Two wins for Yvan Muller at Oulton Park today, with bonus points for most laps led in each race; second place and third place finishes and bonus points for fastest lap in each race for James Thompson, brings the 2003 BTCC champion, Muller, and his team-mate level in the drivers championship hunt for the 2004 Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship.
With Thompson and Muller sharing the front row for the first of the three BTCC races, all eyes were watching for the pair to battle down to the first corner. Muller nudged ahead of pole sitter Thompson to take the lead for the first lap and led all the way to the chequered flag. As Thompson said after the race, "I got a reasonably good start, but Yvan got a better one. He made the advantage count. You can't give an inch; he's too good for that. If you let him lead into the first corner then it's race over."
Hines, amid a tight pack, came through the first lap in eighth place and made up ground over the next few laps, but as the race unfolded, a bold move on Robert Huff in the closing stages ended with Hines stranded in the gravel, his Vauxhall Astra Coupe stricken with broken suspension.
VX Racing fielded the two heaviest cars on the grid for the second race of the day, with Muller carrying a maximum extra 42 kilos of ballast and Thompson with an extra 30 kilos. Hines was at minimum weight, the upshot of a DNF in the first race and starting fifteenth. The reverse grid rule resulted in Thompson starting ninth and Muller starting tenth.
As the race pace settled, it was an incident between rivals Rob Huff and Rob Collard that gave all three VX Racing drivers a welcome boost up towards the front. Battling for track position ended with both Huff and Collard bouncing into the tyre walls and out of the race, Matt Neal pushing James Neal off line, and the VX Racing drivers benefiting from all the action. Thompson defended fifth position until the chequered flag, Muller kept his eighth place and Hines passed Butler-Henderson to finish 9th.
The final race of the day featured plenty of track action for the well-attended BTCC event. Muller stormed through, taking an outside line strategy, which paid dividends moving him from eighth to second. Thompson got off the line well, but was boxed in and being patient, settled for fifth. Hines set off in ninth and moved up a place after the first lap.
Less than two laps later Muller passed Plato, with Neal sneaking through in the slipstream, to drop the SEAT driver to third and a challenging Thompson. Thompson quickly took Plato for third and retained his podium spot until the chequered flag. Muller celebrated his third win of the season saying, "It feels good – two wins out of three race today. Unfortunately I didn't do so well in the second, but the weight penalised me too much in the straights. All day, I was on the limit and it paid off."
Luke Hines had a more difficult race, caught in the thick of hard driving and close racing. From a good start, with a move into eighth, Hines fought to hold position, but struggling with his car, the young driver could only finish eleventh.
Mike Nicholson, VX Racing operations manager, summed up the weekend saying, "We've enjoyed a great day's racing and leave with two wins, a second and a third, and so, of course, we're happy. This year's championship is delivering some great racing and the competition is getting closer each race weekend, which is good news for the fans. We look forward to entertaining the Irish in two weeks time at Mondello Park"