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The Green Flag BTCC hit Hampshire this weekend – and what a show it put on for a bumper Bank Holiday crowd. Over 17,000 people witnessed a plethora of thrills and spills as the Touring car drivers went head-to-head for overall honours.

And at the end of two dramatic, hectic and supremely competitive races, three drivers left the circuit tied on points at the head of the championship table. Vauxhall Motorsport team mates James Thompson and Yvan Muller, who took a win apiece today, are now sensationally level with Matt Neal who drives for the sister Vauxhall team, Egg Sport. There can be no better summary of today’s two sensational Touring car encounters.

SPRINT RACE

A nail biting Touring Class encounter saw Vauxhall Motorsport team mates Yvan Muller and James Thompson thrill the crowds with a race-long battle for the lead – a battle eventually won by Thompson who became the first driver to score a brace of wins so far this season.

As Thompson said:

“It was a fantastic race – I thoroughly enjoyed it! I’m disappointed for Yvan as were were having a good tussle and looked set to have a good dice to the finish. And it’s always sad to see your sparring partner fail to finish the race. However, I’ll be carrying maximum ballast for the next race and Yvan will be hard to beat. I’ll do the best job I can and still fancy my chances of another podium finish this afternoon.”

Despite constant pressure from Thompson it was pole-sitter Muller who looked to have the race under control from the outset. A good start saw the two Vauxhall Astra Coupés head the pack, although Thompson initially had to defend hard from the charging MG ZS of Anthony Reid and Egg Sport’s Matt Neal. Although these four pulled out an early advantage, the squabbling Reid and Neal allowed the two lead Vauxhalls some breathing space and consequently set the scene for a titanic inter-team battle for overall honours. Lap after lap the two protagonists were on the limit around the super-fast Thruxton Circuit, with neither looking likely to make a mistake or give their team mate an inch! With just a handful of laps to go, the deadlock was broken as the works Astras started to lap their Production Class counterparts. Muller, who’d been forced to go off the racing line in traffic - subsequently picking up dirt on his tyres - had a huge moment at Goodwood Corner which gave Thompson the break he’d been looking for. Squeezing through into the lead, the two cars then went side-by-side into the chicane and although Thompson just held his advantage, Muller was all over him into the next complex. Launching their cars over the kerbs, Muller dived down the inside of Thompson, forcing the Yorkshireman into a big slide and although Thompson recovered brilliantly to retake the lead, Muller wasn’t so lucky. Clearly suffering with handling problems, a lap later the Frenchman went off the circuit and nudged the barriers, a legacy of broken front suspension.

Although now free of his team mate, the on track dramas had allowed the pack to catch up, so a commited final few laps were required from Thompson, who took the flag with just two seconds in hand.

Mirroring the terrific scrap for the lead, Reid and Neal had a monumental duel for second place honours. Neal, who grabbed second from Reid with a great move up Woodham Hill on the third lap, spent the rest of the race defending from the MG Sport and Racing’s driver. The hard-charging Reid never gave up the struggle, with both drivers frequently on the limit under braking and providing stunning entertainment. The experienced Neal wasn’t going to relinquish his position without a fight – and the equally experienced Reid just couldn’t find a way past. The Egg Sport driver held onto his advantage by just 4/10ths of a second at the flag.

Andy Priaulx capitalised upon a great start to score fourth place points – and his best result of the season - for Honda Racing, ahead of the Team Halfords pairing of Tim Harvey and Dan Eaves. It was a particularly good result for Halfords – Harvey collecting the Independents’ Cup and Eaves securing sixth place from last position on the grid after problems in qualifying. A disappointed Aaron Slight rescued seventh place for Barwell Motorsport, having run strongly in sixth before succumbing to engine problems.

The spectators at the Hampshire circuit witnessed what has to be the closest fought race in the Production category to date. Poleman James Kaye claimed his second win this year for Synchro Motorsport followed by Edenbridge Racing’s Tom Boardman in second position (only 3/10ths of a second behind) and Beacon Motorsport’s Spencer Marsh in third.

A jubilant Kaye commented:

“It was a very good race. I really enjoyed it. It seemed that everyone’s adrenalin was pumping like mad so it made for spectacular racing. I’m obviously very pleased at the result!”

From the off, poleman Kaye managed to maintain his stronghold over the Production pack and stayed up front for the first lap. Gary Ayles Motorsport’s Gavin Pyper managed to take second place from Mark Fullalove forcing him down the grid. The *** 320i of Boardman had a superb start, the rear wheel traction powering him from the back of the grid into third position. John B&Q’s replacement for the day, Peter Cate, also had a great start and pushed himself into the centre of the action.

On the second lap, Touring category’s Phil Bennett caused a commotion as he spun sideways at Goodwood blocking the Production front runners. Cate took the lead temporarily until Scotsman Pyper took full advantage of the mayhem to snatch the prime spot. Pyper held the lead until the start of lap eight but the 2001 Runner-up, Kaye, had made up time to find himself close to the rear bumper of Pyper’s Alfa 156 on lap four. The persistent challenger launched an attack on Pyper as he went wide into the complex and took the lead. Pyper refused to give up the silverware and the two were neck and neck to the last lap when he lunged at Kaye again going into the complex, taking Kaye’s Honda Civic Type-R sideways. Unavoidable contact from Kaye as a result forced Pyper off the track and out of the race. Boardman consequently moved into second place and Marsh, who had driven a consistent and strong race whilst carrying 42kgs of success ballast, took third.

