Vauxhall Motorsport driver, Yvan Muller, is a familiar face in the British Touring Car Championship. 2002 will be his fifth year in the series and every year he has improved on his final championship position. Having finished runner-up last year to team mate Jason Plato in what was one of the closest contests ever fought in the BTCC, the question has to be asked - is 2002 to be Yvan's year?
The popular Frenchman first arrived in the BTCC in 1998, driving with Audi and finishing 7th overall in the series. In 1999 he went on to drive for Triple Eight Race Engineering where he remains today. Yvan says “I like to stay with one manufacturer for a few years. The longer you stay the better the relationship. It is an advantage, especially in this sort of industry, to work with people you know – they trust you and you trust them. The team has really grown over the past three years and now we are getting the benefits of that hard work. I feel proud to be one of their drivers.”
|Photo: Andrew Jackson|
Looking back on Yvan’s 2001 season, it must be a bitter pill to swallow knowing that if the drop score system had still been in place, the championship title would have been his. He comments, “I still think it is a shame not to have at least one joker in the season when there are so many races. A driver can easily lose the Championship on one race because of an incident that has nothing to do with him.” Despite the disappointment of coming so close to winning the title, it has had a positive affect on Muller, “Coming second has given me more motivation to play for the title but you have to be careful, I have seen many drivers become so desperate that they make mistakes. I do want to win but I also want to avoid making mistakes.”
Putting the 2001 season aside, Muller now looks forward to his title bid for 2002. He will again drive for Vauxhall Motorsport, but once more faces stiff opposition from within the team, driving alongside last years Team Egg Sport driver, James Thompson. Yvan says, “James is a very quick driver. He had a very good 2001 season with Egg and I am sure he will be on the pace.” As well as Thompson, Yvan will also have to stave off a strong challenge from Matt Neal, who returns to the BTCC with Team Egg alongside last years Production rookie, Paul O’Neill. “Matt is very experienced and quick as well so he is definitely a contender. Paul is here to learn and should do very well once he gains some experience", says Yvan. “Hopefully I will be in the lead with the others following closely!”
With the size of the Touring Class field increasing dramatically, we see the likes of entries from Proton and Honda joining the battle for the Championship. Asked about the threat posed to Triple Eight from the new manufacturers, Yvan says, “these are professional teams and it is fantastic to have new manufacturers on board for this season.” Having had a near perfect 2001 season, it could be said that the Vauxhall Astra Coupe ought to have the edge over their competition. Muller says, “well, it’s not a disadvantage. It’s always good to have a years experience in the car. Last year's car was good but the 2002 Astra is even better I am confident it has the potential to be a title contender”
|Photo: Peter Still|
As well as the BTCC, Yvan has competed in the Trophee Andros ice racing series during the winter. “It keeps me mentally sharp but it’s not relaxing! It’s a very demanding series and the race rhythm is very high.” This hasn’t stopped Muller from taking the championship title for the last six years but how do the two very different series compare? Yvan replies, “There is absolutely no comparison possible between the two.”
|Photo: Andrew Jackson|
Ice racing is not the only string to Yvan Muller’s bow. He also competed in a round of the ETCC last year, which still ran to Super Touring car regulations that the BTCC switched from in 2001. Yvan comments, “it was a little difficult to re-adjust to driving the Super Tourer at first. It certainly took longer than I thought but I took a lot of pleasure out of driving the old style car again." Having driven in the French, Italian and German series of the touring cars, we asked Yvan how they all compared. Yvan replies, “ the BTCC, because of its history and the English culture of motor racing, is definitely the top Championship. In France for example, we do not get as many spectators or the press exposure we have here. The German Championship is a little similar to the UK with the Italian probably in-between.”
To add to Muller’s already illustrious CV, he has also taken part in the prestigious Bathhurst 1000 event in Australia, a circuit that he loves, “It’s the most demanding circuit I’ve driven at. No other circuits compare to it.”
Yvan Muller can certainly be labelled an all round racing driver, having successfully driven in a variety of series. Is there anything left for him to try? “I have started rallying and I really want to do more of it and have a proper stab at it. I really enjoy it.” And where does he see himself in five years time? Yvan looks forward, “Very rich, living on a remote island in the Pacific and surrounded by beautiful girls. That’s in between races of course!”
|Photo: Peter Still|
In the short term, Yvan Muller has his sights firmly set on sealing the title of BTCC Champion by the end of the 2002 season. Speaking to Yvan, it's very clear that he sees himself as a Vauxhall employee and not just a racing driver that wants to win a title for his own good. When asked what his targets are for the 2002 season, Yvan replies, “Just do my job the best I can, for the team.”
When asked to describe what makes the perfect touring car driver, Yvan responds, “they must be good at setting up cars, experienced, quick and very cool under pressure.” Muller has successfully proved time and time again that he has the right ingredients. Whether this will reap rewards this year remains to be seen, but without a doubt, Yvan Muller will be driving all out to lift the trophy for Triple Eight Engineering, Vauxhall Motorsport and himself in 2002 - something that his army of fans have waited a long time for. The final word from Yvan is a message to the readers and how he values the close contact with the fans through the popular BTCC pit lane walkabouts. "It is really important. Without the fans and the spectators there would be no championship. And it is always nice to have people coming up to you to wish you good luck."