By S.P. Sheridan - Motorsport.com
The 7th round of the BTCC (13th &14th race).
Knockhill certainly gave the Touring car drivers a run for their money when they tried to tackle the rough terrain of the Scottish circuit. With four seasons of weather in one day it was impossible to predict track conditions. The sprint race had only the second lap to wait until danger encroached, and the normally serene mountainsides of the glen erupted into chaos, when the Peugeot of Steve Soper and the Team-egg Vauxhall of Phil Bennet collided, sending both Soper and Bennet into the rough. Bennet rejoined the track after losing his 3rd place, Soper staying off-road for a picnic! Soper's team-mate, Dan Eaves, had already lost his exhaust in the earlier practice session and followed suit by heading straight for the tyre wall, ending any ambitions of scoring rare points for the team. The sprint race finished as it started with Plato in first even though he lost the first corner because of clutch problems, but with a sequential gearbox, he won't have to worry about using the clutch once the feature race is underway, with a rolling start the clutch doesn't come into the equation. The other podium positions belonged to Muller taking 2nd and Thompson bringing up the rear.
James Thompson- "it wasn't the best race, we had a brake problem from lap one, I couldn't generate enough pressure, whether we had a fluid leak I don't know, I was locking the rear brakes into every corner, so I couldn't try quite as hard as I wanted to." A different approach from Jason Plato- "It is my first win here in Touring cars and it was a good win. We are not thinking about the championship, Ivan has a bit of a points lead. The nicest thing is we've had a maximum so far with 2 poles, one win, one fastest lap with a race to go, so let's hope I can get a win and a fastest lap and I'm not following him. I've changed my working pattern with my race engineer and so far it's working." (It certainly is Jason.) These victories went towards the total winning score for the Manufacturers championship, giving Vauxhall manufacturers the crown very early on in the season. If the TOCA wants to keep improving their ratings, they certainly need more opposition from the Peugeots and any new manufacturers who fancy their chances for next year. The manufacturers championship may have been decided prematurely in the year but the driver's championship is still up for grabs-
Ivan Muller "After one lap I did not manage to stay on the front because all weekend Jason was quick than anybody else, I just thought I could push as much I can and to try something different for the feature race. Jason is very quick and I m not very optimistic, but, anything can happen, we will see." Well, it certainly did Ivan. Jason took his second victory of the weekend with a win in the feature. Making his Debut for the BTCC, the young Scots Ford Focus production driver Gordon Sheddon, favourite for the win, gave his Scottish clan a thrill packed day of entertainment with second place finish in the sprint and first in the feature. Sheddon had too say- "I got the jump on the lights James Kaye shot past me and into the first corner, I expected a few more to get past me to be honest. The times were really good for the first three quarters of the race and I worked the tyres too hard early on and we lost a bit with about five or six laps to go, but I learnt a lot on how to structure the race and hopefully I will have my turn on the top of the podium."
The 45-lap Feature race, had even more surprises in store when local Scots hero, Colin Blair, crashed spectacularly on the 12th lap, rolling his car over, he emerged from the wreck dazed and shaken, but done sustain any major injuries. The safety car out, gave the drivers the chance to regroup, but this didn't help anyone behind Plato, as he drove off into the sunset with a huge grin on his face directed straight at his team mate and biggest rival, Muller. Acknowledging the crowds, Plato almost climbed out of his car on his victory lap (overcome with glee, no doubt). Plato later embraced victory.
With three of the top runners having power steering failure, Muller being the first to fall victim to this tight compact track with corners that are unforgiving on braking, has left the championship wide-open. Muller fell further and further back in the field as he fought to turn the steering wheel, Thompson lost his power steering nearer the end of the race and demolished a few track markers on his way, to top it all his pit-stop of 30-seconds complete, lost him the second position to his team mate, Phil Bennet. Bennet winning his second the 2nd total of four podiums for the season, and not wanting to be left out made up the third driver to lose Power Steering. The difference in team spirits at the two Vauxhall camps was evident at the press conferences-
Thompson "It was great that Muller didn't get any points, obviously it wasn't for Ivan, but at the end of the day for the championship it's good, closes things up a little bit. My desire to finish the race was very high and I knew that Ivan had retired with the same problem as me I just wanted to finish the race. I was pleased for Phil, he has taken a few knocks this year and deserves everything he got." His, never say die attitude certainly paid off for the gentleman driver that is, James Thompson.
Bennet "Racing with the team mates I've got, if I beat anyone other then I feel great, because they have got a lot of experience and they're all fantastic drivers and weather I beat Ivan, Jason or James, it's a good result for me." What an experience Knockhill was, with bright sunshine at 11.30, misty rain at 11.45, and so on all through the day. With a fantastic backdrop for scenic photographs and a track that tested to the limit, the championship is up for grabs, so roll-on Snetterton. Not half as beautiful as Knockhill but just as exciting!
Gordon Sheddon went on to win the Feature race for the production championship.