Donington Park, 7 September 2003/-- VX Racing endured two exciting races at Donington Park today. Round 17 of the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship saw James Thompson finish second after a tough battle, and team mate Yvan Muller come from the back of the grid, to finish in a very respectable third place and O'Neill three spots behind in sixth. Round 18 provided the 12,000 spectators with more energetic track action, with Muller claiming victory and Thompson taking a podium finish to ensure the battle for the drivers' championship would continue to the final BTCC race weekend at Oulton Park. O'Neill gave a sound performance to claim fourth place in the race and to keep him third in the drivers championship.
The first race of the weekend saw James Thompson on pole in his Vauxhall Astra Coupe, with teammates Paul O'Neill starting fifth and Yvan Muller at the back of the grid after problems in qualifying yesterday. The lights turned green and Honda's Matt Neal seized the lead from Thompson before the first corner. Meanwhile O'Neill moved off the line quickly, and at the end of the first lap had moved up to take third position. Muller had a clean start and immediately began his battle to move through the field.
The second lap saw O'Neill and Reid touching as they went into Redgate side by side, but O'Neill held off the challenge and remained unscathed to keep third place. At the front, a fierce battle raged between Neal and Thompson, who were continually pulling away from the rest of the field. Behind the lead duo Muller was scything his way through the field to take eighth position by the end of lap five.
The opening of the pit stop window saw O'Neill pit first on lap 11, and despite a slight stumble on the left front tyre, he managed a 5.5 second stop. The VX Racing mechanics remained in the pit lane ready for Thompson, who came in on lap 12. Thompson made a perfect stop, which gave him a slight advantage over Neal and allowed him to exit the pits in the lead. The VX Racing crew gave Muller an extremely slick pit stop, which helped him to jump three places up to fifth to complete a trio of faultless stops.
With Thompson leading, O'Neill in third and Muller in fifth VX Racing looked set for a strong finish. But the second half of the race saw frantic action. O'Neill fought Hughes for third, Muller added pressure from behind the MG, as tension mounted between the third place challengers Muller seized the opportunity and slipped passed both. Sadly O'Neill lost out in the scrap finally finished in sixth place. Up front the action was just as frenetic. As the race drew to a close Honda's Matt Neal closed up on leader, Thompson with some robust driving and in a bold move stole the lead just two laps from the end. With Thompson finishing second and Muller third, the fight for the drivers championship remains alive.
"I'm disappointed. I was leading the race and thought I had everything covered. I was overtaken and I finished second, but it's not what I needed. I needed to win to keep the pressure on Yvan. I'm disappointed that I haven't done that. Luckily I've only got to live with this result for the next few hours, I've got another chance later this afternoon to try and win."
"I couldn't even see the lights at the start of the race. My engineer told me about the green flag, so I put the car into first gear, I set up my clutch, and then I waited. I didn't want to get away too early and get a penalty - I would rather start a second later. I was expecting to finish in the top ten, then when I got there, I thought perhaps I could finish in the top five, and then when I saw Paul and Warren having a bit of a fight, I thought OK, maybe there is an opportunity for me to overtake. I took that opportunity and finished third, and of course I'm pleased with that. It was the perfect result for me."
"I got a good start and got up to third, which I seemed to hold for ages. Then after my stop the ballast really started to kick in. I was tussling with Hughes, but then when I saw Yvan there, I didn't want to risk anything for him at this stage of the championship and so I kept out of his way."
Muller, Thompson and O'Neill lined up second, third and sixth on the grid in their Vauxhall Astra Coupes for the second race of the Donington Park weekend. The race began with a flying start. The first lap saw Muller charging into the lead at McLean's by overtaking teammate Thompson, boosting his championship dominance. The deployment of the safety car at the end of the first lap to remove a stricken car, meant that positions were then held until the safety car left the track after lap 3.
The re-start saw O'Neill challenging hard to get past Warren Hughes, but not managing to make the move stick and remained in fifth position. Meanwhile Thompson was heaping the pressure on Muller by staying right on his tail, keeping his own championship challenge alive. Muller and Thompson began pulling away from the field, and slowly increasing their lead. O'Neill gradually closed on Breeze until finally taking him on lap ten to claim seventh position.
The opening of the pit stop window saw Thompson diving into the pits on lap 11 for a perfect stop. O'Neill followed shortly after, and Muller completed the last of the VX Racing stops on lap 13. After the entire field had pitted, Muller emerged in the lead, with Thompson close behind him in second and O'Neil in fourth. Positions remained the same for the middle sector of the race, but in the closing stages Thompson was embroiled in a battle with Turkington for second place, with the two drivers swoping places lap after lap. Success ballast hampered Thompson's defence, with Turkington winning the battle as the chequered flag fell. Despite mounting championship pressures, Muller drove an impeccable race to take the win. O'Neill fought hard with the Honda's for fourth place and with gritty determination managed to hold them off until the end of the race.
"I was lucky to get past James at the beginning. I saw a gap went for it and managed to keep ahead. I had a great pit stop and after that I could see James and Colin (Turkington) in my mirrors behind me, one lap it was a red and white car, then next a green and black one. This let me extend my lead and I even managed to ease off in the last few laps. At the beginning of this weekend I didn't think I would even get on the podium, so when I got third I couldn't expect more. With a win this afternoon, it's been a great day."
"It was close racing out there for me with Turkington. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was feeling a bit disgruntled after the first race, but this was good, clean racing. After my pit stop, I thought I may have been able to catch Yvan, but that didn't work out. Turkington and I were very evenly matched, but I was a bit heavier which didn't help and I ran out of laps to get back second place, so I've had to settle for third."
"There was a bit of barging at the start, and Hughes seemed slow in a straight line, so I was pushing him for fourth. Breeze did hit me and put me on to the grass, but I know he didn't mean to. I came round at a funny angle and he caught me. It made my day to be able to hold on to fourth and keep the Honda behind me at the end."
"Yvan really showed his class out there today. After virtually no track time, and having to start from way down the back he drove sensibly, cleanly and with such confidence. We never expected him to be on the podium for the first race. What a result. With James and Yvan getting two podiums each today and Paul backing them up well, we go into the final race weekend looking exceptionally strong.
<pre> Race classification 1. Yvan Muller VX Racing 33 mins 08.517 secs 2. Colin Turkington MG Racing 33 mins 12.573 secs 3. James Thompson VX Racing 33 mins 12.818 secs 4. Paul O'Neill VX Racing 33 mins 19.849 secs
Drivers Championship 1. Yvan Muller, Vauxhall Racing 210 points 2. James Thompson, Vauxhall Racing 181 points 3. Matt Neal, Honda Racing 132 points 4. Paul O'Neill, Vauxhall Racing 132 points
Manufacturers Championship 1. Vauxhall 485 points 2. Honda 293 points 3. MG 206 points 4. Proton 67 points
Teams Championship 1. Vauxhall Racing 395 points 2. Honda Racing 277 points 3. MG Sport & Racing 189 points