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British Touring Car Championship 2002 rounds 11 and 12: Croft. Story by TOCA News Team, images by Kelvin Fagan.

An enthusiastic crowd of 16,250 witnessed James Thompson and Yvan Muller claim a win apiece for Vauxhall Motorsport in Rounds 11 and 12 of the Green Flag 2002 MSA British Touring Car Championship, played out in glorious sunshine at Croft Circuit, near Darlington. But it was a case of mixed fortunes for the leading Vauxhall duo, with both drivers also adding a no-score to their points haul this weekend whilst lying second to their team mate. Despite the dramas, Thompson now leads the championship by 17 points from Egg Sport's Matt Neal and Muller.

Sprint Race
James Thompson emerged victorious from an incredible Sprint race encounter this afternoon to claim his fourth win of the season and in doing so shattered the lap record by over a second. His Vauxhall Motorsport team mate Yvan Muller was running a highly competitive second before bad luck once again intervened for the Frenchman, a puncture forcing his retirement on lap 18. David Leslie scored Team Petronas Syntium Proton's best result of the season in second, from a delighted Colin Turkington, who drove brilliantly to gain Team Atomic Kitten's debut BTCC podium finish and secure overall Independent Cup honours.

Thompson admitted:
"That was fast and furious stuff! We're back to the level of competition you used to see in the BTCC – it's so high that you can't afford a single mistake. Yvan and I were both pushing on as fast as we dared and we both wanted to win. I'm sorry for his puncture because it's always nicer to beat your team mate on the track, but it was a relief to see it happen! Although neither Yvan nor Matt Neal finished, there's going to be no let up on the pressure – my focus now is to try and do it again in the next race."

Thompson and Muller looked in control from the start, with the Yorkshireman retaining his pole advantage for the first part of the race. The complexion of the race changed on lap eight, when Paul O'Neill suffered a fiery moment as he ripped the oil sump off his Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupé over the kerbs at Clervaux, laying a huge trail of oil and bringing out the Safety Car. Although the main pack proceeded to endure a plethora of incidents and dramas, Thompson and Muller pulled out an immediate advantage at the restart - and Muller, who had been suffering from high water temperature at the start of the race, now looked ready to pounce at any time. However, once the disconsolate Frenchman had pulled off with his puncture with just two laps to go, it left Thompson to cruise to the flag and an increased championship points lead.

A titanic battle of attrition was played out for the remaining podium positions and no one driver escaped without battle scars in one of the most frantic and enjoyable races of the year. MG Sport and Racing's Anthony Reid looked set to claim Muller's second position - having staved off the race-long advances of Honda Racing's Alan Morrison, Matt Neal for Egg Sport, his MG team mate Warren Hughes and Team Halfords' Dan Eaves - however he suffered a tyre blow-out on lap 16, being forced to retire. Hughes, who was lying in a strong fourth place at the time, had a braking problem and consequently followed Reid straight off the circuit at Clervaux; although able to rejoin in third, he had suffered damage which subsequently forced him to relinquish positions. In the meantime, Leslie had slung his Proton Impian past Alan Morrison's Honda Racing Civic Type-R, closely followed by young Turkington. With Muller's retirement, Leslie secured the Runner-up spot, less than one second ahead of the impressive Atomic Kitten driver, Turkington being followed over the line by Honda Racing's Andy Priaulx, who had negated his tremendous second row grid position with a spin on the opening lap.

The Sprint race also produced scarred cars and battered egos in the Production category. Edenbridge Racing's Norman Simon claimed his third win of the season at the demanding Northern circuit, just over 6/10ths of a second ahead of Harrogate based James Kaye in his Honda Civic Type-R. Gary Ayles Motorsport's Alan Blencowe took the last podium finish, his third this year.

Simon commented:
"It was great to be back on the podium and to take a win. I was pushing 100% to keep up with Kaye and was determined to give it my best. My luck was in today, which it wasn't last time out at Mondello Park and I just managed to take the win from James over the finish line. We have worked hard and I think we deserve it."

Clutch grip and wheel spin managed to demote poleman Kaye to fifth from the off. In comparison Simon had a great start to the race in his BMW 320i and took the lead. Gary Ayles Motorsport's Gavin Pyper held his second position and was putting immense pressure on the German to surrender his lead. Kaye had promptly made his way to rejoin the front runners and sat in third.

Just before the fourth lap Pyper sped past Simon's BMW and began to break away from the pack. Whilst the Production boys were finishing lap seven the Safety Car was deployed for a Touring car incident, which bunched the field together. A black cloud then descended over Pyper's Alfa 156 as his engine began to overheat and on the re-start of the race it cut out. The eager Kaye took advantage of the situation and launched himself into first place just ahead of Simon. Blencowe also used this window of opportunity to power his Alfa 156 into third. Kaye established a comfortable lead but it was not long before Simon had caught him up. Kaye was losing power due to gearbox problems resulting in the two protagonists racing nose to tail for the remainder of the race. Temperatures were rising but it was Simon who was victorious, as Kaye, who was carrying 30kgs more than the rest of the class, could no longer defend his line. Kaye took second and Blencowe third.

