Vauxhall won this year's British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) at Scotland's Knockhill circuit on Sunday, taking enough points to secure the champion manufacturer's crown just as the series passed its halfway mark. A double win for Oxford's Jason Plato, ahead of his Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe team-mate Yvan Muller in the Sprint and ahead of Phil Bennett in the Egg Sport Astra Coupe in the Main race, puts him into a three point lead of the Driver's Championship.
Muller's Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe initially led the BTC Touring section of the 20-lap Sprint race, but pressure from team-mate Plato saw the Frenchman make a rare mistake in the fourth lap. Once ahead Plato clearly had the better pace of the two red and white Astra Coupes and took command of the remaining laps to take a maximum points score of the Touring win, pole position and fastest race lap.
Thompson swapped paint with Muller a couple of times to take points for third place, while Bennett recovered after a hard fifth lap punt from Steve Soper (Peugeot) and crossed the line fifth of the touring cars.
The Main race start saw Plato in the lead from Muller, Thompson and Bennett, but the brakes were soon on when a Production class car crashed blocking the track. The ensuing eight safety car laps extended the race to 45 laps and at the restart Thompson passed Muller as the erstwhile championship leader struggled with a power steering problem. As the race unfolded, Thompson was slowed by a similar problem, putting Bennett into second place and when he too struck the same trouble, Plato stormed away into an unchallenged lead, an eventual race win and number one place in the Drivers' championship.
Yvan Muller, Car 4, Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe
Sprint - 2nd; Feature - DNF
"That wasn't a perfect Sprint Race and I knew Jason was quicker. I made a mistake at the chicane and he used the opportunity. After that, I tried to push as much as I could to keep in touch with him but it was difficult. I'll have to try something different for the second race. There was a little contact with James (Thompson) but I've no complaints about that. In the end, I just didn't have the same traction as Jason which is something we'll have to analyse back at the workshop next week. It was a disappointment not to finish the Feature Race. I could feel there was something wrong with the power steering as Thompson came past me after two laps. It just got worse and when I came in for my pit stop I was forced to retire. It was great for the team and Vauxhall to have won the Manufacturer's title and I'm pleased to have played my part earlier in the year."
Jason Plato, Car 5, Vauxhall Motorsport Astra Coupe
Sprint - 1st, (Fastest lap: 55.423s); Feature - 1st, (Fastest lap: 55.334s)
"Really chuffed with the Sprint win, although I knew I had the pace. I made a bad start, I think it was a slight clutch problem and Yvan got ahead. I kept the pressure on him and when he made a bit of a mistake at the chicane after 3 laps I took him at the next corner. After that whenever Yvan got too close I just put in a bit of a fast lap to stay out in front. Pole, fastest lap and a win give me a good points score. That was a great result in the Feature race, ever since the Snetterton test we've just got letter, I just knew the race wins would come my way. It's a shame Yvan retired, now we're even on non-finishes. But the weekend is all about Vauxhall, it's a great win for them and for the Triple Eight team."
James Thompson, Car 9, Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe
Sprint - 3rd; Feature - 3rd
"I had quite a good start to the Sprint Race and a bit of contact with Yvan - he wagged his finger at me going down the straight afterwards! After a couple of laps though I was struggling a bit with brakes and I'm disappointed not to have been able to push more. You need to be spot on to beat these guys and I just struggled from the start and had to cruise over the finish. In the Feature race I was really just happy to finish and take some points, its kept me in the frame for the driver's title, but the best thing was Vauxhall winning the champion manufacturer's title - they have undoubtedly produced the best car out there."
Phil Bennett, Car 27, Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe
Sprint - 5th; Feature - 2nd
"Soper is a superb driver and he knows how to put people out of a race. That's two races he's done that now, he hasn't got the pace and he just lunges, but he lost out in the end - I finished, he didn't. Let's hope that in future we have a proper race. The Feature race gave me another podium finish, second this time and I think that was pretty good for me even though I had a problem with the power steering."
Mike Nicholson, Vauxhall Motorsport Manager:
"Its great to win the Manufacturer's championship, and to win so early in the season proves just how good the Astra Coupe really is. Everyone, the Triple Eight team and our drivers, have done a fantastic job this year. Vauxhall is elated at winning this title, especially after the lean couple of years we've just had in the BTCC. But it's not all over yet, there are still two more titles to be won. Things are close between the Vauxhall Motorsport and the Egg Sport teams and we will see a close finish I'm sure, but the drivers' championship looks like it's hotting up between our Astra Coupe drivers and they are completely free to fight amongst themselves for the title."
Sprint race (20 laps):
1 Simon Graves Honda Accord (P) 19:30.059
2 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Coupe 19:31.267
3 Gordon Shedden Ford Focus (P) 19:31.326
4 Yvan Muller (F) Vauxhall Astra Coupe 19:31.821
5 Simon Harrison Peugeot 306 (P) 19:35.425
6 James Kaye Honda Accord (P) 19:35.688
7 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 19:37.937
8 Thomas Erdos (BR) Lexus IS200 19:39.658
9 Phil Bennett Vauxhall Astra Coupe 19:44.700
10 Robert Collard Renault Clio (P) 19:53.993
FL: Jason Plato - 55.423/135.89 km/h - lap 5
Feature Race (45 laps):
1 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Coupe 48:06.648
2 Phil Bennett Vauxhall Astra Coupe 48:13.206
3 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 48:36.991
4 Steve Soper Peugeot 406 Coupe 48:48.139
5 Gordon Shedden Ford Focus (P) 48:15.958
6 James Kaye Honda Accord (P) 48:17.153
7 Simon Harrison Peugeot 306 (P) 48:29.061
8 Robert Collard Honda Accord (P) 48:32.872
9 Jim Edwards Jnr Honda Accord (P) 48:47.949
10 Roger Moen Ford Focus (P) 48:51.413
FL: Jason Plato - 55.334/136.11 km/h - lap 18
BTCC Drivers (after 14 rounds):
1 Jason Plato Vauxhall Astra Coupe 179 points
2 Yvan Muller Vauxhall Astra Coupe 176
3 James Thompson Vauxhall Astra Coupe 163
4 Phil Bennett Vauxhall Astra Coupe 106
5 Steve Soper Peugeot 406 Coupe 61
6 Dan Eaves Peugeot 406 Coupe 48
1 Vauxhall Motorsport 484 points (champions)
2 Peugeot 143
1 Vauxhall Motorsport 146 points
2 Team Egg Sport 127
3 Peugeot Sport UK 42
4 ABG Motorsport 18
5 JSM 15
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