26 September 2004
Muller masters race, Thompson takes title.
It couldn't have been much closer, and the final race of the British Touring Car Championship couldn't have been more of a nail-biter, as Yvan Muller took the final race of the day but James Thompson took the title by a single point at Donington Park.
Muller was into the lead early at the circuit making easy work of passing race two winner and pole sitter Tom Chilton, and the Frenchman was breaking away from the following Jason Plato.
James Thompson was squeezed onto the grass at the lights getaway but he was soon on a charge, into third place and setting the fastest lap on lap three. As Thompson set this lap, the crucial one in the championship, Muller had a 1.2second lead at the top of the field, but this was soon to be wiped out.
Michael Bentwood and Gavin Pyper had a coming together and the upshot was the red Audi safety car. The pack was right together and at the top was the then reigning champion, Yvan Muller, the 2001 champion, Jason Plato, and the 2002 champion, James Thompson.
The restart - for what would now be an eighteen lap race - was clean, but it was clear that Jason Plato had very definite intentions to pass Muller.
The Frenchman, in order to take the title, would have to maintain his position and also take the fastest lap of the race off Thompson. The VX Racing driving pairing would then be equal on points, but Muller would have five wins to Thommo's four. The only other hope for Muller was that Thommo could be displaced from third, but try though Dan Eaves did, the Civic in fourth was not close enough to challenge.
Muller had no hope of getting a fast lap in as it was defend all the way with Plato getting increasingly fiesty as the race went on to its conclusion.
The gap between the two ranged from a tenth to three tenths of a second. But then, eventually, Muller seemed to shake Plato as on the start of lap 16 the gap was over half a second. This, however, was not notice that Plato was falling back, but rather Plato setting up an attempt on Muller coming into the chicane.
Plato took the outside line for the jink right then pushed Muller into a sideways moment as they turned left. Somehow Muller kept it together and retained the lead. Plato's onslaught didn't stop there, though the SEAT man stopped short of punting the Frenchman off, which could so easily have been achieved by a man knowing the racing tricks like Plato does.
So James Thompson took the title in an epic season by a single point. Thompson leaves the BTCC for venues new next season, but Yvan Muller and Jason Plato remain. The build-up to 2005 starts here...
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