It's almost inconcievable that the 2004 British Touring Car Championship could ahve been any closer. Not only did the title go down to the last race, it could have been decided as late as the very last lap with a point being available for the fastest lap in the BTCC's final race this season.

In the end James Thompson, who is leaving the series for pastures new, retained the final race's fastest lap and became the 2004 Green Flag British Touring Car Champion, beating Vauxhall team-mate Yvan Muller to the crown.

Muller won the epic final race of the season but Thompson finished third, with that bonus point for setting the fastest lap meaning a very happy Yorkshireman at Donington Park.

WSR MG driver Anthony Reid became the HarrierZeuros Independents Trophy champion and, for the fourth consecutive year, whilst Vauxhall and its competition brand VX Racing have lifted the BTCC's Manufacturers' and Teams' titles.

Thompson's title came after arguably the closest ever finish to a BTCC season. In the first of Sunday's final three rounds he finished second to open out a 13-point lead over Muller at the top of the championship. Muller finished the race only seventh after he was controversially forced off the track trying to pass Thompson.

In the second race, however, Muller struck back with second place, while Thompson was fifth meaning the gap between them going into the day's final round was down to six points. The outcome of the race and, ultimately, the title balanced on a knife edge throughout.

Victory in the race for Muller, his fifth of the season, and third for Thompson meant they were effectively tied on points. In that case, Muller would have retained his 2003 Champion's trophy thanks a greater number of wins than Thompson. However, 2002 Champion Thompson's vital fastest lap earned him the bonus point he needed to reclaim the title that Muller took away from him last year. Thompson's fastest lap was also a race lap record around Donington's shorter National circuit for modern-era BTCC cars.

The fact that just one point separated Thompson and Muller at season's end is proof of how close their fight for title glory has been in 2004. SEAT Sport UK driver Plato's second place in the final round also meant the season ended with the BTCC's last three Champions standing on the podium - he won the title with Vauxhall in 2001.

"This is absolutely fantastic, I'm so, so emotional," said Thompson, clutching his champion's trophy. "I had a feeling Yvan would win the race as he always pulls it out of the bag when he needs to, but once I'd got fastest lap I knew third was good enough.

"Yvan is class and, well, one point in it ... what more can I say about him? The BTCC is a fantastic series. It's given me so much pleasure over the years and is going from strength to strength so this is fantastic."

Muller was sporting in defeat and at least has the consolation of ending the season with more wins than team-mate Thompson. Indeed, his win Sunday was his first since Mondello Park back in June. "Yes, it's disappointing to finish only one point behind, but that's life, that's racing. We finished first and second four years in a row and that's fantastic for Vauxhall."

Plato's second place in the final round guaranteed he finished third in the final points standings. He had won the opening race after starting from pole position, although had to concede first place on the opening lap to Thompson - whose bonus point for leading also had a critical bearing on the championship standings. Plato was quick to re-pass Thompson, though, and, aided by the fastest lap, drew clear for his seventh victory of the season - more than any other driver has achieved in 2004.

Finishing tenth in the opening race to earn pole position for the day's second race - thanks to the top ten reversed grid rule - was Plato's SEAT team-mate Robert Huff. But it was Team Honda's Tom Chilton, starting from second on the grid, who forced his way into a lead he would hold until the chequered flag for his second win of the season.

Chilton, at 19 years old the BTCC's youngest driver, needed to keep cool in the closing stages for closing on him was Muller, who set the fastest lap.

Reid's success in the Independents Trophy was sealed after the second race. In the opening race, Independents victory went to Reid's WSR team-mate and only realistic title rival Colin Turkington when he finished third overall having swapped positions continually with second-placed Thompson. Computeach Racing with Halfords Honda driver Dan Eaves then took Independents wins in the second and third races with third and fourth place finishes overall.

Eaves' results mean he has beaten beat team-mate Matt Neal by one point to third in the final Independents standings. Neal disastrously suffered retirements in all three races today, his only highlight coming when he led the opening seconds of the first race before contact from Thompson sent him off the track. Thompson was later fined and had his competition licence endorsed for the incident.

Vauxhall's and VX Racing's Manufacturers and Teams successes were, in the end, achieved by considerable margins, although each was pushed hard during the season, such has been the growing strength of the opposition. Honda, with its official team plus Computeach Racing with Halfords, racked up enough points to finish second in the Manufacturers' standings ahead of SEAT in third. But it was SEAT Sport UK, in its first BTCC season, which pushed VX closest for the Teams' crown. Strong points finishes for Reid and Turkington today enabled WSR to hold onto third in the Teams' championship ahead of Computeach Racing with Halfords.

What a year...