James Thompson catapulted himself to the top of the British Touring Car Championship standings with a dominant performance in the first race of the day at the Norfolk circuit of Snetterton.
Thompson, starting from pole, made a cracking start and was unchallenged for the 16 lap race, whilst team-mate and previous championship leader Yvan Muller struggled with a heavier car and ultimately finished in fifth place.
Matt Neal took second on the podium after passing Muller early on in the race whilst Tom Chilton, sideways as ever, took the final podium place.
For once the SEAT of Jason Plato didn't come in tenth place. Plato was into the pits after taking to the track to grid up, the 2001 champ having a problem with the Toledo's driveshaft. The RML crew were fast at work and Plato did make the race, albeit starting from the pitlane.
Brands Hatch winner and Plato's team-mate Rob Huff was also not having the best of races with his success ballast heavy car and an off on the first lap meaning Huffy had plenty of work to do.
Up front Thompson's race was pretty easy, the Yorkshireman's searing pace meaning a gap on 0.8 secs after the first lap. Thompson was dropping Muller in the identical but heavier on ballast Astra, but the Frenchman's attentions were taken up by the hard charging Matt Neal.
Neal was through on the third lap, and Tom Chilton was looking to follow Neal through as well. “I could see Yvan was struggling a bit at the Bombhole and through Corum a couple of times,” explained Neal of his pass on Muller. “After the first lap I'd thought we'd got the legs on him and I think he picked up a little sand on Russell on his left hand tyres and that just didn't give him enough grip as we went through Riches and it's fifth gear, he ran wide and I didn't need to be asked twice.”
Muller ultimately kept his place from young charger Chilton, but the matt black Honda was an ever present threat which ultimately won through at the Bombhole on lap thirteen. Chilton passed Muller and was throwing his car very sideways in the process, but it was just Chilton enjoying himself rather then any particular issue.
Next to pressurise the reigning champ was WSR's Colin Turkington who ultimately had his MG past the Astra in the dying laps of the race.
The Plato fightback through the field was certainly causing interest as the race one tenth place finishing specialist tried his hardest to work his way through the field, though ultimately he ended up just one place short.
Luke Hines, who had been in ninth, decided a slow on the line would be sufficient to let James Kaye past, though it was very finely judged to just seven thousands of a second.
Thompson now leads the drivers' championship, though for the second race he will have his work cut out starting from tenth place. “Fantastic, just what we needed, we needed to try and turn the screw a little bit at this stage of the championship,” said a happy and hot James Thompson after the podium celebrations.
"I want to win it and I think I drove like I meant it in that race," he continued. “I really wanted to hammer home whatever advantage I had in qualifying and getting into the first corner was certainly the best way of doing it. After that I never looked in the mirrors and just got on with the job.”
Neal was a happy man with his second place. “I thought if the Vauxhalls got away they were going to be gone,” said the Computeach Racing with Halfords driver. “I thought we'd have the legs on Jimmy as we've got good engines but that Vauxhall is very slippy. If we could have got behind him we'd have stayed with him but just trying to get into the tow was the problem.”Top ten
1. James Thompson
2. Matt Neal
3. Tom Chilton
4. Colin Turkington
5. Yvan Muller
6. Dan Eaves
7. Rob Collard
8. Anthony Reid
9. James Kaye
10. Luke HinesHalf the price tickets for Donington!
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