Chilton wins as title battle goes to the wire
26 September 2004
With a charging Yvan Muller closing in, Tom Chilton held on to take the second race of the afternoon at Donington, the penultimate round of the 2004 BTCC championship, with second for the Frenchman good enough to ensure that the battle for the title will go to the wire.
Muller was one of three cars to break away from the field on the opening lap after Luke Hines in the third VX Racing Astra got it all wrong (he believes with a little help from a SEAT) going into the chicane – a corner he ended up taking in reverse.
Starting from the second row, Muller was soon into second behind Chilton, as pole sitter Rob Huff found himself pushed wide at McLeans, dropping down to fourth as Dan Eaves also moved through.
Eaves then passed Muller into the chicane, as a spinning Hines ensured that the rest of the field, including series leader James Thompson, were forced to hit the brakes – giving the leading trio an immediate advantage.
By the end of the second lap, Muller had worked his way back past the Computeach Racing car of Eaves, as Thompson, who had started the race from ninth on the grid, took sixth from Rob Huff who was heading the wrong way down the order.
Thompson couldn't take advantage however, as he ran wide heading into Redgate at the start of the next lap, dropping two places – although he did recover to seventh by the end of the lap.
Eaves worked his way back in front of Muller going into McLeans on lap four, but he was unable to pull away and by lap eight, the Frenchman was back into the position. With the Honda beginning to suffer gearbox problems, Eaves was unable to challenge the VX Racing man, and was forced to settle for third – as Muller set about hunting down Chilton for the win, and 15 vital points for his championship challenge.
Behind the leading three, the MGs of Colin Turkington and Anthony Reid were battling for fourth, with the Reid passing his young teammate for position on lap eight. Thompson followed Reid through into the Old Hairpin, with Jason Plato pushing Turkington back to seventh into McLeans. With the four drivers holding position from there to the flag – Reid ensured that he will leave Donington Park with a championship on his arm, he can no longer be caught in the battle for the HarrierZeuros Independents Trophy.
Rob Collard took eighth, ahead of James Kaye, missing the front wing from his Synchro Motorsports Honda after a forceful move on Huff which saw the SEAT run through the gravel at McLeans. Huff ended the race in eleventh, after also losing out to a recovering Hines.
Back out front, Muller was setting the quickest laps of the race to close the gap to Chilton, the youngster admitting that his line into Goddards was being compromised by oil on the track – giving Muller the chance to close in.
By the end, he had closed to within half a second of the Honda, and admitted afterwards that he had simply run out of laps in his battle for victory.
However he will now start the final race of the day, and the season, six points behind Thompson and he admits that anything can now happen.
“Three years ago, with two laps till the end, I was champion and then my engine blew up and I lost the championship,” he told Crash.net Radio the race, “so everything is possible until you see the finish line.”
If the race can match the action of the first two races of the day, it promises to be one to remember – racing gets underway at 16.40 local time.