BTCC: VX Racing Brands Hatch race report

Brands Hatch, 25 August 2003/-- VX Racing endured two exciting and eventful races at Brands Hatch today, and remained ahead in all three championships. Round 15 of the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship saw pit lane drama for the...

Brands Hatch, 25 August 2003/-- VX Racing endured two exciting and eventful races at Brands Hatch today, and remained ahead in all three championships. Round 15 of the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship saw pit lane drama for the three VX Racing drivers, leaving them unable to capitalize on their grid positions and the advantage of carrying no success ballast. In the second race, round 16, a late deployment of the safety car turned a comfortable lead for Yvan Muller into a fifth place finish, and put O'Neill up into a podium position. VX Racing wrapped up the manufacturers championship, with an unassailable lead of 165 points over second place Honda, while the team championship is still being hotly contested and the drivers championship is being fought by Muller, Thompson and Honda's Matt Neal.

Race one

Race one of the bank holiday meeting at Brands Hatch saw Yvan Muller on pole in his Vauxhall Astra Coupe, with teammates James Thompson starting second on the grid and Paul O'Neill fourth. The race began with a flying start. Muller retained his lead into the first corner, closely followed by Thompson. Meanwhile O'Neill got off the line quickly, but in the run down to the first corner was caught in a battle for position which he lost to Turkington and Neal, putting him back to sixth place after the first lap.

The field settled down and Muller remained in the lead, although under continual heavy pressure from a determined Thompson. Behind the lead duo and the chasing MG ZS of Warren Hughes, a three way battle for fourth place was fought between O'Neill, Honda's Matt Neal and Colin Turkington in the second of the MG ZS, but O'Neill struggled to get past his opposition.

The opening of the pit stop window led to drama for the VX Racing drivers, despite an impeccable pit stop record so far this year. Muller was first into the pit lane, only to encounter problems with the jack, and a mistake, which lead to him stalling and ultimately losing the lead. Thompson also had problems with his stop, which saw the team struggling with one of the tyres.

O'Neill was the final VX Racing driver to pit, and although his stop was seamless, an earlier incident with Matt Neal lunging into the entrance to the pit lane across O'Neill's Vauxhall Astra Coupe had pushed O'Neill down the order. After the field had completed their pit stops, Muller lay in second place, hot on the heels of MG's Warren Hughes. Thompson and O'Neill in fifth and sixth place respectively, were battling hard for track position with fourth place Matt Neal and third place Colin Turkington. Despite an aggressive overtaking manoeuvre by both Thompson and O'Neill at Druid's on lap 30, Neal held on to finish in fourth place.

Yvan Muller:

"Toward the end I had a water leak and my temperature went up. Initially I thought it was because I was close to Warren, but I lifted off and even when I had fresh air, the water temperature went up and up. I just got to the finish as slowly as I could. It wasn't the best pit stop we've done this year, the air jack wasn't properly fixed on the car and took a bit of time. Then I made a mistake because I wanted to do a perfect getaway to make up for the lost time and I stalled the engine. We've done so many good pit stops this year, it was going to happen at some time. I was pushing hard to catch Warren at the end, but then my temperature went up. I was planning to win the race, but I didn't get chance to try. I don't think Warren would have let me past easily.

James Thompson:

"I was having a good race and really wanted to be up on the podium, but it just wasn't to be. We had a problem in the pit stop which pushed me back down the field. Not a good race for me, and certainly doesn't help my championship chances at this stage in the season."

