VX Racing Endure Difficult Weekend at Knockhill, But Still Head Title Charge
8 August 2004--/VX Racing had a dramatic and disappointing return to Scotland, after a series of accidents and mechanical problems consistently hindered its progress throughout the weekend. Thanks to the resilience and determination of the drivers and mechanics, the team registered valuable points finishes in all races, and held onto the lead in the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship.
The weekend did not begin well for the team as drivers James Thompson, Yvan Muller and Luke Hines struggled with set-ups in the Saturday free practice sessions. Minor changes brought some improvement in the later qualifying, but a huge accident for Thompson in the closing stages put the team on the back foot as mechanics faced a race against the clock to repair the car. Thanks to a gargantuan effort by the team, Thompson lined up fourth on the grid in a battle-scarred, but competitive car. "A big pat on the back for the boys, the team worked very hard to get my car ready after the damage sustained yesterday," Thompson commented after race one.
Thompson was clearly frustrated by his lack of progress throughout the weekend. He ran well in the first race, dicing with Chilton and Turkington for third position, but finished in fourth. This result was later upgraded to third as Turkington was demoted to fourth from second position after race stewards ruled he had passed Thompson under waved yellow flags. This was not the only contentious issue as some drivers did their utmost to capitalise on the reverse grid for race two.
Yet more contact ensued in the second race, this time with Chilton, as Thompson was pushed off the circuit. The Vauxhall Astra Coupe sustained damage to the suspension, and after wrestling it back to the pits, Thompson briefly continued before he was forced to retire on lap ten. Thompson summed up his disappointment; "After Chilton hit me, the steering was all over the place and I had to pull in. I am gutted as I didn't score any points at all in that race and now I have to start from the back of the grid in the final race. Championship-wise, it's an absolute disaster for me." Despite starting from almost the back of the grid, Thompson stormed through the field to finish in fourth position in the final race.
Frenchman Muller also struggled at Knockhill, recording a disappointing fifth, fourth and ninth. Muller struggled in qualifying, but fought bravely in the first race: "My race pace wasn't too bad, especially if you look at the other lap times, it's just that I started from too far back."
The second race was similarly challenging as Muller wrestled his way into a podium finish in the closing stages of the race with a series of storming laps. However his charge was halted after the deployment of the safety car on lap 16, and on the restart he was kept busy by an aggressive Huff. Muller was pushed wide several times, and ultimately lost his place on the podium, finishing fourth.
The final race brought yet more clashes. Muller was again pushed off the track. He rejoined, but lost a lot of time and ultimately finished in ninth place. Muller, disappointed with some of the tactics and driving from other competitors, now leads the championship by just one point from team mate Thompson.
Like Thompson and Muller, Hines had a mixed weekend. His first race was limited to an information gathering exercise after a gear lever breakage pulled him into the pits on the formation lap. Starting from fifteenth in the second race, Hines progressed through the field and scored a fifth place in the second race. After losing places at the start of the final race, Hines secured a sixth place finish.
Mike Nicholson, VX Racing operations manager, summed up the weekend saying, "It has been very difficult for us with the accidents and also the situation with the rules and the reverse grid. It's disappointing that people are more interested in racing for tenth than first place in the first race. VX Racing is here to race and win every time we go out on track. We do not want to be drawn into anything other than that, and feel it is short changing the fans who pay to see racing. We have heard from many different quarters here at Knockhill -- fans, marshals - a lot of people are very disappointed and even angry about some of the tactics being employed. It's just a shame for them. On a positive note everyone at VX Racing pulled together and worked very hard to get the results."