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Croft conjures new face to the podium
12 August 2001
An impressive crowd of over 12,000 people turned out in fairly dreary weather conditions to support Rounds 17 and 18 of the www. The AA.com MSA British Touring Car Championship at Croft circuit this weekend.
Pole position sitter Phil Bennett made a clean start and led the BTC Touring pack into Clervaux but the most impressive start was made by the rear wheel drive Lexus IS200. The ABG Motorsport car, piloted by Brazilian Thomas Erdos, lept from fifth position to third as the pack entered Clervaux. His promotion was short lived however, as James Thompson and Yvan Muller fought back to reclaim position. There were mixed emotions for JS Motorsport and the Alfa 147s. Both cars made it to the starting grid having seemingly fixed the engine gremlins that have been plaguing the team over the last few rounds, but Ferrier was forced into the pit-lane after the warm up lap with steering problems. The team were quick to correct the problem and Ferrier was able to rejoin – all be it a lap down.
The Production pack was under way 27 seconds later and it was the Honda Accord of Simon Graves that made the better start to beat pole sitter Roger Moen to the first corner. Moen's team-mate and Championship leader Simon Harrison ran into immediate problems when his engine stalled and he was left on the grid.
Young gun Tom Boardman's race was short lived. The Peugeot 306 driver spun into the Chicane and the resulting damage put an end to his race. Officials rolled out the Safety Car whilst Boardman's car was removed, adding an extra four laps to the fifteen lap race distance, but the move resulted in frustration for some drivers as Yvan Muller explained: ''The original plan was that the Safety Car was going to let us past so that we could warm up the tyres and join the back of the Production group. We were warming up the tyres and I was about two seconds behind Bennett but then the Safety car waved us forward to race whilst I was holding back. At this point the race was done for me as I lost too much time.''
The HTML Peugeot of Simon Harrison was one of the few competitors to take advantage of the Safety car being out as he was able to rejoin the race, but it was short-lived and he retired a lap later. The Production battle started early with Simon Graves and Roger Moen fighting for the lead from the offset. Graves managed to hold position but the Peugeot was looked strong and dived ahead of Graves going into the complex on Lap 10.
The Touring teams were playing catch up to the Production pack and Phil Bennett was under pressure from the Vauxhall of Plato. Bennett was caught slightly off-line going into Tower Bend on Lap 7 – a mistake which Plato captilised on. The Vauxhall drive overtook his Team-Egg Sport Astra counterpart and began to gain ground on the Production pack. Bennett ran into further problems on Lap 11 and spun coming out of the chicane. He managed to rejoin but was now out of striking distance of a podium finish.
Yvan Muller was by now the fastest man on the track, setting the fastest lap of the race on Lap 8 with a time of 1 min 26.894 secs but it wasn't enough to pull back the gap between himself and team-mate Plato who went on to win the BTC Touring category. Plato was unable to catch the Peugeot of Roger Moen who crossed the finish line as overall race winner. It was the fifth time that the Production cars have won the Sprint race this season and the third time that HTML's Roger Moen has claimed top step on the podium.
Moen said: ''It's fantastic to hear the Norwegian anthem again. Graves had a very good start and got ahead of me on the first lap and then the Safety car came out. After I took Graves, I just eased away a little more every lap. The car is very good and the team have done a fantastic job.''
Birthday boy and GA Janspeed driver Gavin Pyper had cause for celebration after finishing the race in second position in the BTC Production class and an impressive fourth position overall. He explained: ''I had a good start to the race. I was dicing with Roger Moen and then the Safety Car came out and I didn't make the best of the restart. I caught up with Graves and he spun off at the Chicane. I spent the rest of the race just trying to catch Moen. He was really strong out there so catching him was impossible but it was good to come second and gain some points.''
The second Team Kaliber Sport with Barwell Honda Accord of James Kaye had a strong race, starting in fifth position on the grid but finishing in third. He said: ''Unfortunately, I got held up at the start right behind Simon Harrison. I knew I had a problem. I just had to move out of the way, go down the grass and I lost six or seven places. I managed to pull it back again though and it was a fantastic race.''
The changeable weather conditions provided the first challenge for the teams as decisions had to be taken on the car's set ups. It soon became clear that cars on the slick tyres were at a disadvantage.
The Peugeot 406 Coupe of Steve Soper made the best of the rolling start for the 35 lap race and emerged from Hawthorn Bend in a brilliant fourth position, ahead of the Vauxhall of Jason Plato. Soper's good work however was quickly undone when the Peugeot went wide at Sunny.
