BTCC » 22 September 2003
Season ends in style at Oulton.
Production class honours looked to be heading the way of Tom Boardman in Team Varta's Peugeot 307, but he cruelly suffered suspension failure and crashed out, gifting Alan Blencowe, in Barwell Motorsport's Honda Civic Type-R, his first win of the season. Barwell's Luke Hines, already crowned provisional champion, took second after a robust battle with Michael Bentwood, in Edenbridge Racing BMW 320i. Twice their cars left the circuit and Bentwood was later fined and had his racing licence endorsed.
The second race saw outgoing champion Thompson lead the race from pole position, but on lap 11 his car ground to a halt with a blown engine. This handed the lead to Muller, who had a fast-starting Neal – up from 12th on the grid – close behind. Try as he might, however, the Honda driver was unable to find a way past the new champion. Until the pit stops, that is …
Neal was the first to pit followed two laps later by Muller, and, as the Frenchman rejoined the track, he saw the Honda flash past into the lead. From there, Neal was able to control the gap to Muller for victory – an achievement that drew him level with Muller on six wins apiece this year. Turkington, one of the BTCC's future stars, completed his fine season with third position after a frenetic fight with team-mate Reid during which their cars swapped places six times.
“I drove every lap flat out and hoped Yvan would give up, but every time I looked in my mirrors he was still there. He just wouldn't go away!” said Neal. “This a terrific way to end the year, for everyone in the Honda team and it earns me third in the championship which I desperately wanted.”
Muller said: “When I saw Matt go by as I came out of the pit lane I was surprised because my stop had been very good. I knew from there it would be difficult to beat him. I drove my hardest but on the last lap backed off because I knew then I couldn't catch him.”
O'Neill put in a terrific drive from the back of the grid to come through to fifth, but was forced to settle for fourth in the final standings behind race-winner Neal, who was the only Honda driver to start the race. Morrison failed to make the start after his Civic Type-R cruelly suffered mechanical failure on the green flag lap, while Honda's third driver Tom Chilton was forced to withdraw from the event due to illness.
Howell was able to race to a second Hilton Independents Trophy victory in sixth overall, but Collard was more than happy to settle for second behind him in seventh, knowing it was enough to take the title. His task was made a lot easier when Kaye lost time and places with a spin in his Honda Civic Type-R. Collard was mobbed by his tearful team crew and family as he climbed from his car in the pit lane.
“This is the most important achievement in my career so far and I hope I've proved I deserve a drive with one of the factory teams in 2004,” said Collard, who is a multiple hot rod champion. He added: “I come from a background where there's plenty of spit and sawdust and for my team to have progressed to this level and won is a major achievement. I am delighted for every one of them.”
Production victory fell the way of Boardman, who ends the season with more wins than any other drivers in class – eight to Hines' six. Hines briefly got ahead of Boardman during their fight for victory before falling behind and then losing further ground as they were passed by the faster Touring Cars. Jim Edwards, forced to start from last on the grid after engine problems kept him out of the first race, fought his way through to third in class to give Team Varta a 1-3 result.
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