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Muller masterful at Mondello
13 June 2004
It was a Yvan Muller masterclass in the first race of the day at Mondello Park with the Frenchman leading from pole to chequered flag under pressure the whole way from WSR MG driver Anthony Reid.
Reid will rue a poor getaway at the start as his car had the match of Muller's maximum ballast Astra, but try though he did - and all with totally clean racing moves - Reid was unable to pass the impeccably placed Astra of Muller.
Muller in contrast was off to a superb start, one not befitting a car carrying the maximum success ballast after his win in the final race of the day at the last round at Oulton Park.
The tight and twisty Mondello circuit doesn't lend itself to overtaking so the first lap BTCC freight train was very tightly packed and anyone wanting to pass would have their work cut out.
Reid couldn't be closer to Muller's rear bumper, but the WSR driver was on very best behaviour for the entire race which he was to spend in exactly that position. Perhaps the penalty points on his racing licence and the frequent criticism from other drivers had made their mark. Or, more likely, Reid was playing a weighting game hoping for Muller's tyres to go off given the extra weight they carried.
Behind the lead two, Colin Turkington looked very strong indeed in the second WSR MG. A better start than his team-mate saw Turkington challenge for second place at the first corner and keep his team-mate very true to the task ahead.
Further down the field Matt Neal was the person attempting to disprove the theory that Mondello is a difficult circuit to pass on. First Neal in the Computeach Racing with Halfords Team Dynamics run Honda took Jason Plato at the end of the second lap with a neat move.
Plato's ETCC SEAT is quick in a straight line however and the 2001 champ was back into the contested fifth place come the end of the pit straight, but Neal was not to be resisted and the Civic was soon out of Plato's clutches.
Whilst Neal was marching forwards, the next man to come into his sights, James Thompson looked to have a bit of a handful of a car on his hands. Clipping kerbs as he went, Thompson's car was causing the Yorkshireman plenty of moments.
Neal soon took his former team-mate come the end of lap four in the same move that first saw him past Plato. Unlike the SEAT, Thompson was unable to offer a riposte, and had far bigger concerns as he clipped a kerb and got luridly sideways.
The front was still a battle between Muller and Reid, with Frenchman Muller placing his car perfectly to make any clean passing move from Reid not quite come off, no matter where or how the Scotsman might make it.
Behind the duo Colin Turkington had dropped back, and was soon to be reeled in by the hard-charging Matt Neal with what was to be the race's other one-on-one battle.
Race two sees the top ten reversed grid so attention was focused on tenth as ever in the first race of the day. For much of the race this place was occupied by Shaun Watson-Smith, but Jason Plato's thoughts soon changed to this position after he had been taken by Matt Neal.
Slowing for a cigarette and allowing his competitors through with good grace, Plato masterfully got himself into ninth, meaning a second place start for the afternoon's first race, and the SEAT should be a very strong contender here.
Along side Plato and in pole for race two sits Michael Bentwood who gained the tenth place after some of the usual fraught movement for position in the midfield in the dying laps of the 14 lap BTCC encounter.
During this Oulton park winner Dan Eaves found himself in the tyre wall from eleventh place, and long-term tenth position holder Shaun Watson-Smith lost out to finish in twelfth.
As the cars crossed the line it was Muller who had resisted the Anthony Reid onslaught for the entire race to take the chequered flag by a mere 0.227secs. It was then a 6 second gap to Colin Turkington who was afforded a little breathing space from Matt Neal after a solid resistance for the latter half of the race.
The race win was Muller's fourth win of the year and means he equals James Thompson's 29 wins. For the next race at the hard to pass track Muller will start in tenth on the grid. Things could get interesting.
1. Yvan Muller
2. Anthony Reid
3. Colin Turkington
4. Matt Neal
5. James Thompson
6. Luke Hines
7. Tom Chilton
8. Rob Huff
9. Jason Plato
10. Micheal Bentwood
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