Vauxhall Motorsport scored a double win in the Bank Holiday Monday www.theAA.com MSA British Touring Car Championship races at Thruxton circuit in Hampshire. Oxford's Jason Plato won the new format Sprint race with Frenchman Yvan Muller taking victory in the main Feature race - both driving Vauxhall Astra Coupes.
Phil Bennett from the West Midlands took a Feature race podium place driving the Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe, with Brands Hatch race winner James Thompson adding a Sprint race podium to his fourth place finish in the 30-lap Feature race.
Drivers tackled a new format for the 15-lap Sprint race which saw the Touring cars start with a one lap handicap and play catch-up to the lower powered Production class cars. Muller made a blinding start from the second row to lead at the first corner, but Plato moved past and into the lead halfway round the opening lap. Muller put pressure on Plato for the next handful of laps, the two touching at one point when Muller misjudged his braking.
With two laps remaining, Plato moved into the outright race lead after chasing down the entire field of Production cars. Muller followed him through, with James Thompson and Phil Bennett completing the overall top four for the Astra Coupes.
Muller's Feature race win looked possible from the opening laps when he put pressure on Vauxhall Motorsport team-mate Plato for lap after lap. The Frenchman drew alongside Plato time and again, but a hopeful challenge from third placed Thompson upset the rhythm, allowing Plato a brief respite. Plato then made his first of two compulsory pit stops, with Muller making ground and putting in a storming lap. The tactic worked and after his own stop at the end of the lap, he rejoined the track ahead of Plato into a lead of the race that he would hold unchallenged to the chequered flag.
The Sprint race win put Plato into a six point clear championship lead over Muller, with Thompson third, three points behind.
Jason Plato, Car 5, Vauxhall Astra Coupe Sprint -- Winner, Feature -- 2nd "I didn't have a very good start at all in the Sprint Race but fortunately was saved by my braking tactics! Yvan (Muller) knew I was better than him on the brakes this weekend and I think he was caught out at Club when I actually braked earlier - there was no damage but I did get a good thumping as a result! I had to work the traffic but the new format worked really well I think - having to overtake the production cars really gave us something to think about and it was great fun. My Astra Coupe felt nervous in the Feature race. It was a good fight withYvan, I knew he was quicker. The weekend's objective was acheived and I've come away with a clear championship lead."
Yvan Muller, Car 4, Vauxhall Astra Coupe Sprint -- 2nd, Fastest lap: 1m18.044, Feature -- Winner "I'm pleased with my Sprint Race start although the contact with Jason knocked my right wing mirror out of place. But my braking wasn't good today giving Jason the advantage. He was also using the kerbs much more than I was but you have to watch the tyres on this circuit and I would rather finish second than not finish at all - it was a good result though and I don't regret the decision at all. I really enjoyed the first 12 laps of the Feature, what a fight with Jason! I felt the Astra Coupe was good enough to win. I missed one opportunity to overtake and instead changed my tactics to take advantage of Jason's pit stop. It worked - I did a really good lap and I was in the lead when I exited pitlane."
James Thompson, Car 9, Vauxhall Astra Coupe Sprint - 3rd, Feature - 4th, Fastest Lap: 1m 17.603 "I think the new Sprint race format is very good, it really keeps you focussed. I had an opportunity to take Muller at one stage but didn't take it and paid the penalty because we then had the production cars to contend with. It teaches you to make the most of every opportunity, I won't make that mistake again! In the Feature race I had a bad pit stop when the wheel nut stuck, then I couldn't pass some of the Production cars because of yellow flags."
Phil Bennett, Car 27, Vauxhall Astra Coupe Sprint - 4th, Feature - 3rd "I made a terrible start to the Sprint Race letting the clutch out too quickly. Unfortunately it meant I was playing catch-up for most of the race. In the Feature it was good fun but I could see my line was so different to the others and sometimes I had to back off to avoid a collision. I had a good pitstop, the lads worked well and I got third place as a result." <pre> www.theAA.com MSA British Touring Car Championship Rounds 3/4 - Monday, May 7
Sprint Race (15 laps) 1 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Coupe 20:53.441 2 Yvan Muller Vauxhall Astra Coupe 20:55.746 3 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 20:56.183 4 Phil Bennett Vauxhall Astra Coupe 21:01.398 5 Simon Harrison Peugeot 306 21:13.312 6 Nick Beaumont Honda Integra R 21:19.269
Feature Race (30 laps) 1 Yvan Muller Vauxhall Astra Coupe 40:19.308 2 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Coupe 40:21.308 3 Phil Bennett Vauxhall Astra Coupe 40:22.197 4 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 40:24.223 5 James Kay Honda Accord 41:04.507 6 Kurt Luby Lexus iS200 41:10.897
Drivers Championship (after 4 rounds) 1 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Coupe 55 points 2 Yvan Muller Vauxhall Astra Coupe 49 3 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 46 4 Phil Bennett Vauxhall Astra Coupe 38 5 Dan Eaves Peugeot 16 6 Steve Soper Peugeot 13
Manufacturers Championship (after 4 rounds) 1 Vauxhall 138 points 2 Peugeot 51