BTCC: VX Racing Croft race notes

VX Racing at Croft ensures audience entertainment and first class Croft Circuit, North Yorkshire. 13 July 2003/... With a sound VX Racing performance throughout the weekend, the whole field provided some outstanding audience viewing. VX...

VX Racing at Croft ensures audience entertainment and first class

Croft Circuit, North Yorkshire. 13 July 2003/... With a sound VX Racing performance throughout the weekend, the whole field provided some outstanding audience viewing. VX Racing's reigning BTCC champion and Yorkshireman James Thompson knocked up two second places, with Yvan Muller providing some spectacular driving in race two, coming from the back of the field to achieve a podium place.

Race 1

The start saw the Hondas of Matt Neal and Alan Morrison fight their way through in front of VX Racing's James Thompson. However, as the grid made its way into the first corner, Clervaux, chaos ensued with Paul O'Neil and Yvan Muller touching as they came around the bend, and Muller running out across the gravel and hitting the tyre wall. Rob Collard, starting off the grid in ninth position, shed oil over the track as he came around Clervaux, which resulted in the safety car coming out for the next three laps.

As the safety car retired and the Hondas tried to establish their lead, James Thompson took battle to Morrison's second place, while Paul O'Neill in fourth position concentrated on pulling away from Anthony Reid's MG behind him, until Anthony's persistence got the better of him and the MG overtook O'Neill's Astra Coupe on lap five. Not giving up, O'Neill in turn pestered Reid until another incident saw Reid spin and O'Neill come up into fourth place once again.

As soon as the pit stop window opened, James Thompson came in to enjoy a highly efficient tyre change, although Honda also produced similar for Matt Neal who had come in, in front of Thompson, on the same lap. Thompson and Neal exited the pit lane in the same order they had entered, but with Thompson coming out ahead of Alan Morrison's Honda to go into second position. An equally fast pit stop for Paul O' Neill helped him maintain his fourth position until Morrison lost a wheel on lap 13 and Paul O'Neill moved up to take Morrison's place.

James Thompson continued to chase the lead gained by Honda's Matt Neal, putting in first class lap times, but not enough to close the gap on the leader. Although the safety car again came out on lap 19 due to circuit debris, allowing Thompson to close the gap on Matt Neal, the remaining laps to the end of the 25-lap race did not provide sufficient opportunity for James to get close enough to overtake. Paul O'Neill maintained his third place to join Thompson on the podium behind Honda's Matt Neal.

James Thompson:
"Although I didn't get the start I obviously wanted, it was still a good result and, of course, provides me with important points in the championship. Morrison did a good job of holding me off so I had no opportunity to close that gap on Matt Neal, who drove a very good race today. Unfortunately too, the oil incident on the first lap left a residue over the track, which did mean using less of the circuit than I'd like. But still, two good podium positions for Vauxhall."

Yvan Muller:
"I'm extremely disappointed. That goes without saying. I do not expect to come off on the first lap. I really don't know what else to say. I do not think Paul [O' Neill] should have taken the line he did, but that is racing, and this is what sometimes happens. But my fight for the championship is not with Paul, and my first thought when I hit the tyres was not if I would be injured, but that I would lose points. However, I still have a good lead and intend to keep that in the future races although I have a big job to do at Croft in the second race today."

Paul O'Neill:
"I'm pleased with the result but it's not good that my team-mate [Yvan] and I had contact which resulted in him coming off, even though it was completely unintentional. So the podium result is somewhat less sweet than it should be"

Mike Nicholson:
"It's unfortunate that the hard work James and the team put into qualifying didn't pay off with a better outcome for him at the start of this race. However, it was an excellent team performance in terms of pit stops, although it's not good that Yvan lost his opportunity to race. We're very pleased with the podium places but, by our high standards, this wasn't an outstanding weekend."

Race Classification
1. Matt Neal Honda Racing 42 mins 25.755 secs
2. James Thompson Vauxhall Racing 42 mins 26.804 secs
3. Paul O'Neill Vauxhall Racing 42 mins 30.476 secs
DNF Yvan Muller

Race 2

If race one was reasonably predictable after the early events in lap one, by contrast race two provided exceptional excitement from the moment the lights went out, with some first class overtaking and tactics from all teams.

James Thompson started alongside pole position holder Matt Neal, with Paul O'Neill in third position. Muller started back in row nine in 17th position, but although Thompson had an undeniably improved start over the morning's race, it wasn't enough to catch Matt Neal and, with Thompson closely followed by O'Neill and MG's Anthony Reid, the front of the grid headed off as Muller started his assault on the rear of the field.

