22 September 2003
Season ends in style at Oulton.
Vauxhall's James Thompson and Honda's Matt Neal were the winners of Sunday's final two rounds of the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship in front of a 16,500 crowd at Oulton Park but it was France's Yvan Muller who was crowned provisional Champion.
There were also celebrations in the privateer Collard Racing team as their driver Rob Collard captured the Hilton Independents Trophy title, pending official confirmation. Vauxhall have also provisionally secured the Teams and Manufacturers titles to give them a third successive BTCC 'Triple Crown' in their centenary year.
In the first race, Thompson, the 2002 champion, led all the way from pole position in his Astra Coupe. He was followed across the line by Honda's Alan Morrison in second, but third place was more than enough to secure the crown for Muller.
“Of course I am very happy,” said Muller, “but more than that people can now stop asking me 'when are you going to win it'? It was very frustrating the last two years to lose the championship to my team-mates in the final rounds, but now at last I am champion. Maybe it will change my pay!”
Thompson said: “I'm happy to have won the race in quite dominant style, but of course I'm also disappointed to lose my title. I've had six pole positions this year but not converted enough of them into race wins. Yvan has won a lot of races so deserves to be champion. It would have been a crime if his name wasn't on the Champion's trophy some day.”
MG's Anthony Reid, who started second on the grid in his ZS, and Neal both challenged for the lead early on but were to hit problems. Reid was delayed during his mandatory tyre change pit stop, while a misfire on the engine of Neal's Honda Civic Type-R saw him drop back to 12th position and out of the points. Reid finished fifth, between team-mates Warren Hughes and Colin Turkington.
Neal's failure to score, meanwhile, came as consolation to Vauxhall's Paul O'Neill who retired from the race with mechanical problems. Their woes meant they would go into the final round still tied on points for third in the championship and with Morrison now just seven points behind thanks to his second place finish.
In the Hilton Independents Trophy, Gareth Howell, in Team Dynamics' Vauxhall Astra Coupe, finished a fine seventh to take his first win of the season. But all eyes were on the four-way title fight between Collard, Synchro Honda Racing's James Kaye, GA Motorsports' Carl Breeze and Team Halfords' Dan Eaves.
Collard it was who came out ahead in his Vauxhall Astra Coupe to finish eighth, while Kaye pulled off a stunning move around the outside of Eaves at the final corner to take 10th, behind the Petronas Syntium Proton Impian of Phil Bennett. Breeze, who had been in the running for victory early on, saw his title chances disappear when a drive-through penalty for a pit lane indiscretion dropped him to 15th overall as the seventh highest Hilton Independents runner. This meant the title fight was now between Collard and Kaye.
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