Feature Race
Yvan Muller overcame a lengthy pit stop and a concerted challenge from Honda Racing's Andy Priaulx to put the disappointment of the Sprint race firmly behind him and score his fourth win of the season. Priaulx, who led for several laps after the pit stops, drove a fantastic race to secure Honda Racing's first podium finish of the year, from the resurgent Anthony Reid in third for MG Sport and Racing.

Said Muller:
"That was a really tough race because my water temperature began to rise again within a few laps and that made me really nervous. But in the end we won and that's the most important thing. I have to say that the team did a fantastic job to change my engine between the races and I'm delighted to get this result for them."

Although Thompson would subsequently retire from the race on lap eight, Muller got the jump on his pole-sitting team mate at the start, making a great move into Tower to claim an early lead. From there on in Muller looked in control, but it nearly all went wrong as the round of pit stops began, the Frenchman getting caught in traffic in the pitlane and then delayed as the mechanics fought to secure a wheel nut. Indeed, once all the Touring cars had completed their pit stops, Muller found himself behind the Honda Civic Type-R of Andy Priaulx. Although Priaulx defended stoutly, he was soon trailing his rear bumper – the legacy of an over ambitious Muller at the Hairpin – and the flying Vauxhall Astra Coupé went through into the lead under braking at Tower corner on lap 12. Despite increased pressure from Priaulx towards the end of the race, Muller never looked really troubled, taking the flag with 1.5 seconds in hand.

Priaulx was understandably delighted with his result, Honda Racing's first podium finish under the new BTCC regulations:

"That was brilliant! I was really pleased with the pit stop and thought I had a chance of keeping the lead. However I didn't want Yvan and I to hold each other up - and with him running without any success ballast, it was always going to be hard to keep the advantage. But still a fantastic result for the team!"

Team mate Alan Morrison was desperately unlucky not to make it two Hondas in the top four. Having run line astern for much of the race, he was lying in a very competitive fourth position behind Anthony Reid for MG Sport and Racing when his throttle cable snapped with three laps to go.

In securing MG's sole podium finish of the weekend, the usually ebullient Reid was somewhat downcast, citing a trip to the gravel trap in the Sprint race as the possible reason behind a lack of sparkle in his engine. Team mate Warren Hughes languished down in 11th after gearbox dramas.

Fourth and top Independent was Dan Eaves for Team Halfords, following a terrific drive from eighth on the grid, although Colin Turkington in his Team Atomic Kitten MG ZS made him work for it, claiming a solid fifth place from Egg Sport's Paul O'Neill in sixth.

O'Neill's team mate and championship leader prior to Croft, Matt Neal, had another miserable race, clocking up his second retirement of the day whilst lying fourth - and, in doing so, relinquishes the series lead to rival Thompson.

The thrills and spills continued in the Production Class in the 25 lap Feature race. Edenbridge Racing's Norman Simon claimed his second win of the day, yet again followed by Synchro Motorsport's James Kaye. Third position went to Beacon Motorsport's Spencer Marsh, a man who has visited the podium at every race meeting this season.

A beaming Simon said:
"I am very happy today. I actually didn't have to add the 42kgs of success inherited from the Sprint race to my car as we were overweight anyway. Despite this the car ran really well during the race. My aim was to open up a gap between James and myself. James was overloaded with success ballast so it made my job easier. But this game can be all about luck - on the out lap after the chequered flag was waved my clutch failed so one more lap and I wouldn't have made it. But the team has done a superb job throughout the week so all thanks to them."

Poleman Pyper did not start the race as an earlier problem with his Alfa 156's engine could not be solved before the start of the race. Simon powered his BMW 320i past Kaye and into the lead from the off. Kaye was charging behind him and Tech-speed Motorsport's Mark Fullalove was close behind. But the Lotus Elise Champion's luck was out once more as his gearbox went forcing him to retire his Peugeot 306 from the action. Marsh seized the moment and took third place. Gary Ayles Motorsport's Alan Blencowe was just shy of Marsh but he was also forced out of play due to clutch problems.

So the order remained Simon, Kaye and Marsh from lap five until the finish. Kaye had lost valuable time in the early part of the race when two Touring cars pulled out onto the track after their pit stops, forcing his Honda Civic Type-R to dive temporarily into the gravel at Clervaux. The gap between Kaye and Simon was then too big for the Synchro Motorsport driver to recover.

At just over half way through the championship, the battle looks set to go down to the wire with Kaye sitting on 119 points in the BTC Production Drivers' Championship and both Marsh and Simon on a comfortable 82 points each. Team B&Q Jet York City's Jim Edwards Jnr, who drove his Honda Accord home in fourth place in the Feature race today, is still in the fray with 80 points.

Provisional championship points for the Touring Class after 12 of 20 rounds (top six only): Thompson 118, Neal 101, Muller 98, Reid 74, Priaulx 66, O'Neill 65.

