21 May 2001
Muller wins, but it's bittersweet for Vauxhall.
Vauxhall Motorsport's Yvan Muller stamped his authority on the www.theAA.com MSA British Touring Car Championship yesterday, taking wins in both the Sprint and Feature races from pole and with it a clear lead in the drivers' championship.
Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe driver, James Thompson took a pair of seconds to claim second place in the drivers' standings with Jason Plato slipping to overall third after a podium place finish in the 15-lap Sprint Race but a non finish in the 30-lap Feature Race.
Muller made a moderate start in the Sprint race, but benefited when the others made a bad start, including Plato who stalled his Astra on the grid.
“I made a normal start in the Sprint Race but fortunately for me, everyone behind made a bad one!” smiled Muller. “I tried to put in a good second lap to get some distance between myself and the rest of the field and have a go at getting a point for fastest lap but it was really hot out there and the brakes started to go after five laps or so. From then on I just concentrated on keeping my race lead and conserving the brakes.”
Plato explained his woes: “I had to purposefully stall the Astra Coupe on the grid to avoid being penalised for a jump start; I had my foot hard down on the clutch when it bit and the car lurched forward.”
Thompson was right up with Muller at the end of the first lap with Plato on a mission picking his way through a Peugeot, Lexus, Alfa Romeo battle ahead of him. Running in the new handicap format, with Touring cars starting one lap down on the Production cars, Muller finished the race with maximum Touring points although the race win went to the Production class Peugeot of Roger Moen.
In the Feature race, Muller again made a strong start, with Plato for company, but some rapid pit-stop work by Plato's Triple Eight crew put him back out just in front of Muller - the Frenchman redressing the balance halfway around the next lap. In the meantime, Phil Bennett had spun-off and dropped back amongst the Production cars, only then to drive over debris and have to make an unscheduled stop to change a flat front tyre. Bennett was destined for a rare non-finish when one of the championship obligatory components in the transmission failed.
Muller went on to take the race win and take his second set of maximum points for the weekend, while Plato drove slowly into the pits, his Astra's powersteering broken and his championship lead lost. Scant reward for the Oxford driver was the knowledge he was the fastest man on the track, rewarded with a new lap record.
“Winning the Feature Race made it a perfect weekend; two poles, two wins and the championship lead - I couldn't have asked for more. It was a great result for Vauxhall - the Astra Coupe and the team were great,” said a delighted Muller afterwards.
”I made a much better start in the Feature Race and thanks to the Triple Eight boys I had a great pitstop which sent me out right in front of Yvan,” said Plato. “Obviously I'm really disappointed that the power steering went as it has set me back in the championship points standings.”
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