Muller achieved a remarkable gain of six places within the first couple of laps, while at the front of the pack Reid gave O'Neill a hard time and stole his third position as Muller came up into ninth place. However, Muller was determined and, without the weight that had dogged him in the earlier race and with some outstanding handling skills, demonstrated his professionalism, ability and the Vauxhall Coupe's agility by continuing to storm up through the field, despatching Peugeot's Dan Eaves and Honda's Tom Chilton to take fifth place by the fourth lap.

In the meantime, the fight was on at the front, with the Honda of Matt Neal, VX Racing's James Thompson and MG's Anthony Reid nose to tail in the podium positions. Anthony Reid grabbed second place behind Matt Neal from James Thompson on lap five but, not content there Reid also snatched Matt Neal's leading position to make it Reid in the lead, with James Thompson quickly performing a smart overtaking manoeuvre to gain Vauxhall second position, followed by Matt Neal whilst Paul O' Neill maintained his fourth place ahead of Yvan Muller.

With Muller in full flow and determined to gain championship points, Muller took Paul O'Neill, followed by a nifty move around Matt Neal on the hairpin bend, to take third place on lap nine. Muller achieved his fastest lap time on his third circuit, but still managed to close the distance marginally on his teammate and championship contender Thompson, before taking the first pit stop on lap 11.

Unfortunately, a slow pit stop may have cost Muller a move up the podium, coming out behind Honda's Matt Neal who pitted at the same time. James Thompson took the next pit-stop slot, accompanied by Anthony Reid and, despite a first class stop for Thompson, came out behind Reid. Paul O'Neill, with some rear bodyshell hanging off, also enjoyed an extremely fast tyre-change before rejoining the pack to watch Muller just in front playing with Matt Neal, who he overtook on lap 17. Paul O' Neill maintained a good pace but lost a place to Morrison on the next lap and dropped to sixth. With Anthony Reid anticipating a debut podium ahead of VX Racing regulars Thompson and Muller, he continued to lead the field through to the chequered flag, with Morrison overtaking Neal to go into fourth position, Neal taking fifth and VX Racing's Paul O' Neill holding his respectable sixth place. Undoubtedly, racing throughout the field provided the substantial and enthusiastic crowds with some first class entertainment, with James Thompson's solid performance and Yvan Muller's dynamic driving proving that VX Racing could still produce a first class performance in the face of strong competition.

James Thompson:
"Croft was a much better weekend all round for me. The second race was quite difficult as I was carrying success ballast, which made it more difficult to take the fight to a crowded field. And yes, I'm still disappointed that I didn't make it into first place on either race but it was good to have ironed out some of the problems I'd been having and produce two good second places and, importantly secure championship points for both me and the team. It's still only mid-season too, so there's a lot that could happen and I think it's going to be an entertaining fight to the end for driver standings."

Yvan Muller:
"The second race was what it's all about. I felt really good driving and enjoyed the challenge of coming through from the rear. I made a small error on the pit stop, which made it a slow tyre change. But I think this kind of race shows what I can do under pressure. However, I am aware that it has taken me ten races to build up the lead I have over James [Thompson], and just one weekend for him to catch up quite a bit. This kind of thing makes it good for the sport and good for audiences, but is frustrating for me."

Paul O'Neill:
"This has been a good weekend in terms of experience for me. The racing today was fantastic and I hope it was as exciting for spectators as it was for us out there on the track. The team were first class as ever and gave me some great pit stops, and I've still earned points this weekend and keep my third place in the championship."

Mike Nicholson:
"It's been another very good weekend in terms of our championship assault. Vauxhall has taken a strong total of 49 points here today, which is well ahead of any other manufacturer, and we have to recognise that we can't win races all the time. Both the drivers and the team need to take the lessons learned here today and put experience into practice for the remaining rounds. Importantly, this weekend was a great one for the series and the sport, and proved there's some first class talent both on the track and in the paddock."

Race Classification
1. Anthony Reid MG Racing 37 mins 23.719 secs
2. James Thompson Vauxhall Racing 37 mins 27.132 secs
3. Yvan Muller Vauxhall Racing 37 mins 32.739 secs
6. Paul O'Neill Vauxhall Racing 37 mins 46.530 secs

Drivers Championship
1. Yvan Muller Vauxhall Racing 153 points
2. James Thompson Vauxhall Racing 136 points
3. Paul O'Neill Vauxhall Racing 84 points

Manufacturers Championship
1. Vauxhall 353 points
2. Honda 188 points
3. MG 120 points
4. Proton 51 points

Teams Championship
1. Vauxhall Racing 292 points
2. Honda Racing 176 points
3. MG Sport & Racing 120 points

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