VX Racing arrived at Donington today with two championships - manufacturers and team - almost wrapped up, but the drivers championship still in the balance. With James Thompson on 244 championship points and Yvan Muller on 240 points, the pressure was on both drivers to qualify well for the first race and neither needed any more pressure, but changing weather, damp in the morning, raining later, then drying during qualifying, was not ideal. And with forecasts for a dry day tomorrow, the weather could be an added factor for the championship decider races.
Muller, with the second heaviest car in the field after 5th, 4th and 2nd place finishes in the previous rounds at Snetterton, had his work cut out to qualify ahead of Thompson, 12 kgs lighter. Throughout the 30 minute qualifying session all three Vauxhall Astra Coupes were lapping in the top half of the grid, the success ballast hampering efforts for either championship contender to add the valuable championship point for pole position to their tally. It was Jason Plato that took this away, but with Thompson finishig third fastest and Muller in fifth place for the start, the final rounds of the 2004 Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship look set for a tough fight to the finish for both VX Racing drivers. Luke Hines, in his first year with VX Racing is engrossed in his own battle in the drivers championship, with a seventh place finish a possible conclusion to his debut year with the team.
The opening practice session at Donington, in fairly damp conditions, saw VX Racing start this finale weekend at the top of the time sheets, with Muller taking the top spot with an impressive lap time of 1 minute 13.864 seconds, the fastest ever lap by a touring car at the 1.96 mile circuit. Thompson, turned in the third fastest lap, while third driver Hines, finished 11th fastest. In the second session the weather had worsened and the VX Racing team selected to start on wet tyres. Muller completed 20 laps and finished second quickest behind Plato and Hine, coping well with the continuing rain, improved to fifth fastest. However, Thompson only completed one lap of the circuit before the wet conditions caught him out and he aquaplaned into the gravel at the Old Hairpin, where he remained for the rest of the session.
VX Racing returns to the track tomorrow morning for the first of the three rounds of this final 2004 BTCC race weekend.
James Thompson, Car No.2
"It was quite a tricky qualifying session, quite wet at the start and not really drying, but then drying quickly towards the end. I was running on mixed tyres, slick fronts and wet rears, but I needed one more lap and I might have got on the front row. It's good that Yvan didn't take the extra point for pole, it's still very even. As for my excursion into the gravel in practice, I think I overestimated my own ability and for the first time in nearly four years ended up in the gravel."
Yvan Muller, Car No.1
"We made a mistake at the beginning putting the mixed tyres on too early in the session. We should have waited a little longer, we made the wrong choice. Now, I need to push and keep pushing."
Luke Hines, Car No.57
"I didn't have much wet testing before the season and we haven't done much wet running, so I'm not really used to these conditions. We put new tyres on towards the end of the session, but the track was drying quickly. If we could have had a few more minutes we probably could have improved our position a bit more. But, we're within the top 10 and all set for the race now. We just need to decide on our race strategy for the first race."