Honda's James Thompson and Vauxhall's Yvan Muller were the victors at a sun-drenched Silverstone today. Thompson brushed aside his early season bad luck to win a thrilling round 11 while Muller, already a winner of two races this year, took round 12 in style. But Ford's Alain Menu remains at the top of the championship standings despite recording only one third place finish. The Mondeo man leads his team-mate Anthony Reid by five points, the Scot keeping up his record of finishing in the top three at every meeting this year with second in round 11. Muller lies third, ten points behind Menu with his team-mate Jason Plato fourth. Matt Neal and Colin Blair took a win apiece in the Michelin Cup for Independents while Alan Morrison won both rounds in Class B.
SPRINT RACE - Round 11
James Thompson emerged victorious in the Sprint Race to put an end to his run of rotten luck. But he looked to have blown his chance at the start when he dropped from second to fourth thanks to a combination of his bad start and Honda Accord team-mate Gabriele Tarquini's rocketship-like launch off the line.
Italian Tarquini, the 1994 BTCC Champion and round eight winner, caught everyone by surprise and was on the boot lid of pole-sitter Rickard Rydell's Ford Mondeo by the first corner. Despite strong defence from the Swede, Tarquini muscled his way through before the end of the first lap and pulled out a big lead over the chasing pack.
But at the start of lap three his Accord slid off into the gravel, after hitting oil, and his chance of victory was blown. Although he returned to the track relatively unscathed he was at the back of the pack, which put Rydell, the 1998 BTCC Champion, back in front.
He too had a comfortable lead, but his earlier skirmish with Tarquini had damaged the rear bumper of his Mondeo and he was ordered into the pits by the race officials to have it made safe. That dropped him to eighth and out of contention.
Behind, championship leader Alain Menu had failed to start when his Mondeo's clutch failed on the grid and Jason Plato was forced into retirement on lap two after a collision with Honda's Tom Kristensen, Plato's Vectra suffering broken suspension. This all put Yvan Muller into fourth, from eighth on the grid, but the Vauxhall man was given a drive-through penalty for starting ahead of the marked grid position.
After he and Rydell had taken their pit-lane penalties, by lap seven, Thompson found himself at the front, with Ford's Anthony Reid second and Kristensen third. Thompson had a 1.7-second advantage over the Scot in his Accord and was never troubled for the remainder of the 15-lap race.
Matt Neal came home fourth, the leading Michelin Cup for Independents runner enjoying a relatively trouble-free race in his Team Dynamics Nissan Primera. Tarquini recovered from his off to finish fifth after he passed Vauxhall's Vincent Radermecker with two laps to go. Penalty takers Muller and Rydell came home seventh and eighth with Independent Colin Blair ninth in his PRO Motorsport Primera.
In Class B, pole position man Alan Morrison came through from the back of the grid to score another victory in his Touring Car VIP Club Peugeot 306 GTi, his sixth of the season, although he was made to work for it. Morrison's new team-mate Will Hoy, the 1991 BTCC Champion racing for the first time in this division, led for much of the event. Barwell Motorsport's Mark Lemmer (Honda Integra Type R) and James Kaye (Honda Accord) were second and third and it was Lemmer, carrying 40kg of success ballast, who put up the stiffest resistance to the flying Morrison. They swapped positions several times before a ballast-free Morrison eventually came out on top.
He then passed Hoy on lap 10 to take the lead and the pair looked good for a 1-2 finish. However, an engine problem on Hoy's Peugeot forced his retirement which moved Kaye up to second and Lemmer to third, after the Barwell pair had traded places earlier. Robert Collard (Bintcliffe Sport Racing, Nissan Primera) was fourth and Nick James, making his BTCC debut, brought his Arnold James Sport Honda Integra home fifth.
Thompson: "I think this makes up for the all the bad luck I've had so far this season. I made a very shoddy start, one that I'm not proud of, but as it happens I think it kept me out of the trouble. Once it all went off in front of me it was just a matter of leading the race. I'm always very comfortable when I'm leading. I kept a decent gap to Anthony and took it to the finish. I don't think I'm going to win the championship but I can certainly win as many races as I possibly can and be a real nuisance to the rest of the guys."
Reid: "It was another good solid result and it's all good for the big picture, the championship. As a racing driver it's one thing to have a job and to be driving a racing car that's such great fun, that's a privilege in itself, but to be driving in a car that's capable of winning is really good. I've never been in this position before in a touring car championship anywhere in the world."
