An impressive crowd of over 12,000 people turned out in fairly dreary weather conditions to support Rounds 17 and 18 of the www. The AA.com MSA British Touring Car Championship at Croft circuit this weekend.
Pole position sitter Phil Bennett made a clean start and led the BTC Touring pack into Clervaux but the most impressive start was made by the rear wheel drive Lexus IS200. The ABG Motorsport car, piloted by Brazilian Thomas Erdos, lept from fifth position to third as the pack entered Clervaux. His promotion was short lived however, as James Thompson and Yvan Muller fought back to reclaim position. There were mixed emotions for JS Motorsport and the Alfa 147s. Both cars made it to the starting grid having seemingly fixed the engine gremlins that have been plaguing the team over the last few rounds, but Ferrier was forced into the pit-lane after the warm up lap with steering problems. The team were quick to correct the problem and Ferrier was able to rejoin – all be it a lap down.
The Production pack was under way 27 seconds later and it was the Honda Accord of Simon Graves that made the better start to beat pole sitter Roger Moen to the first corner. Moen's team-mate and Championship leader Simon Harrison ran into immediate problems when his engine stalled and he was left on the grid.
Young gun Tom Boardman's race was short lived. The Peugeot 306 driver spun into the Chicane and the resulting damage put an end to his race. Officials rolled out the Safety Car whilst Boardman's car was removed, adding an extra four laps to the fifteen lap race distance, but the move resulted in frustration for some drivers as Yvan Muller explained: ''The original plan was that the Safety Car was going to let us past so that we could warm up the tyres and join the back of the Production group. We were warming up the tyres and I was about two seconds behind Bennett but then the Safety car waved us forward to race whilst I was holding back. At this point the race was done for me as I lost too much time.''
The HTML Peugeot of Simon Harrison was one of the few competitors to take advantage of the Safety car being out as he was able to rejoin the race, but it was short-lived and he retired a lap later. The Production battle started early with Simon Graves and Roger Moen fighting for the lead from the offset. Graves managed to hold position but the Peugeot was looked strong and dived ahead of Graves going into the complex on Lap 10.
The Touring teams were playing catch up to the Production pack and Phil Bennett was under pressure from the Vauxhall of Plato. Bennett was caught slightly off-line going into Tower Bend on Lap 7 – a mistake which Plato captilised on. The Vauxhall drive overtook his Team-Egg Sport Astra counterpart and began to gain ground on the Production pack. Bennett ran into further problems on Lap 11 and spun coming out of the chicane. He managed to rejoin but was now out of striking distance of a podium finish.
Yvan Muller was by now the fastest man on the track, setting the fastest lap of the race on Lap 8 with a time of 1 min 26.894 secs but it wasn't enough to pull back the gap between himself and team-mate Plato who went on to win the BTC Touring category. Plato was unable to catch the Peugeot of Roger Moen who crossed the finish line as overall race winner. It was the fifth time that the Production cars have won the Sprint race this season and the third time that HTML's Roger Moen has claimed top step on the podium.
Moen said: ''It's fantastic to hear the Norwegian anthem again. Graves had a very good start and got ahead of me on the first lap and then the Safety car came out. After I took Graves, I just eased away a little more every lap. The car is very good and the team have done a fantastic job.''
Birthday boy and GA Janspeed driver Gavin Pyper had cause for celebration after finishing the race in second position in the BTC Production class and an impressive fourth position overall. He explained: ''I had a good start to the race. I was dicing with Roger Moen and then the Safety Car came out and I didn't make the best of the restart. I caught up with Graves and he spun off at the Chicane. I spent the rest of the race just trying to catch Moen. He was really strong out there so catching him was impossible but it was good to come second and gain some points.''