BTCC: Vauxhall Donington race report

Rounds 11 & 12 of the www.theAA.com British Touring Car Championship produced a thrilling pair of races today (Sunday 1 July). There was plenty of paint swapping during both the 17-lap Sprint Race and the 31-lap Feature. Yorkshire's James...

Rounds 11 & 12 of the www.theAA.com British Touring Car Championship produced a thrilling pair of races today (Sunday 1 July). There was plenty of paint swapping during both the 17-lap Sprint Race and the 31-lap Feature. Yorkshire's James Thompson, driving the EggSport Astra Coupe, took his second win of the season after starting from pole in the Sprint and Jason Plato won the Feature Race in his Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe. Yvan Muller maintained his BTCC lead with second and third places at Donington, with Plato second but closing in on the leader.

James Thompson kicked off his day with a dominant win in the Sprint Race taking full advantage of pole position to lead the touring class from start to finish and giving him temporary joint second place in the championship points standings with Plato. His first win since the opening rounds at Brands Hatch, Thompson got away cleanly at the start of the 1-lap handicapped race to pull away from the pursuing Muller and Bennett who were busy fighting it out amongst themselves. A spin by Bennett on the opening lap saw the Midlands driver drop down to the back of the touring car pack leaving him to try and find a way past the Lexus and Peugeot of Kurt Luby and bike ace, Aaron Slight.

Meanwhile, fellow Astra Coupe driver, Jason Plato began his race charge hot on the heels of his French teammate. Contact at the Melbourne hairpin resulted in Plato getting his own way and taking second place in the touring race with Muller's Astra Coupe bearing the marks of their exchange. It wasn't to last long though as Muller repassed at the final corner on lap seven. With Thompson still in the lead, Bennett was carving his way back up through the field.

Oil on the track at the Esses on lap 11 brought out the Safety Car for two laps and as the race restarted, Thompson held his lead albeit after a couple of attempts by Muller to make a last minute dive past. Wise to his tactics, Thompson defended well leaving Muller vulnerable to a stunning move by Plato, who dived inside at the chicane to take second place. Muller crossed the line in third with Egg Sport driver, Bennett coming home in fourth.

In the Feature Race, Thompson fended off fellow Astra Coupe drivers on his charge down to the first corner from pole position at the rolling start, but after a bit of typical touring car action, he was down to second behind a flying Plato after just two laps. Muller slotted into third ahead of Bennett. Muller was first in the pits after six laps, Thompson next after nine, with Plato and Bennett both pitting after 10 laps.

While Dan Eaves (Peugeot) led on the track with Slight second, they were still to make the mandatory pit stop, so the real battle for the lead was in the hands of Plato from Thompson and Muller. A Safety Car period of several laps closed up the field and gave Muller a chance to move past Thompson as touring car action returned to the series - a tremendous tussle between the three Astra Coupes and the two Peugeots of Eaves and Slight entertained the 15,400 crowd for two laps, ending when both Slight and Eaves pitted for tyres. That left Muller stealing the lead for three laps after Plato and Thompson touched vying for the race lead. But as the tension rose amongst the leading Vauxhall trio, Muller lost out and dropped to third when Plato re-took the lead and after Thompson slipped past in the thick of the paint-swapping action, the Frenchman unable to fight back as his Astra Coupe slowed with a rapidly flattening battery caused by an alternator problem.

Plato took his third win of the year after 31 laps in the best touring car race so far this season, allowing him to make inroads into Muller's BTCC lead. Thompson remained third in the points and while Bennett did not finish because of a broken alternator he retained his fourth place in the championship.

Yvan Muller, Car 4, Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe
Sprint - 3rd; Feature - 3rd
"Third is OK for the Sprint Race, not as good as second or first but it was a good race. It was a real fight with Jason (Plato), we trust each other and every time we touched we waved to each other - it was a proper wave using all my fingers not just one! In the Feature I was slower, my car had more understeer. We tried a different pit stop strategy - I came in early. I felt it was working and expected to be faster towards the end of the race, but unfortunately I had a problem with the car's electrics and the battery went flat, costing me some engine power. A podium finish is OK and I still have a good championship lead."