Paul O'Neill:

"(On the incident with Neal at the pit entrance) I saw an opening and got past Turkington, but I had no idea Matt (Neal) was going into the pits. I was alongside him and he kind of went in front of me, I just had to brake and back off. I don't want to see anyone go out of the race or get hurt, so I backed off and it cost me about eight seconds. That's the way it goes I'm afraid, it could be worse. I made a really good start, and James made a bad start, I went alongside him and I then thought this is not going to work, three abreast. One of us was going to come off worse, so I backed off. Matt was inside me and touched me, I had to ease off the throttle, then I had to squeeze Turkington and he didn't let off and hit the side of me, and knocked me sideways and then it was a chain reaction. Still, it's good to collect more points. "

Mike Nicholson:

"All three drivers picked up more championship points for us, which puts us in a very strong position as the season draws closer to the finale. Of course, we'd like to have taken another win, but a few problems in the pitstops for both Yvan and James dropped them back in the race order. We'll be looking to improving on this later today."

Race two

Muller, Thompson and O'Neill lined up second, fifth and sixth on the grid in their Vauxhall Astra Coupes for the second race of the Brands Hatch bank holiday race weekend. As the lights went out, the lighter MG of Colin Turkington leapt into the lead, but before the end of the lap Muller had taken it from him. As the race got underway, a trio of MG's separated Muller from his teammates, until Thompson challenged Warren Hughes for fourth place, which resulted in Thompson spinning into the gravel. He managed to get back onto the track, but was back down in fifteenth place. The incident promoted O'Neill to fifth, and he then drove hard to attack Hughes for fourth place, finally taking him on lap 11.

The race settled down until the mandatory pit stops, with all three VX Racing drivers being given quick, slick tyre changes by the VX Racing crew. After the stops Muller retained the lead, with the MG's of Turkington and Anthony Reid fighting hard behind, teammate O'Neill in fourth and Thompson moving up to 11th place. This all changed after the deployment of the safety car only three laps from the end of the race. As the safety car left the circuit and the racing resumed for the final lap, Muller ran wide, letting through Turkington, but Reid then made a seemingly impossible move on Muller that punted him off track and demoted him to fifth place. O'Neill gained from Muller's misfortunes moving to second place. After the restart Thompson also gained position, moving to tenth.

James Thompson:

"It's been disastrous for me. After the disappointment of the first race, I thought we could salvage something from the day, but it wasn't to be. I was hit by Hughes and spun out the race, which has finished off my championship chances, so I'm very disappointed. Who's fault was it? I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Realistically, I can't think about the championship. Of course, I'll fight on and want to win more than three races this season."

Yvan Muller:

"I went a bit wide in front of Turkington, Reid came too fast and pushed me off. I thought I was staying in the gravel, but third gear, flat out and by luck I got out. I'm just a bit sorry, because there was no point for the safety car being put out on track. Matt Neal's car was left at the side of the track in a bad position for almost the entire 35 laps, if someone had hit that it could have been very dangerous, but the safety car didn't come out for that. Then when there was a bumper outside of the racing line, at the side of the track, they put the safety car out, I don't understand this! So what does that mean? They put the safety car out only when the Vauxhall is at the front? Unfortunately, that is the way that it looks. I think Anthony (Reid) never does a fair move."

Paul O'Neill:

"It was a result I didn't expect, but of course I'm happy to be up on the podium again. I made a bad re-start (after the safety car). I think Reid was out of order because he passed (Carl) Breeze as he came out of the pits - to me that's not right, under the yellow flags of the safety car. Anyway, I went down to the first corner and saw Yvan lock the rear. I saw the smoke. Colin got through cleanly, then Yvan must have been wide, Reid was kind of on the inside of him, I couldn't see then, someone was in front of me. All I saw when I turned in, Reid was still there, tyres smoking, so I took it and thought thank you very much. I don't know who's fault it was but he was always going to have a go. I'm just pleased to go back to third in the drivers championship."

Mike Nicholson:

"I believe the safety car is a necessary part of racing, for when there is a dangerous situation and it can spice up poor races, but with three laps to go, to deploy the safety car and destroy the race for VX Racing and Yvan, triggering a series of shunts and bumps, makes a mockery of the championship. Yvan fought hard to stay in the lead, only to have it taken away from him."

-vxr-

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