BTCC: Oulton Park: Vauxhall Motorsport race report

Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship 2002 Rounds 3/4 - Oulton Park, Race Report - April 21 Muller pulls out championship lead. O'Neill takes 1st BTCC win of career in front of home crowds. Rounds 3 & 4 of the MSA British Touring Car...

Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship 2002
Rounds 3/4 - Oulton Park, Race Report - April 21

Muller pulls out championship lead.
O'Neill takes 1st BTCC win of career in front of home crowds.

Rounds 3 & 4 of the MSA British Touring Car Championship at Oulton Park today saw Vauxhall Motorsport's Yvan Muller take not only his first win of the season but also pull out a championship lead ahead of fellow Astra Coupe driver, Matt Neal. It was dream come true meanwhile for Egg Sport Astra Coupe driver, Paul O'Neill. The Liverpool lad took a brilliant Feature Race win in front of his home crowd of 16,500 spectators who were on their feet cheering him round.

Round 3, the extended 19-lap Sprint Race saw Yvan Muller take a comfortable win with his team mate, James Thompson following closely behind in third giving the Yorkshireman much needed points. The 25-lap Feature Race however saw the pair narrowly miss out on a Vauxhall 1-2 giving the win to O'Neill in the Egg Sport Astra Coupe with Tim Harvey and Warren Hughes taking second and third place podium honours. The day's results mean Muller pulls out a narrow championship lead of 40 points to Matt Neal's 36, whilst Vauxhall maintains its Manufacturers' lead in the standings with 104 points to MG's 56. Vauxhall Motorsport retains the Teams' Championship lead ahead of MG Sport & Racing.

Round 3 of the BTCC got off to a cracking start this afternoon with poleman, Matt Neal in the Egg Sport Astra Coupe shooting off the line to head Vauxhall Motorsport's Yvan Muller into the first corner. With the rest of the field shuffling for position behind them, the pair made maximum use of the situation and started to pull out a significant gap. James Thompson meanwhile had his work cut out for him and after getting bogged down at the start where he had started alongside Neal, the Yorkshireman found himself in sixth position. Just as things started to get going, the Safety Car came out for four laps and the field bunched up for what was to prove a crucial resta rt to the race.

So, as the pack crossed the line, it was race leader, Neal out front with Muller, Reid and Hughes chasing. Neal however, was deemed to be out of position at the restart, and the man from Birmingham was sent to the pits for a drive-through penalty. The move was to effectively put paid to his race hopes and he did well to charge back through the field from eleventh to fourth by the time the 19-lap race was over. He did claim fastest lap though and the vital extra point that goes with it. At the front meanwhile, Muller led for the remaining 13 laps and the Frenchman's Astra Coupe was never really challenged, giving him his first win of the season. Thompson in the meantime had been skilfully reeling in his opponents one by one, passing first the Peugeot of Tim Harvey and then the MG of Anthony Reid. The Vauxhall Motorsport driver went on to claim a much-needed third place behind the MG of Warren Hughes who had defended well against Thompson's determined efforts to pass.

Three hours later and the Touring cars were lined up once again on the grid with Neal and Muller on the front row. Neal got a great getaway with Muller in tow, whilst Thompson had his hands full climbing up from fifth on the grid to third by the time pit stops started at the end of lap six. Muller came in first with race leader, Matt Neal and James Thompson following him in quick succession. Neal made his second mistake of the day though, missing his pit garage to pick up yet another drive through penalty. Flustered, he went on to make contact with Hughes and spun off into the barriers on lap 12, ending his race hopes.

As things settled after the pit stops, Muller and Thompson looked to have a Vauxhall 1-2 in the bag until a cruel twist of fate on lap 21 of 25 saw first Thompson suffer with a punctured front left tyre, then Muller suffer with suspected electric problems. Thompson pitted for new tyres and rejoined the race to salvage any points he could whilst Muller stayed out. The pair finished seventh and tenth respectively. Paul O'Neil meanwhile, was perfectly positioned to inherit the lead in the Egg Sport Astra Coupe, giving the Liverpool lad his first BTCC win of his career in front of his home crowds.

Vauxhall Motorsport Quotes:

Yvan Muller, Car 2, Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe
Sprint - Winner, 31:13.725, Feature - 10th, 38:41.532

(Re: Sprint) "I had a good start to my Sprint Race and kept second behind Matt (Neal). When I heard on the radio that he had a drive through penalty, I just kept my position and waited for him to go to the pitlane so I could go into the lead. It was a good race and I was just happy to be out in the lead with clean air."

(Re: Feature) "Such bad luck but that is racing I suppose. I had the race under control but James was still pushing. But in the end, we both lost out. I don't know really what the problem was, electrics perhaps."

James Thompson, Car 3, Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe
Sprint - 3rd, 31:15.072, Feature - 7th, 38:11.315

(Re: Sprint) "I had a very poor getaway in the Sprint race leaving me with a lot of work to do! I managed to make my way up through the field and then I just had my sights set on Hughes for that second place. And I think I could have done it, I just needed a couple of more laps."

(Re: Feature) "Unbelievable! Yvan and I were out ahead of everyone and we were just toying with each. I felt the vibration going through the first corner on lap 21 and then the front left tyre went on the back straight. I just couldn't believe it, especially as we are all so close in the championship points."

Today was a day of mixed results for the Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe drivers. Matt Neal paid the penalty for being out of line at the restart of the Sprint Race. He was to drop from being race leader to eleventh overall. He did manage to pull back to fourth but his hopes of a second season win were dashed. Team mate, Paul O'Neill had a torrid start to Round 3 and the Liverpudlian retired with gearbox problems. It was all change though for the Feature Race and although Neal's luck continued to fail him, O'Neill picked up a brilliant first BTCC win of his career in front of his home crowds.

Matt Neal, Car 0, Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe
Sprint - 4th, 31:19.191, FL: 1:27.595 - lap 15, Feature - DNF, FL: 1:27.601

Paul O'Neill, Car 29, Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe
Sprint - DNF, Feature - Winner, 37:41.117


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About this article
Series BTCC
Drivers Anthony Reid , Yvan Muller , Paul O'Neill , Tim Harvey , James Thompson , Warren Hughes , Matt Neal