Plato also seemed to be struggling in the wet weather conditions and had a big slide as he exited the Clark curves on Lap 3. However Steve Soper's lap times were coming down and the Peugeot was looking the most competitive it has been all season.
A fantastic battle developed between the Lexus IS200 of Tommy Erdos and the Peugeot of Dan Eaves. They were side by side throughout much of the third lap with Erdos eventually managing to nudge ahead on Lap 5 as they approached Clark Curves.
Second on the BTC Production grid was Simon Graves but he experienced an off on Lap 2 which handed the lead to the vastly experienced Mark Lemmer in the Synchro Motorsport Honda Accord. The TCR Honda Accord of Jim Edwards Junior moved up into second, and the BTC Production battle saw two new front runners lead the race.
The first pit stop was made by the Team Egg Sport Astra of Phil Bennett who came in on Lap 6 with a windscreen wiper problem. The team made an impressive pit stop, and Bennett was on his way after 8.5 seconds. Plato was next in on Lap 7 and the Vauxhall team knew they had to work quickly if Plato was to rejoin infront of Bennett. They turned the car around in 7.5 seconds – mission accomplished and position gained for Plato and Vauxhall.
Race leader James Thompson came in to pit on Lap 8 but a problem with the rear wheel cost the Yorkshire man time and position and he rejoined the race in a disappointing third place.
The ABG Lexus of Tommy Erdos very nearly led the race as Muller pulled in to pit but the Brazilian ran wide, letting through Soper, Thompson and Plato whilst recovering the car. An 8.5 second stop put Muller out ahead.
In the BTC Production class, Jim Edwards Junior put in his fastest lap of the race with a 1min 45.4 second lap. He was able to apply sufficient pressure on Mark Lemmer to challenge for the lead but Lemmer with his wealth of experience defended well.
The first victim of the changeable weather conditions was the GA Janspeed Alfa Romeo of Gavin Pyper who went off on the approach to Tower Bend on Lap 12. The Safety Car was sent out whilst the Alfa Romeo was cleared and Muller lost the 6.7 second advantage he had built throughout the race.
The fastest pit stop of the day was by the Peugeot team who changed the tyres on Dan Eaves' car in an impressive 6.9 seconds.
On Lap 19 the Peugeot of Steve Soper and the Team Egg Sport Astra of Phil Bennet were side by side throughout much of the lap. It was inevitable that contact would be made at some point and it was Bennett that looked to come off best as Soper was forced wide off the track. Soper came back though and ran into the back of Bennett's car, knocking both cars off the circuit. The damage to the Peugeot meant he would later retire from the race on Lap 23. Bennett also retired but from a spin at Tower bend. The Safety Car was deployed for a second time.
The deployment of the Safety car created problems for Lemmer on the restart and Jim Edwards Junior took advantage to nudge past Lemmer on Lap 24. The rear wheel tyres were clearly beginning to wear at this late stage of the race and an off from the Tech-Speed Peugeot of Paul O'Neill, also at Tower bend, pushed the Safety Car out for a third occasion.
Muller made the most of the restart to take a comfortable lead and the chequered flag. Team mate Plato held on to second ahead of a disappointed James Thompson in third.
Muller said: ''I would have preferred it if the race was in dry conditions as I knew I would not be quick enough. I started with low tyre pressure as the track wasn't really wet, but then it got worse so I decided to come in and asked for normal pressure tyres in the pit stop, but I couldn't stop when I wanted to as James Thompson came in so I decided to stay out for one more lap and that worked. When I did stop, my fronts were better than the previous set. The re-starts became more difficult as you have to concentrate more and more.''
Jim Edwards Junior took his first win of the season and added his name to an ever expanding list of 2001 BTC Production winners. GR Motorsport's Mat Jackson had a trouble free race to come home in second with his team-mate Gareth Howell clinching third in the Ford Focus.
Edwards said: ''In these conditions, it is a case of consistency, concentration and finesse and to be honest, the emotions that went through my mind on the last lap were amazing! Mat (Jackson) gave me a right old belt at the hairpin which put me completely sideways and put me into the wall. I couldn't believe I bounced off and back onto the track to regain first place. I think someone was looking down on me and it was the best race of my life!''
The win for Yvan Mulller means he now leads the BTC Touring Championship with 235 point over team-mate Plato who is three points behind (232). In the Production class James Kaye leads Simon Harrison by four points with a total of 155 points as opposed to Harrison's 151.
TOCA Officials made a post race decision to ban Phil Bennett from Round 19 of the Championship following reckless driving from the Team Egg Sport driver in Round 18.
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