BTCC: Vauxhall Mondello race report

<pre> www.theAA.com MSA British Touring Car Championship 2001 Rounds 9/10 - Mondello Park, Races - June 17 {TC} Vauxhall Motorsport's Yvan Muller took an historic double win in front of record crowds at today's www.theAA.com British...

<pre> www.theAA.com MSA British Touring Car Championship 2001 Rounds 9/10 - Mondello Park, Races - June 17 {TC}

Vauxhall Motorsport's Yvan Muller took an historic double win in front of record crowds at today's www.theAA.com British Touring Car Championship races at Mondello Park, Ireland - the first ever BTCC races to take place outside the UK. Following his double pole in Saturday's qualifying session, the Frenchman has taken maximum points away from the weekend witnessed by more than 15,000 spectators. Muller continues to lead the overall championship standings 27 points ahead of teammate Jason Plato. Egg Sport Astra Coupe driver, James Thompson lies in overall third place with 111 points, only five behind Plato.

Muller led the touring cars in Mondello's 15-lap Sprint race from pole position in a lights to flag victory, catching the production class cars on lap five and deposing James Kaye (Honda) from the overall race lead in lap 13. Plato followed Muller closely all race until a flat front tyre caused an unscheduled pit-stop for fresh tyres and dropped him down to last place amongst the touring car runners.

James Thompson in the Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe finished second of the touring cars to rekindle his hopes of this year's BTCC title by closing to within two points of Plato going into the Feature race. Phil Bennett suffered an identical fate to Plato and finished sixth in the touring car category.

The 30-lap Feature Race produced a thrilling start with Vauxhall Motorsport's Muller beating Plato to the first corner ahead of the Egg Sport Astra Coupes. Shortly after, Bennett fell victim to the Lexus of Kurt Luby, which had punted him off in the opening lap. Thompson meanwhile took advantage of the subsequent tussle between Bennett and Peugeot's Dan Eaves, taking third place. Muller began pulling away from the field increasing his lead lap by lap ahead of second placed Plato.

Pit stops began on lap 10 with James Thompson, the first of the Astra Coupes , coming in early at the end of lap 11. Vauxhall Motorsport's Muller pitted on lap 12, handing Plato a temporary lead for two laps before the Oxford-based driver pitted at the end of 14. Plato rejoined just as Thompson passed the pitlane exit and won the out-braking battle at the next corner. Plato trailed, waiting for his tyres to heat before successfully making his move on Thompson, leaving Muller with enough of a lead to cruise to the chequered flag. Phil Bennett brought his battle-scarred Astra Coupe home fourth.

Yvan Muller, Car 4, Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe Sprint - 1st, Fastest lap - 1:48.006 (establishes record); Feature - 1st, FL - 1:47.614 (new record)

"It's great to win the first ever BTCC race to be held in Ireland. I felt I controlled the gap back to Jason (Plato) and when I heard over the radio that he had a problem, I just eased off to take less risks, especially over the kerbs to avoid punctures. I beat Jason to the first corner in the Feature and had to push very hard for the first 20 laps. The Astra felt better in this race than in the Sprint and that surprised me and helped me build enough of a lead to drive carefully for the last 10 laps. I was taking no risks at all and I think that allowed Jason to catch up with me towards the end. The brakes worked well here, but I'm a bit concerned about how they will be at the next race at Donington with all of this extra weight on the Astra Coupes."

Jason Plato, Car 5, Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe Sprint - 7th; Feature - 2nd

"In the Sprint it wasn't steering too well in the lefthanders, it felt like a problem at the back of the car. Then I think something broke at the back. I felt I could still carry on without losing too much time, but I didn't know we had a slow puncture in a front tyre until it went completely flat and shredded, so I had to make a pit stop two laps from the end. In the Feature race I had the wrong pit stop strategy, I should have come in one lap earlier. The races were both good, but it's not a good beginning of the season for me - I've had my fair share of bad luck, things have got to change for me in the future."

James Thompson, Car 9, Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe Sprint - 2nd; Feature - 3rd

"The Sprint was a lucky result. When I saw I couldn't keep up with Jason, I just drove to save my tyres in case I needed to push towards the end of the race. Had a good dice with Jason for a while in the Feature and that let Yvan pull away from us. We made some set-up changes after the Sprint and that made all the difference. I made an early pit stop and put in a good couple of quick laps putting me ahead of Jason after his stop. I think I pushed too hard though and the tyres were really off towards the end of the race. I'm five points behind Jason now, so I've just got to keep pushing."

Phil Bennett, Car 27, Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe Sprint - 6th; Feature - 4th

"I did my puncture fairly early on, against a kerb, and it was getting softer and softer. I couldn't make it to the end, so it was a last minute pit stop for me. I am disappointed, thought it was another podium place. In the Feature race I think the only car not to hit me was the safety car. Jason squeezed me wide and on to the grass, then I left space for James to pass, then everyone else hit me. First it was Luby who half spun me in that opening lap, then I hit the back of Dan Eaves (Peugeot) towards the end after someone tapped me."

<pre> Sprint race (15 laps): 1 Yvan Muller (F) Vauxhall Astra Coupe 28:33.193 2 James Kaye Honda Accord 28:41.414 (P) 3 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 28:42.571 4 Steve Soper Peugeot 406 Coupe 28:48.750 5 Gareth Howell Ford Focus 28:50.969 (P) 6 Roger Moen (N) Peugeot 306 28:52.804 (P) 7 Gavin Pyper Alfa Romeo 156 29:01.556 (P) 8 Kurt Luby Lexus IS200 29:05.713 9 Simon Harrison Peugeot 306 29:07.060 (P) 10 Dan Eaves Peugeot 406 Coupe 29:12.576 Overcast - dry.

Feature Race (30 laps): 1 Yvan Muller (F) Vauxhall Astra Coupe 54:50.315 2 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Coupe 54:57.078 3 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 55:06.406 4 Phil Bennett Vauxhall Astra Coupe 55:10.106 5 James Kaye Honda Accord 55:45.874 (P) 6 Paul O'Neill Peugeot 306 56:14.222 (P) 7 Mat Jackson Ford Focus 56:15.847 (P) 8 Simon Harrison Peugeot 306 56:22.182 (P) 9 Colin Blair Alfa Romeo 156 56:48.101 (P) 10 Rick Kraemer Ford Focus 55:07.155 (P) Overcast - dry.

BTCC Drivers (after 10 rounds): 1 Yvan Muller (F) Vauxhall Astra Coupe 143 points 2 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Coupe 116 3 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 111 4 Phil Bennett Vauxhall Astra Coupe 79 5 Steve Soper Peugeot 406 Coupe 40 6 Dan Eaves Peugeot 406 Coupe 33 Kurt Luby Lexus IS200 33

Teams: 1 Vauxhall Motorsport 106 points 2 Team Egg Sport 93 3 Peugeot Sport UK 20 4 ABG Motorsport 18 5 JSM 15

-Vauxhall Motorsport

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