A second place finish in the first race for Yvan Muller brought the VX Racing team its only silverware this weekend at the Croft circuit, North Yorkshire as tough opposition and use of race strategy by rivals thwarted the teams efforts to continue the strong successes of the first part of the season. The close competition also closed the gap in the drivers championship with Muller leading team-mate James Thompson by only three points.
James Thompson said of the weekend, “SEAT’s strategy of throwing the first race to capitalise on the second and third obviously works, but Yvan and I can’t get involved in that because of the championship situation. We have come here and we haven’t been as quick as were in the first four race meetings. I never looked like taking pole, which I would expect to do, or at least be close to doing. I am disappointed with this weekend and yet I’ve beaten Yvan in two out of three races. There are only three points difference between Yvan and me. We have just got to knuckle down and get on with it.”
VX Racing lined up for the first race of the Croft BTCC weekend with Matt Neal and Anthony Reid on the front row, ahead of Yvan Muller and James Thompson in third and fourth places. With this line-up, the first corner of the first lap was set to be the battle ground for podium honours. Reid jumped into the lead with Muller second, his finish position, after taking advantage of a risky Thompson move on Neal which left the Yorkshireman back in fourth, where he stayed for the remainder of the 15 lap race. Hines, starting 11th gained a few places over the race distance to finish eighth.
After the race, Muller admitted, “I made a good start, but the trouble was that all three cars around me also made good starts. We all jumped off the line and it was amazing. On the first corner Jimmy took a risk, but he didn’t have much choice, he had to take the outside line around Matt. There was contact between Matt and Jimmy and I used the opportunity to take both of them.”
The second race top ten reverse grid regulations gave Luke Hines third place on the grid with Thompson seventh and Muller ninth. As the red lights went out Hines was stricken on the grid with a clutch problem, while a frantic dash for the lead into the first corner resulted in place gains for Thompson and Muller, with the two VX Racing drivers crossing the line fourth and fifth after the opening lap. Thompson held position for the duration of the race, but Muller, in the heavier car, lost a place to finish sixth. Hines finally left the grid and drove hard to fourteenth place at the chequered flag.
The VX Racing trio started in their race two finish positions for the final race of the day, with rivals Plato and Huff in the SEAT’s and Eaves with the Honda ahead on the grid. The start produced its customary dash for the first corner with Thompson’s Vauxhall Astra Coupe taking third but wearing battle scars after losing much of its rear bumper. Holding position until the closing stages, a clean move by Turkington demoted the championship contender to fourth place, which he kept until the chequered flag. Meanwhile, Muller lost momentum from Matt Neal ramming his rear bumper and dropped back to sixth. Neal’s retirement later promoted Muller to fifth place while Hines enjoyed the best race of his weekend, turning a fourteenth place start into an eighth place finish with strong driving and a little luck from retiring rivals.
Mike Nicholson, VX Racing operations manager, summed up the weekend saying, “This weekend has probably been the most difficult of the season so far. We’ve struggled with race pace all weekend, which, added with the SEAT race strategies has left us collecting the least points from a weekend so far this year. As you would expect, we’ll be analysing every variable and looking to improve our performance at Knockhill. We still leave this weekend with a healthy lead in all three championships, so we shouldn’t be too disappointed.”