BTCC: Vauxhall Racing Rockingham race report

Rockingham Motor Speedway, Corby, Northants. 22 June 2003/... Two action packed BTCC races today at Rockingham produced good results for Yvan Muller with a third place finish in the first race and his fourth win of the season in the second race.

Rockingham Motor Speedway, Corby, Northants. 22 June 2003/... Two action packed BTCC races today at Rockingham produced good results for Yvan Muller with a third place finish in the first race and his fourth win of the season in the second race. James Thompson didn't have the form that he showed at Silverstone, but added to his points tally with fifth and fourth place finishes in race one and two respectively. Paul O'Neill finished 10th in the first race and a creditable sixth in the second.

Race 1

Yvan Muller and Paul O'Neill led the VX Racing drivers off from the second row of the grid, with James Thompson a couple of rows back in eighth place. As the green flag signaled the start of the race, the grid sped into Turn one of the oval, the route for the first lap only of the race. As the lead cluster slowed for the sharp hairpin into the twisty infield section, Muller, O'Neill and Thompson were fighting hard with their rivals, with plenty of overtaking action throughout the grid giving spectators plenty to watch. Muller settled into fourth place, Thompson in sixth and O'Neill in tenth for the first few laps, until the safety car was deployed on lap 10 for track debris. In the mandatory round of pit stops, with quick tyre changes by the VX Racing crew, Muller retained his fourth place, Thompson took fifth and O'Neill stayed tenth. The Honda Racing cars of Matt Neal and Alan Morrison, running without any success ballast, held comfortable first and second places respectively.

The second half of the race came alive and brought the crowd to their feet as Muller diced with Anthony Reid in the MG with the two drivers vying for the final podium place. As positions were swopped between the two several times each lap, the following group caught and James Thompson soon joined the tight battle for third place. In the closing stages Yvan Muller managed to take third spot and started to pull away from the opposition, while Thompson continued to fight on behind, eventually finishing fifth. O'Neill struggled with an ill-handling car following the 'argy-bargy' at the beginning and settled for a one point, tenth place finish.

Yvan Muller:
"I'm pleased to be third. It was the best we could do here on these tyres, with this temperature and with the weight we're carrying, compared to the Honda. But I am upset, as it seems that from the beginning of the season there are different rules for VX Racing than for the others. One of the Honda's jumped the start - we don't say anything, MG pushed me in the first corner - we don't say anything, Reid pushed me many times and pushed me in the grass, nearly takes off my rear bumper, he can do anything - we don't say anything. We remember what happened to Paul at Brands Hatch - nothing happened. I have many other examples like this. I have a feeling that if we do even one quarter of what they do, we would be penalised. So I want to be optimistic for the future and I hope the rules will be the same for everybody."

James Thompson:
"A cracking race. There were a few people being stupid out there. Rob Collard tried to take me out three or four times, which was a bit unnecessary, but sometimes it's like that out there. It was a classic race which I thoroughly enjoyed, with lots of cat and mouse. Unfortunately with carrying the ballast and having such long straights, it's difficult. Yvan and I were fairly evenly matched in terms of race pace and straight line speed, but the others were drafting us. With the MG's we could just about hang on the back of them, but when Chilton, in the Honda, drafted past me, I couldn't match him. I'm happy with fifth and the next race, with Honda having ballast, should produce more close racing."

Paul O'Neill:
"At the beginning everyone just piled into each other and I got pushed to the outside. At the next corner it was the same again. After that there was so much going on, I can't remember! As the race settled down I had massive understeer, I thought I had a puncture. We put new tyres on and I tried to get going. I just wanted to finish the race. I had a bit of a problem in the pit stop too, as the wheel wouldn't come over due to the wheel arch suffering from the contact at the beginning. A bit of a disaster really, but at least I finished and got another point."

Mike Nicholson:
"This race proved how well the ballast system worked. There were some classic battles out there today and we saw some great fighting. I think Yvan's third place was the best that we could expect, but in the second race it should be even closer racing."

Race 2

Yvan Muller started from his finish position of third, with Thompson in fifth and O'Neill in eighth. The cars left the grid cleanly and raced hard around turn one. Throughout the lap the drivers fought hard and as they crossed the start/finish line for the first time, Muller lay second, Thompson fifth and O'Neill eighth. Thompson moved up to fourth as Matt Neal suffered engine problems with Paul O'Neill moving up to seventh in the early stages.

Close action through the beginning of the race created a great spectacle for the 14,000 spectators watching at Rockingham. As the mandatory pit stop window opened the VX Racing crew readied for James Thompson. A slick stop put Thompson back on track quickly and they then prepared for Muller's stop. With O'Neill left out on track he briefly took the lead, but then had to pit for his tyre stop. With pit stops completed the field settled back down, with Muller in second, Thompson in fourth and O'Neill in sixth.

The safety car was deployed in the closing stages after a heavy accident on the front straight, which closed up the pack and it also gave Paul O'Neill a chance to pit, due to a puncture, without losing track position. On the restart, Reid led the pack away, but outbraked himself on the tight second turn, which Muller took full advantage of, to put himself in the lead. Muller retained the lead over the final laps, although being challenged by the MG of Anthony Reid right up until the chequered flag, but took another win for the popular Frenchman in his Vauxhall Astra Coupe.

Yvan Muller:
"After the safety car, Anthony (Reid) braked a little bit late, I braked a little bit early and Warren (Hughes) braked a bit late too, so there was the three of us going through the corner. To be honest, I can't remember how I came out in front though! It's great to take my fourth win of the season. I've enjoyed racing here at Rockingham and I think we've given the spectators plenty of action to watch. In fact, I think there may have been too much action sometimes. "

James Thompson:
"I didn't have a very good weekend. The car was really good after the first pit stop, it was getting fast and faster but after the safety car came back in, I just couldn't stay on the pace, but I don't know why that was the case. (On the close racing): There is a bit of contact in this sport, it's just the way it goes. I've lost out this time, I'm sure somebody else will lose out next time. "

Paul O'Neill:
"I made a good start and Collard made a bad one, but I didn't really have anywhere to go. I was on the back of the MG and the Honda, kept going, sitting behind them, until the pit stop. When I went back out I was starting to close on them until I had a puncture. I suppose it was a fair finishing position, especially considering I had to pit for a second time (due to the puncture). The safety car period really helped with that, otherwise I would have lost a few more places."

Mike Nicholson:
"An excellent result for VX Racing to round off a day of highly competitive racing. I think everyone has enjoyed coming to this new circuit and I think the BTCC once again gave a great demonstration of seat-of-the-pants, wheel-to-wheel action. Yvan took a well deserved win, although I don't think we thought we would have a win here, so it's especially pleasing to go away with some silverware. "

-vxr-

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