Kristensen: "Being on the podium carrying 40kg is really perfect. I think the weight made a bit of difference in the slower corners but not through the fast ones. Yesterday I was pleased I was a little bit quicker than Menu who also had 40kg and today being third is impressive I think."
Neal: "I think the team are quite amazed that with the amount of contact in that race I had none of it. I'm relieved to have a fourth place and they're relieved to have the car back in one piece. I didn't have a bad start, kept my place and then watched it all unfold in front of me. Unfortunately I didn't quite have the speed to catch Tom."
Morrison: "It's great to be back on the podium. Yesterday was a bit of a disaster. We didn't get any track time after some problems with the car but with Will here we knew what set-up we needed. I had a good race but it was a shame the second car didn't finish because we could have taken some more points off the other guys."
FEATURE RACE - Round 12
Three blistering laps in the early stages of the Feature Race gave Yvan Muller his third win of the season for Vauxhall. The Frenchman took his mandatory pit-stop early on lap six, while running third behind the Ford Mondeos Rickard Rydell - who had led the field away from his pole position - and second-placed Anthony Reid, and then pushed hard on his new set of tyres.
After being a second behind Rydell on lap six, he emerged two seconds in front when the Swede took his stop on lap nine. He had already got ahead of Reid who took his stop on lap eight.
Although Honda's Tom Kristensen took over the lead at this point, the Danish star still had to make his pit-stop. When he did, on lap 12, Muller hit the front and never looked back. Rydell held on to second position but Reid dropped back to fourth after his pit-stop behind the third Ford Mondeo of Alain Menu.
The Swiss driver was only a few tenths of a second ahead, however, and Reid pushed his team-mate hard throughout the race despite having to deal with a challenge from Honda's Gabriele Tarquini who was close behind in fifth. That battle was ended when Tarquini dived past Reid on lap 24 after the Scot outbraked himself going into a corner. Reid was then the unlucky broadside recipient of a spinning Vauxhall Vectra which knocked his Mondeo into retirement.
Vauxhall's Vincent Radermecker, who was running eighth, and Honda's James Thompson, one place ahead, were involved in a coming together which resulted in the Belgian spinning out. The damage to the rear end of his Vectra, after he hit the side of Reid's car backwards, put him out of the race.
Tarquini then moved into third place with two laps to go overtaking Menu's slowing Mondeo. The Italian believed Menu, the 1997 BTCC Champion, moved to one side to avoid finishing on the podium and receiving success ballast for the next rounds. But the Swiss star ended up finishing third after all when the stewards excluded Rydell from the results for a technical ineligibility on his Mondeo found in a post-race check.
Thompson came home behind Menu with Vauxhall's Jason Plato, who had earlier spun off the circuit after a coming together with Class B winner Alan Morrison's Peugeot, one place further back. Kristensen, who dropped to ninth after his pit-stop, finished seventh on the road and moved to sixth with the stewards' decision.
Scotland's Colin Blair won the Michelin Cup for Independents division, despite running for 28 laps with his PRO Motorsport Nissan Primera stuck in fourth gear. His main rival for the Independents title Matt Neal, in a similar Primera, retired on lap 10 with a blown engine.
Morrison took the Class B honours after storming through the field from the back of the grid for the second time today. His Touring Car VIP Club Peugeot went ahead on lap seven after Barwell Motorsport's James Kaye (Honda Accord) had led from the start. Class B pole-sitter Will Hoy did not complete a single lap after his Peugeot's clutch let him down at the start.
Muller: "I'm very happy with this result. It puts me right back in the championship. We made an early pit-stop and I just pushed hard on the new tyres to get ahead of the Fords and it worked. I am quite happy with the balance of my car now and I hope to keep it like this. The championship is still wide open and for sure anything can happen."
Tarquini: "I think Alain gave me the third place on the track. He was so slow on the straight and on the outside of the track he didn't try to stop me. He lost some points but he won't have 20kg of ballast for Croft, that is why I think he did this. I tried very hard all through the race and I am very happy to be here in third."
Blair: "I didn't expect to be here at all. My gearbox got stuck in fourth on the second lap. I was going to come in and stop but then I saw Matt had parked his car so I decided to keep going. I had to do 28 laps in fourth gear but at least I learned the circuit for next time."
Morrison: "It's great to get another win. The Peugeot is working absolutely fantastic. I am just delighted to be part of the team and to get the opportunity to show I can drive as well as the car can perform."