Provisional Sprint Race Results
1 James Thompson GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
2 David Leslie GBR Proton Impian
3 Colin Turkington GBR MG ZS
4 Andy Priaulx GBR Honda Civic Type-R
5 Warren Hughes GBR MG ZS
6 Alan Morrison GBR Honda Civic Type-R
7 Aaron Slight NZL Vauxhall Astra Coupe
8 Carl Breeze GBR Peugeot 406 Coupe
9 Dan Eaves GR Peugeot 406 Coupe
10 Norman Simon GRB BMW 320i
11 James Kaye GBR Honda Civic Type-R
12 Phil Bennett GBR Proton Impian
13 Alan Blencowe GBR Alfa 156
14 Graham Saunders GBR Alfa 156
15 Dave Allan GBR Honda Civic Type-R
16 Jim Edwards Jnr GBR Honda Accord
17 Mark Fullalove GBR Peugeot 306
18 Tom Boardman GBR BMW 320i
19 Annie Templeton GBR Peugeot 306
DNF Yvan Muller FRA Vauxhall Astra Coupe
DNF Gareth Howell GBR MG ZS
DNF Tim Harvey GBR Peugeot 406 Coupe
DNF Matt Neal GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
DNF Anthony Reid GBR MG ZS
DNF Tom Chilton GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
DNF Gavin Pyper GBR Alfa 156
DNF Spencer Marsh GBR Honda Accord
DNF Paul O'Neill GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
DNF Mark Thomas GBR Honda Accord

Provisional Feature Race Results
1 Yvan Muller FRA Vauxhall Astra Coupe
2 Andy Priaulx GBR Honda Civic Type-R
3 Anthony Reid GBR MG ZS
4 Dan Eaves GR Peugeot 406 Coupe
5 Colin Turkington GBR MG ZS
6 Paul O'Neill GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
7 David Leslie GBR Proton Impian
8 Phil Bennett GBR Proton Impian
9 Gareth Howell GBR MG ZS
10 Aaron Slight NZL Vauxhall Astra Coupe
11 Warren Hughes GBR MG ZS
12 Carl Breeze GBR Peugeot 406 Coupe
13 Norman Simon GRB BMW 320i
14 James Kaye GBR Honda Civic Type-R
15 Spencer Marsh GBR Honda Accord
16 Jim Edwards Jnr GBR Honda Accord
17 Mark Thomas GBR Honda Accord
18 Annie Templeton GBR Peugeot 306
DNF Alan Morrison GBR Honda Civic Type-R
DNF Matt Neal GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
DNF Alan Blencowe GBR Alfa 156
DNF Tom Chilton GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
DNF Graham Saunders GBR Alfa 156
DNF Tim Harvey GBR Peugeot 406 Coupe
DNF James Thompson GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
DNF Mark Fullalove GBR Peugeot 306
DNF Tom Boardman GBR BMW 320i
DNF Dave Allan GBR Honda Civic Type-R

Kelvin Fagan, our BTCC photographer, has photographs from every round of the 2002 championship for sale - send us an email for your exact requirements.

2002 BTCC season calendar
30/03 - 01/04 - Brands Hatch GP by KF
20/04 - 21/04 - Oulton Park by KF
05/05 - 06/05 - Thruxton by KF
01/06 - 03/06 - Silverstone by KF
21/06 - 23/06 - Mondello Park by KF
13/07 - 14/07 - Croft by KF
27/07 - 28/07 - Snetterton by KF
10/08 - 11/08 - Knockhill by KF
25/08 - 26/08 - Brands Hatch Indy by KF
20/09 - 22/09 - Donington Park by KF


James Thompson won the Sprint but did not finish the Feature. Image by Kelvin Fagan. Click here for a larger image. Yvan Muller won the Feature race. Image by Kelvin Fagan. Click here for a larger image. Colin Turkington did well in his MG to take 3rd in the Sprint and 5th in the Feature. Image by Kelvin Fagan. Click here for a larger image. Andy Priaulx was 4th in the Sprint and a fantastic 2nd in the Feature - showing the pace of the Honda. Image by Kelvin Fagan. Click here for a larger image. Anthony Reid was 3rd in the Feature. Image by Kelvin Fagan. Click here for a larger image. Dan Eaves was only 9th in the Sprint, but a creiditable 4th in the Feature. Image by Kelvin Fagan. Click here for a larger image. Warren Hughes was 5th in the Sprint and 11th in the Feature (seen here behind his team mate). Image by Kelvin Fagan. Click here for a larger image. Andy Morrison was 6th in the Sprint but did not finish the Feature. Image by Kelvin Fagan. Click here for a larger image. Aaron Slight finished 7th in the Sprint and 10th in the Feature. Image by Kelvin Fagan. Click here for a larger image. Gareth Howell was 9th in the Feature. Image by Kelvin Fagan. Click here for a larger image. Norman Simon finished 10th overall in the Sprint and 13th in the Feature. Image by Kelvin Fagan. Click here for a larger image. The podium for the Feature race - Vauxhall are not quite as dominant as they were. Image by Kelvin Fagan. Click here for a larger image.
 

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