controversial coming together with Muller at Brands four weeks ago.
"Everything that I have achieved this year is now irrelevant. It's winner takes all at Donington and it is up to me to beat Yvan, just as it is up to Yvan to try to beat me. It'll certainly make interesting racing for the fans!"
Muller meanwhile is expecting a tough weekend commenting, "For sure I've been here before but it doesn't make it any easier as James knows Donington very well. I shall treat this weekend like any other and concentrate on doing my best. But with 35 points still available, I cannot discount Matt either, he is 22 points behind me and can still win the championship. It is going to be very close."
But the championship title fight isn't the only battle being fought this weekend. After a double MG win at the last outing, Thompson also wants to silence the critics.
"All four Triple Eight-run Astra drivers have tested this year at Donington and I think we could realistically achieve an Astra Coupé 1-4 on the grid. It would be great to see us all running at the front of the field."
With both the Vauxhall Motorsport Astras and the two Egg Sport Atsras running light in terms of success ballast this weekend, Thompson's prediction is a distinct possibility. Furthermore, the 28-year-old started his career at Donington and, with the lightest Astra of the four, he could well be leading the pack.
It's showdown time and a battle not to be missed.
Encompassing the three major championships in British motor racing (BTCC, F3 and GT), this weekend's Super Weekender will be a showcase of the best of British. Touring car action commences with free practices on the morning of Friday, 20 September whilst qualifying takes place on Saturday afternoon at 1.35pm. Sunday's events kick off with Pitlane Walkabout at 11.30am with the 15-lap Sprint Race getting under way at 12.55pm. The 25-lap main Feature Race starts at 4.15pm. Granada Sport's coverage of the grand finale will be shown the following Saturday afternoon on ITV1.