James Thompson took a comfortable win the opening round of the British Touring Car Championship at Thruxton with a lights-to-flag victory and fastest lap in his Vauxhall Astra Coupe. He was followed all the way but never really pressured by Matt...
James Thompson took a comfortable win the opening round of the British Touring Car Championship at Thruxton with a lights-to-flag victory and fastest lap in his Vauxhall Astra Coupe. He was followed all the way but never really pressured by Matt Neal's Honda, with his Vauxhall team-mate Yvan Muller finishing in third place.
Thompson lined up on pole position having set the fastest time in the single qualifying session yesterday. He was joined on the front row by team-mate Muller with WSR's Anthony Reid and Neal lining up behind on the second row and Tom Chilton (Team Honda) and Colin Turkington (WSR) on the third row.
Thompson made a great start and pulled away quickly from pole whereas Muller had a slow getaway and he quickly veered to the right to limit the damage from Neal who had made an extremely strong start and sailed past Reid. Muller squeezed Neal on the inside of the first corner but the Team Honda held on and moved up to second place.
There was confusion further down the field as a number of cars spun at Campbell, a large chicane one third of the way around the lap. Michael Bentwood hit the back of Carl Breeze’s car causing significant rear-end damage. Behind them Colin Turkington spun his MG SZ in avoidance as did John George in his Honda Civic Type-R and Jason Hughes in the MG SZ. All three were able to rejoin but Turkington lost over a minute and resumed racing at the back of the field.
Thompson quickly pulled out one second over Neal on the first lap and stretched this to two seconds at the end of the second lap. Reid managed to get past Muller to briefly take third place on lap two but the Vauxhall driver responded straight away and put the MG ZS back behind. Hines meanwhile pitted with a puncture and rejoined at the back of the field. Carl Breeze and Farique Hairuman also pitted at the end of the first lap and both drivers retired from the race.
Tom Chilton was running in fifth place on lap three with Jason Plato less than 0.2 seconds behind as he had been since the start. This pressure eventually forced an error and Chilton briefly ran wide onto the grass, losing five seconds on the fastest part of the circuit, and this dropped him down to twelfth place. Chilton then dropped another place a couple of laps later as James Kaye dived inside at the first corner.
Neal significantly closed the gap to leader Thompson on lap seven but he threw away this advantage at the end of the next lap by locking up at the final chicane and losing nearly two seconds. Behind them in eleventh place Charlie Butler-Henderson led Robert Collard, Chilton and Kaye who were all separated by under two seconds and swapping places all round the circuit. Hines wisely backed off as he was lapped by the leading cars and he retired soon afterwards with suspected gearbox problems.
Neal set about closing the gap to Thompson again and was consistently around 0.3 seconds per lap faster over several laps. The SEAT pair of Plato and Huff were now running nose-to-tail with Huff, who had been lapping up to 0.8 seconds per lap quicker than his team-mate, visibly the quicker driver. Collard managed to get past Charlie Butler-Henderson to move up to what was now tenth place and Chilton took the opportunity to creep through too. Collard and Chilton then had their own intense battle for tenth and gradually pulled away from the other battling pair of Butler-Henderson and Kaye.
Thompson backed off towards the end and won the race eventually by half a second from Neal. Muller held in third place and Reid finished fourth. The race took its toll on other cars as Jason Hughes’s MG SZ starting making unusual sounds in the closing laps and had to be retired. John George also coasted to a halt at the finishing line and stopped his Honda Civic Type-R.
The most unusual event by far was the sight of Plato, who had already let team-mate Huff and Michael Bentwood past on the previous lap, backeding off on the approach to the finish line to allow Shaun Watson-Smith past to eighth and hence allow Plato to start one place higher in the reverse grid for the next race. Watson-Smith backed off too however and the pair, having wasted five seconds coasting on the pit straight, had to speed up to avoid an accident with the charging Chilton who was fighting for position with Collard.
1. James Thompson 21 minutes 11.618 seconds
2. Matt Neal +0.626s
3. Yvan Muller +7.949s
4. Anthony Reid +9.309s
5. Dan Eaves +18.508s
6. Robert Huff +21.322s
7. Michael Bentwood +21.888s
8. Jason Plato +27.406s
9. Shaun Watson-Smith +27.707s
10. Tom Chilton +27.892
1. Thompson 18 points
2. Neal 12
3. Muller 10
4. Reid 8
5. Eaves 6
6. Huff 5
7. Bentwood 4
8. Plato 3
9. Watson-Smith 2
10. Chilton 1