The action was not only at the front of the pack, however, as lights were ablaze and sparks were flying in a constant battle for third place. A game of cat and mouse ensued throughout the race whereby what seemed to be the entire Production Class was racing three abreast door handle-to-door handle. A clean race was had by all but only those who could keep with the electrifying pace were able to add valuable championship points to their names.

FEATURE RACE

The longer Feature Race, with its mandatory pit stop for the Touring Class, generated a terrific battle for positions throughout the field. After his bad luck in the Sprint Race and at the previous Feature Race, poleman Muller must have had everything crossed over the final few laps as he went for his second win of the year. And it paid off – Muller heading Vauxhall Motorsport team mate Thompson by just half a second from Egg Sport’s Matt Neal in third.

A great rolling start by Muller was negated at the end of the opening lap when the Safety Car was deployed in the aftermath of an accident involving Barwell Motorsport’s Tom Chilton. When the Safety Car pulled off, five laps later, Muller made another good start to head Thompson, Neal and the following train - and with Vauxhall Motorsport calling Thompson in for an early pit stop, this left Muller comfortably out in front. Still ahead of Thompson once he’d made his own stop, Muller looked to have things under control, but with Thompson rarely more than a second adrift, the pressure was still on. With seven laps to go it looked as though Muller could be struggling as Thompson brought the gap down to just half a second, however he held onto the flag, and in doing so secured his second win of the year.

Explained a relieved Muller:

“That was a really difficult race after my pit stop. I felt a vibration in my front left tyre and so had to reduce my pace a bit and then the temperature shot up because of a water leak. Fortunately the engine lasted until the end of the race but it was tight! I’m really pleased with the team’s results this weekend – we have an honest fight in the team and it’s nice to race like that.”

Thompson, who was carrying 66kgs more than Muller due to his Sprint Race win and his team mate’s earlier retirement, was delighted with second place. As he said: “I’m really happy with today. I didn’t want to risk anything at the end as we just weren’t sure about tyre wear with the additional weight I was carrying.”

A titanic battle for third place was initially played out between Neal, Anthony Reid for MG Sport and Racing and the impressive Andy Priaulx for Honda Racing. However a frightening incident on lap 21 along the start-finish line, which saw Neal sandwiched between Reid and a lapped Colin Turkington for Team Atomic Kitten, resulted in Reid and Turkington firing off the circuit and into retirement. This left Neal to fend off the advances of Priaulx and Team Halfords’ Tim Harvey, who had dragged his Peugeot 406 Coupé up onto the tail of this battle for the final podium position. A cracking move by Harvey down the inside of Priaulx into Allard Corner on lap 27 promoted him to fourth and allowed him to set about chasing Neal. With just a lap to go, the trio were running nose-to-tail and each looking for a way past, but the wiley Neal held onto the flag, securing his second podium of the weekend, just half a second ahead of Harvey, who similarly crossed the line just 3/10ths of a second ahead of Priaulx. Harvey subsequently secured Team Halfords’ second Independent’s victory of the weekend. Rounding out the top six was Harvey’s team mate, Dan Eaves, who had been running strongly in fourth before a coming together with Priaulx on lap 23.

The non-stop action continued in the Production category with Synchro Motorsport’s James Kaye securing a superb second win of the day and a 13 point lead in the BTC Production Drivers’ Championship, over three seconds ahead of Gary Ayles Motorsport’s Alan Blencowe. Team B&Q Jet York City celebrated its second visit to the podium this year as Jim Edwards Jnr brought his Honda Accord home in third place.

Kaye said:

“Double pole, double win, what can I say? It’s been fantastic and we have only just started with the development of the car. We haven’t got the quickest engine and we have had very little testing but we have a very good package. The chassis is brilliant as is the team and every change we made today worked in our favour. Roll on Silverstone!”

Even carrying 42kgs of success ballast, poleman Kaye made a good start but it all nearly came to nothing on the opening lap as Touring Class youngster Tom Chilton found himself sideways in the middle of the track at Allard, subsequently causing mayhem to the Production field. Fourth placed Spencer Marsh, for Beacon Motorsport, slammed into Chilton’s Astra, ending his race, then Kaye and third placed Mark Fullalove, in trying to avoid the carnage, ended up half a mile off the track - both managing to rejoin the race at the back of the pack. The Safety Car was deployed and began its job of regrouping the field. Second placed Pyper had suffered substantial steering damage during the Sprint Race and was having handling problems even at this early stage of proceedings. The Scotsman came in to the pits twice to see if the problem could be rectified but lost valuable time and a strong overall position in the process.

Blencowe, Team B&Q Jet York City’s Peter Cate and Edwards settled into 1-2-3 respectively and once the racing resumed, Kaye began to pick off his rivals in front of him one by one from the back of the grid. On lap ten, Cate was forced into the pits due to an overheated tyre, which was replaced but on rejoining the fracas he could not make up the lost time. Kaye made his move on lap 14 taking third place from Edenbridge Racing’s Tom Boardman, who in a drastic move spun temporarily off the track knocking Fullalove’s Tech-speed Motorsport prepared Peugeot 306 out of the race.

Kaye managed to out-manoeuvre Edwards in his Honda Civic Type-R on the same lap taking his second place. The gauntlet was then firmly laid for a battle for third place between Edwards, Beacon Motorsport’s Mark Thomas and Gary Ayles Motorsport’s Graham Saunders but Edwards defended his line to the finish. The first place honours were also being fiercely contested with Blencowe finally pushed back into second position by a speedy and determined Kaye on lap 17. Harrogate based Kaye continued to lead the Production pack until the chequered flag was waved.
 

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