Plato wins, but Thompson takes title advantage
26 September 2004
Jason Plato took an easy victory in the first race of the day at Donington Park, but behind him the gloves were off between James Thompson and Yvan Muller in the battle for the championship.
It all went wrong for Matt Neal, the Computeach Racing with Halfords driver went off as the cars were on their first lap to grid up. Then come the start, Neal was into the lead from second place on the grid, but the championship charger James Thompson was very insistent that he be in the lead and contact at Redgate saw Neal sideways and wide and Thompson into the lead.
Plato, after not making as good a start from the line, was soon past Thompson however and led the cars across the line and from then the light SEAT Toledo simply drove off into the distance.
However that was certainly not the case behind. Muller had fought his way to be right behind team-mate Thompson heading into lap two and the VX Racing duo side by side as they headed into the Craner Curves.
'Rubbing is racing' and neither driver was prepared to yield with the title at stake, but it was Muller who was carrying too much speed. His Astra ran wide off the Craner Curves, sending him across the grass running down to the Old Hairpin, where the Frenchman then ran across the track towards the gravel trap. Although he recovered to get back on track, he had dropped down to 14th place – and a battle to climb back into the top ten began.
However if Thompson felt second was secure with Muller out of the picture then he was sadly mistaken. Colin Turkington is still battling for the Independents title with teammate Anthony Reid and he outbraked the series leader into the chicane to take second.
Thompson fixed his Astra firmly onto the tail of the MG over the following laps before finally taking the place with a classic move at the start of lap six. Over the start finish line, Thompson looked to see if there was space round the outside of the WSR machine, before cutting back inside Turkington to get the run up the inside into the Craner Curves. Turkington had another look at the Astra on the run up to McLeans but Thompson defended to keep his place.
But within a lap, Turkington was back into second through the Craner Curves and over the following laps the MG man managed to build a small gap. However by lap 13, Thompson was right back on his tail, sliding up the inside into McLeans to retake second, only Turkington to retake the place immediately through Coppice – Plato now well away in front on his way to victory.
However Thompson was aware of the importance of the three extra points for second and attacked with two laps to go heading into the chicane – taking the position permanently with Turkington settling for third.
Although the focus of the crowd was on the battle between Thompson and the man many believe could replace him at VX Racing next season, Muller was attempting to battle back into the top ten – not only to salvage some points but also to get a good grid slot for race two.
The Frenchman had battled past the SEAT of Rob Huff to take 13th on lap four but was struggling to make an impression on the Proton of Shaun Watson-Smith ahead.
Ahead, a huge battle was going on inside the top ten, with Luke Hines, Matt Neal, Dan Eaves, Anthony Reid, James Kaye and Tom Chilton all fighting for position.
However when Neal pulled off to retire, and then Chilton had a run through the gravel, Muller found himself inside the top ten. By the finish he had also managed to edge ahead of Eaves and Kaye, to secure seventh place – but more importantly a second row start for race two.
Muller wasn't in the mood to talk after the race, but the Frenchman knows that he is now 13 points behind with just two race left, and Thompson could wrap the title up if results go his way in the next race, due to start at 13.40 local time.
It promises to be interesting...