James Thompson led from pole to chequered flag at the first race of the British Touring Car Championship at Thruxton today.
The VX Racing driver broke away from the field and was left unchallenged at the sweeping Hampshire track. Behind him was a very rapid Matt Neal in the leading Independents Cup runner. Thompson had made an early gap from him and those behind, but in the final laps Neal was reeling the Yorkshireman.
The start behind Thompson had seen plenty of action. Matt Neal had vaulted Anthony Reid and then taken Yvan Muller to go second, Tom Chilton was fifth with Jason Plato in the ETCC SEAT right with him.
Those not completing the first lap were Fairique Hairuman, Carl Breeze and Paul Wallace, whilst Colin Turkington had a big off, but was able to return to the track.
For Breeze, the reason for his departure from the circuit was very evident. “Michael Bentwood decided to drive into the back of my car at 100mph so I'm not happy,” said the Alfa driver.
It was disappointment for the third VX Racing driver, the No. 57 car of Luke Hines, who gained a puncture, changed tyres, then suffered a gearbox problem to mean he completed a mere 6 laps, so perhaps there is hope for the non VX Racing runners this season.
Thompson pushed on in the early laps to consolidate his lead and gain fastest lap of the race, though this tactic was to toast his tyres which were to go off in the latter laps.
“I pushed hard in the first half to get the fastest lap, and luckily we did, and I could see them squabbling behind, but we paid the price for it at the end, Matt was hauling me in, any more and he would have had me,” explained Thompson after the race.
Frenchman Yvan Muller drove a lonely race for most of the time, after putting pressure on Neal on the first couple of laps, the reigning champ dropped back, though he was kept honest by Anthony Reid in the WSR MG ZS.
The second race of the day features a reverse grid for the top ten, so the battle to be tenth turned out to be increasingly frantic. For most drivers it was a case of trying to work forward to tenth, but for BTCC returnee Jason Plato, there was an attemtpt to move backwards through the field on the final lap.