Jason Plato, Car 5, Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe
Sprint - 2nd; Feature - Winner
"I couldn't quite keep up with James (Thompson) in the Sprint Race. The combination of great driving by him and a fresh engine in his Astra Coupe made him very difficult to catch. I was left having to take opportunities whenever they came up. It was very important for me to get ahead of Yvan (Muller) and when he made a mistake at the chicane early in the race I committed myself to going for the race but he closed the door and I gave him a thump up the back. We're not trying to take each off - it's just so close. We made some changes between races and they worked, so it's a big thanks to my engineers for that. When I saw Yvan and James get in a big tangle with five laps to go, I took my opportunity and barring disaster or car failure I knew I had the win."

James Thompson, Car 9, Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe
Sprint - Winner - Fastest Lap: 1:43.526; Feature - 2nd
"We all got a bad start in the Sprint but it was one of those days when I was at the head of a bad bunch. Phil (Bennett) made a good move at the first corner but then went off which gave me a bit of breathing space. I just tried to maintain as big a gap as possible in the Astra Coupe until the oil went down at the chicane. Effectively it was then a sprint for four laps after the Safety Car had pulled away. Yvan and I had a bit of contact but I held on and I'm really pleased with the win. I gave the Feature my best shot and I'm disappointed not to win - the Safety Car didn't work in my favour when it bunched us all up. The car was better in the Feature race and a win would have been right, but two poles, two fastest laps and one win and a second is not bad."

Phil Bennett, Car 27, Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe
Sprint - 4th; Feature - DNF
"The Sprint Race was a good old battle but Vauxhall build a strong car! I was lucky that the Safety Car came out giving me a break but it also allowed Eaves and Soper to close up again too. It was hard work but it all turned our alright in the end. It's a shame that I didn't finish the Feature Race as I would have been challenging Yvan for sure. I was as fast as him before the stops and I was also closing on James when Yvan pitted. But then I had a problem when the engine just cut - who knows what might have been."

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Sprint race (17 laps): 1 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 33:14.833 2 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Coupe 33:16.634 3 Yvan Muller (F) Vauxhall Astra Coupe 33:17.529 4 Phil Bennett Vauxhall Astra Coupe 33:19.468 5 Dan Eaves Peugeot 406 Coupe 33:24.436 6 Steve Soper Peugeot 406 Coupe 33:25.458 7 Aaron Slight (NZ) Peugeot 406 Coupe 33:28.742 8 Roger Moen Peugoet 306 33:31.170 (P) 9 Gavin Pyper Alfa Romeo 156 33:32.204 (P) 10 Mat Jackson Ford Focus 33:32.731 (P) FL: Thompson - lap 2 -1:43.526, 86.93mph (Dry & overcast)

Feature Race (31 laps): 1 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Coupe 57:45.925 2 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 57:47.449 3 Yvan Muller (F) Vauxhall Astra Coupe 57:50.234 4 Dan Eaves Peugeot 406 Coupe 57:57.433 5 Steve Soper Peugeot 406 Coupe 58:23.168 6 Mat Jackson Ford Focus 59:04.649 (P) 7 Roger Moen (N) Peugeot 306 59:07.290 (P) 8 Simon Graves Honda Accord 59:24.284 (P) 9 Dave Allan Honda Accord 57:59.275 (1 lap) (P) 10 Rick Kraemer Ford Focus 58:01.952 (1 lap) (P) FL: Thompson - lap 11 - 1:43.327, 87.10mph (Dry & overcast)

BTCC Drivers (after 12 rounds): 1 Yvan Muller (F) Vauxhall Astra Coupe 164 points 2 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Coupe 144 3 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 143 4 Phil Bennett Vauxhall Astra Coupe 87 5 Steve Soper Peugeot 406 Coupe 51 6 Dan Eaves Peugeot 406 Coupe 48

Teams: 1 Vauxhall Motorsport 131 points 2 Team Egg Sport 105 3 Peugeot Sport UK 34 4 ABG Motorsport 18 5 JSM 15

-Vauxhall Motorsport

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