BTCC: Vauxhall Motorsport Silverstone race report

www.theAA.com MSA British Touring Car Championship 2001 Rounds 21/22 - Silverstone, Race reports - September 9 Plato Maintains Lead As Bennett Gets His First Win As the 2001 season draws to a close, it was a day of hot racing at Silverstone...

www.theAA.com MSA British Touring Car Championship 2001
Rounds 21/22 - Silverstone, Race reports - September 9

Plato Maintains Lead As Bennett Gets His First Win

As the 2001 season draws to a close, it was a day of hot racing at Silverstone on Sunday. Phil Bennett and James Thompson took a win apiece, and Vauxhall Motorsport's Jason Plato, from Oxford, had his BTCC series lead cut to five points over team mate Frenchman Yvan Muller.

Yvan Muller clawed back three points in his championship title charge in the first of the day's races, the 15-lap Sprint, despite his dismal start. The Frenchman lined up alongside poleman, Bennett on the grid but was caught out as the lights turned to green when he still had his Astra Coupe in neutral. James Thompson and Jason Plato saw their chance and shot ahead following Bennett who was also quick off the mark given his 60kgs weight advantage. Muller then made the same mistake in the first corner again selecting neutral - a move which Muller fully admits was not ideal! However, Thompson by this stage was struggling to get the heat into his front tyres and allowed both championship leader, Plato, and Muller their opportunity to slip past into second and third places.

The ensuing battle for second between the two Vauxhall Motorsport drivers saw Muller and Plato trade places twice with the Frenchman finally winning out helped by his, by now, impressively balanced car. Bennett meanwhile, took full advantage of the scrapping behind him, putting as much distance between himself and the pursuing pack as possible. The West Midlander went on to hold that lead to the end with Muller crossing the line 2.1 seconds later. Plato and Thompson completed the Vauxhall clean sweep finishing third and fourth respectively.

The Feature race was the real hot one of the weekend. Bennett took the advantage from pole at the rolling start, but Plato, Muller and Thompson kept him close company at the first corner. As the touring car snake wound its way towards the International circuit's straight, Muller and Plato had dealt with Bennett's lead but an advantage disappeared as out came the Safety Car for five laps after Production cars clogged up Silverstone's gravel traps in their first lap madness.

At the restart Plato was challenging Muller's lead, they swapped paint a couple of times over the next laps, each with wheels on the grass, until Muller eased out a one second lead. Meanwhile Bennett retired in the pits after contact with Plato damaged his Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe's front suspension and transmission. The mid-race pit stops passed without incident with a pair of blisteringly fast stops form both leading Vauxhall Motorsport cars and Muller maintained his lead over Plato.

The championship title rivals picked their way through the slower traffic, lapping the Production cars, then Muller slowed with an engine misfire on the final lap. Plato closed the gap and as Muller's engine began to pick up again, ricketing the Astra back up to racing speed, Plato moved inside Muller. They made contact and Muller's Astra was rewarded with a deranged front wheel. He limped to the finish as Plato took the chequered flag ahead of Thompson, the Frenchman eventually stopping feet past the finish line. Plato received a time penalty of 30 seconds for the incident, dropping him behind winner Thompson and Muller in the official results and carving his BTCC championship lead over Muller to just five points going into the next round at Donington Park (September 22/23).

Quotes:

Yvan Muller, Car 4, Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe
Sprint - 2nd, Feature - 2nd, Fastest lap: 1:28.424
"I made a pretty bad start of the Sprint Race, believe it or not, I was still in neutral when the lights went out! So I lost in the race to the first corner and then on the exit, was in neutral again - and that's not a very good corner to be in neutral! The car didn't feel very good for the first six laps but after that the balance on the Astra Coupe was superb. But of course by then, Phil's advantage was too big. I tried but I couldn't close the gap enough. A good win for Phil. Feature race was generally good, good work from the team and good work on the pitstop. Lost a bit of time near the end passing the Production cars. Right at the end I had a misfire, the engine then came back, Jason made contact and the front suspension of my car was damaged and I stopped just after the finish line."

