Rounds 19 and 20 of the BTC Championship delivered the catalogue of thrills, spills and excitement that has now become synonymous with the series - culminating in Steve Soper's Peugeot suffering engine failure whilst he was almost within sight of the flag.

Sprint Race

Yvan Muller increased his lead in the BTC Touring Drivers Championship by claiming his ninth win of the year in Round 19. Muller made a fantastic start to get ahead of pole-sitter Andy Priaulx by Old Hall. The Peugeot 406 of Steve Soper also had a good start to move from fifth to third position, ahead of Jason Plato.

Soper exuded experience and thrilled the crowds with a brilliant display of defensive driving and in doing so managed to hold both Plato and James Thompson at bay for four laps. Plato eventually made a move on Lap 5 which saw the Peugeot beaten, but it was clear that the VLR prepared 406 Coupe had broken new boundaries and undoubtedly had its strongest race of the season.

"Peugeot has made some great progress with the engine, it was a rocket ship off the line and I couldn't do anything about it really," admitted Plato. "It was good to see that the Peugeots were up there today. Steve has a good set up on the car and it was the strongest I've seen them. There's not a lot in it now and that has to be good for the championship."

Team Egg Sport's Andy Priaulx was the talk of the paddock. The Towcester based driver, who stood in for Phil Bennett for Rounds 19 and 20, proved his ability to fans and teams alike by qualifying on pole for both the Sprint and Feature races after getting in the Astra for the first time on Saturday.

Priaulx made a bad start however - a mistake which cost him the race as he let Muller through, but fought back to pressurise the Frenchman.

Muller explained: "I knew that after the start 30% of the job was done but I also knew I had a fight on my hands as Andy was quick and wasn't carrying any weight. I had to be very, very focussed to win and I think it was probably my best win of the season."

Priaulx then gave his version of events: "The wheels spun a lot more than I thought at the start but I've only ever started this car once before so it was a learning process. I hadn't driven the car on cold tyres before either so I'm really pleased with the result.

"My objective this weekend was to come into the team and do a professional job and I think I've done that," said the ex-Silverstone instructor. "Yvan drove a great race and I wasn't quite close enough to him to make a move but at least I brought the car home in one piece."

There were encouraging signs from the JSM camp who seemed to have fixed the engine gremlins that had dogged the team for the last few rounds. The Alfa Romeo 147s both finished with Tim Harvey holding off the Peugeot of Dan Eaves to finish in eighth.

In the Production Class, the HTML Peugeots of Roger Moen and Simon Harrison proved too competitive for the rest of the field as they led the race from the start.

BBC Top Gear presenter Tiff Needell also made a good start in his Team Kaliber Sport Honda Accord, which promoted him from sixth position to third as they approached Old Hall.

Needell was unable to hold position but didn't give up without a fight. The Ford Focusses of Gareth Howell and Mat Jackson filled his mirrors for much of the race before passing the experienced Needell on Lap eight.

Moen capitalised on his pole position and led the field throughout the 15 lap duration to claim his fourth win of the season. Team-mate Harrison was close behind in second with GA Janspeed's Gavin Pyper in third.

"I held my throttle to the floor but I did need to look after the brakes towards the end of the race and slowed down a little but I didn't have any problems so I should be good for the Feature Race as well," Moen said. "This win was extra good for me here today as I won here in May but it was taken away from me, but they can't do that today!"

Feature Race

Priaulx held position on the rolling start to lead the field into Old Hall corner. Plato was on his tail and pushing from the green light, defending his line well from team-mate Muller.

Lap two saw an incident involving the three leaders which forced the Safety Car out for five laps. Priaulx ran wide and Muller swerved to avoid contact. The Frenchman was off the track and was fighting for control of the Astra.

After spinning back onto the track, Muller missed the oncoming James Thompson by the narrowest of margins before coming to rest in the gravel. Muller's race was over and the new race distance was set at 33 Laps following the deployment of the Safety Car.

Plato capitalised on the chaos to emerge as the new race leader. Priaulx slipped down to second with Steve Soper in third. Plato was the fastest man on the track and was extending his lead lap by lap but the pit stops were looming and were to play an instrumental role in the race.

Priaulx looked to have overcooked the engine and the resulting smoke screamed major problems for the "fresher" and early retirement. Soper made a quick pit stop as did Thompson but there was disappointment for Plato who had a slow stop which lost him position.

To the delight of the crowd, Steve Soper emerged as race leader on his 100th BTCC appearance. Plato was on new tyres and was unable to challenge Soper at this stage of the race. Instead, the Oxford-based driver was holding a defensive line to try to keep Thompson at bay.

Soper's lead was increasing and a fairytale ending to the race seemed on the cards. Two laps on however, the fairytale was over - the Peugeot began to smoke and Soper, who had driven a superb race, was in trouble. The 406 driver was called in by marshals as the car began to drop oil on the circuit - race over and severe disappointment for Steve Soper.

"All credit to the Peugeot team as they executed a superb pit stop which gained me three seconds and put me out ahead of Plato and Thompson to give me the track position. It's a shame that I had to retire as it could have been our first win but I'm pleased with the progress we've made this weekend," said Soper with amazing composure.

Plato was in the lead once again and remained largely unchallenged to the end. James Thompson held on to second but there was consolation for the hard working Peugeot team when a jubilant Dan Eaves brought his 406 home in third position.

"I felt a bit sorry for Yvan today as nobody needs a DNF at this stage of the Championship," said Plato sportingly. "It's far from over, I had the advantage today but we've still got six rounds to go and it'll most probably go down to the wire and in many ways I want it to because then it will be a great end to a super Championship."

In the Production class, the HTML Peugeots were in a class of their own. They had clearly found the perfect set up for the cars this weekend and the rest of the field were unable to catch them. Moen claimed a double pole and a double win with team-mate Harrison in second. Gavin Pyper held on for third in the GA Janspeed Alfa Romeo in a race which was thrilling to watch.

GR Motorsport's Mat Jackson made a good start which pushed him up to fourth position. The Ford Focus lost momentum when the clutch broke, demoting Jackson to thirteenth.

Team Kaliber Sport's James Kaye, who was leading the Drivers' Championship coming into the weekend, endured a tough two rounds. An engine change forced him to start the Sprint race from the back of the grid whilst suspected gearbox gremlins meant he could only manage to finish the Feature race in tenth position.

Retirements were to follow with engine problems for GA Janspeed's Colin Blair. Jim Edwards Jnr also retired with mechanical problems - which was disappointing for the Croft Feature Race winner.

The Production Drivers' championship looks set to go down to the wire this season and the competition couldn't be closer. Simon Harrison leads the Championship with 177 points over Team Kailber Sport's James Kaye (168). Harrison's team-mate Roger Moen has narrowed the gap with his two race wins and now lies only one point behind Kaye with 167 points.

"It's excellent as now it will be a three way battle into Silverstone and we will all be running with similar ballast," said Harrison. "HTML prepared a faultless car this weekend which proved very reliable and I'm really looking forward to Silverstone."


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