Jason Plato, Car 5, Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe
Sprint - 3rd, Feature - 3rd
"I felt that was a great Sprint race. I made a good start but Phil was just off into the distance, after a lap he was just gone. I had a really good scrap with Yvan - I got into a bit of a slide and that let Yvan pull in front but then I retook the place in the next corner. Then after Yvan passed me again, I thought this is crazy, it's costing us all time and James was catching me so I backed off to let the pace pick up a bit. In the Feature race I touched with Phil as I went down the inside, I was caught unaware when he messed up his braking, so I just saw it as an opportunity. The Safety Car came out when I was second behind Yvan, then at the restart I made a move on Yvan - I went on the grass and then a few laps later he was on the grass. Right at the end he was slowing and I tried to pass, but he didn't concede and there was nothing I could do I was alongside when we touched. I received a 30 second penalty as a result, lost the race win, but still lead the championship by five points from Yvan."

Phil Bennett, Car 27, Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe
Sprint - Winner, Fastest lap: 1:28.436, Feature - DNF
"I've been trying for a long time and now I've finally won a BTCC race. It's a bit of a relief really to take the Sprint race win as it does take the pressure off. I really just concentrated on getting away from the others and you have to remember I do have a 60kgs advantage over the others. It was a case of keeping it neat and tidy and although it was quite difficult getting past the Production class leaders, now I've won, I'm not so desperate. It was a real shame not to finish the Feature race though. I was keeping it nice and neat and tidy when Jason went for a big lunge and although I gave way he pushed me over into the gravel trap. As a result of that contact my transmission went and I was out. It's a real shame because I had the pace and I'm sure I would have had a result. But, I've had a double pole and a race win this weekend which I'm more than satisfied with."

James Thompson, Car 9, Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe
Sprint - 4th, Feature - Winner.
"I had a good start to the Sprint race but couldn't get the front tyres warm quick enough which meant I was slow out of the first corner and they got me. There was nothing I could do then other than follow them round. Again, my performance just wasn't there in the Feature race. My set-up wasn't right at all and then the Safety Car didn't help. It's a bonus getting the race win when I thought I was second."

<pre> Sprint Race (Round 21 - 15 laps) 1 Phil Bennett Vauxhall Astra Coupe 23:26.548 2 Yvan Muller Vauxhall Astra Coupe 23:28.731 3 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Coupe 23:31.625 4 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 23:33.620 5 Roger Moen (P) Peugeot 306 23:38.516 6 Simon Harrison (P) Peugeot 306 23:39.571 7 Tom Boardman (P) Peugeot 306 23:41.145 8 Mat Jackson (P) Ford Focus 23:49.308 9 Gavin Pyper (P) Alfa Romeo 156 23:49.767 10 Dan Eaves Peugeot 406 Coupe 23:50.935 Fastest Lap: Phil Bennett - 1:28.436, lap 6, 147.33km/h

Feature Race (Round 22 - 35 laps) 1 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 55:55.681 2 Yvan Muller Vauxhall Astra Coupe 56:07.726 3 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Coupe 56:09.548 4 Dan Eaves Peugeot 406 Coupe 56:22.163 5 Warren Hughes MG ZS 56:32.374 6 Thomas Erdos Lexus IS200 56:51.242 7 Anthony Reid MG ZS 56:56.953 8 Steve Soper Peugeot 406 Coupe 57:03.394 9 James Kaye (P) Honda Accord 56:18.594 10 Simon Harrison (P) Peugeot 306 56:21.199 Fastest Lap: Yvan Muller - 1:28.424, lap 19, 147.35km/h

Drivers Championship (after Rd 22 of 26) 1 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Coupe 281 points 2 Yvan Muller (F) Vauxhall Astra Coupe 276 3 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 254 4 Phil Bennett Vauxhall Astra Coupe 134 5 Dan Eaves Peugeot 406 Coupe 93 6 Steve Soper Peugeot 406 Coupe 89

Manufacturers Championship (after Rd 22) 1 Vauxhall 770 points (2001 Champions) 2 Peugeot 233

Teams Championship (after Rd 22) 1 Vauxhall Motorsport 232 2 Egg Sport 184 3 Peugeot Sport UK 79 5 ABG Motorsport 43 6 JSM 29

-VM-

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