British Touring Car Championship 2002 rounds 15 and 16: Knockhill. Story by TOCA News Team, images by Kelvin Fagan.
Andy Priaulx superbly converted pole position into a debut Green Flag 2002 MSA British Touring Car Championship race win for Honda Racing this afternoon in a thrilling, rain soaked feature race encounter watched by 11,500 enthusiastic Scottish fans. Earlier in the day, Matt Neal cast aside the bad luck that's plagued his Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupé for the last two race meetings to secure his third win of the season in a similarly sodden sprint race. But with Vauxhall Motorsport's James Thompson clocking up two third place finishes and team mate Yvan Muller securing a fourth and second place, the Vauxhall duo have maintained their advantage at the head of the drivers' points table. Thompson therefore goes into the penultimate race meeting at Brands Hatch in two weeks time with a 24 point advantage to Muller.
Local star Gavin Pyper gave the crowds an added thrill, by converting his double pole position into two authoritative race victories for GA Motorsport in the Production Class. And Barwell Motorsport's Aaron Slight retained his lead in the Independents' Cup despite a non finish.
Championship contender Matt Neal ended his recent run of bad luck this afternoon with a superb drive from third position on the grid to secure his third win of the season for Egg Sport in difficult wet conditions. MG Sport and Racing's Anthony Reid finished a fine second from current championship leader James Thompson, who did a great job for Vauxhall Motorsport to bring his success ballast laden Vauxhall Astra Coupé home in third.
"That was just great! However I did think my mechanical nemesis was set to strike again with about six laps to go, when my windscreen wipers packed up! That made things pretty difficult as it coincided with the rain getting heavier and it meant I had to back off a bit. I was very aware of where Reid was, so I couldn't back of too much – it certainly made for an interesting final few laps."
A heavy drizzle started to fall as the field lined up on the grid and, with no sign of abating, everyone changed onto wet weather tyres. Tensions were running high in the Honda Racing camp, for neither pole man Andy Priaulx nor team mate Alan Morrison had any experience of the Honda Civic Type-R in the wet around Knockhill. However the experienced Priaulx made a great start to head the pack into the first corner, followed by the fast-starting Neal, Morrison and Reid, as front row starter Thompson slipped down the order. Priaulx maintained his lead after an early Safety Car period, precipitated when Warren Hughes made contact with the barriers following a challenge on Team Halfords' Tim Harvey. The Honda Racing driver, who had built up a one second advantage to Reid in second, looked to have things in control, but Neal - who had lost places at the restart - was on a mission, overtaking Thompson for third on lap 14, then re-taking Reid for second a lap later. Now right with Priaulx, the Egg Sport driver got the run on Priaulx out of Taylor's Hairpin, subsequently taking the lead with a solid move through Duffus Dip. Priaulx found himself bullied down the order as first Reid, then Thompson found a way past – and over the course of the next couple of laps, the early race leader was demoted back down to seventh. Conversely, new leader Neal was on a roll, quickly pulling out a three second gap to Reid, who likewise had a good second in hand back to Thompson.
The combination of heavier rain over the final few laps and the up and coming feature race, scheduled for later in the day, resulted in a relatively static race finish for the leading pack. Neal therefore took the chequered flag by nearly six seconds from Reid and Thompson. Vauxhall Motorsport's Yvan Muller, carrying the maximum success ballast, had a good race to climb up from eighth on the grid, taking Morrison for fourth at the Glenvarigill chicane on the very last lap. Fellow Vauxhall runner Paul O'Neill for Egg Sport shadowed Muller all race to secure sixth place behind Morrison. An aggrieved Priaulx was seventh ahead of top Independents' Cup entry Colin Turkington for Team Atomic Kitten. Turkington's team mate, Gareth Howell, had enjoyed the advantage for the first two thirds of the race, before going off at Taylor's Hairpin on lap 19. Other casualties of the very difficult conditions included Barwell Motorsport's Aaron Slight, who locked up on the opening lap at the hairpin and sailed straight off into the gravel trap – and Team Petronas Syntium Proton's Phil Bennett, who was an innocent victim of Slight's over exuberance. Team PSP's David Leslie had a better race, recovering from a spin at Clark Curve to secure ninth ahead of Barwell Motorsport's Tom Chilton who battled through from 15th on the grid to finish tenth. Fellow back row starter, Carl Breeze, had a miserable time for Team Halfords, after contact with Chilton on the second lap bent his suspension and forced his retirement.
The Production category sprint race also produced a thrilling battle in the wet with Gavin Pyper, in his GA Motorsport prepared Alfa 156, taking his third win of the year just ahead off a charging Norman Simon, in his Edenbridge Racing BMW 320i. Beacon Motorsport's Spencer Marsh took the final podium position.
A beaming Pyper said:
"It was a good race, when it started to dry out Norman was getting a little too close for my liking, then it started to rain heavily again and I managed to pull out a bit of a gap, but it was a great race and more good racing for the Production cars."
Pyper led from start to finish, but Simon put immense pressure on the Scot, several times going into the notorious Duffus Dip side by side. In the end Simon had to back off when, with five laps to go, both his wipers and heater gave out, reducing his visibility to almost nothing, meaning that he had to be content with a comfortable second place.
Synchro Motorsport's James Kaye lost out on the start falling back from second to fourth, where he stayed for the remainder of the race, just ahead of his team mate Dave Allan who claimed a strong fifth. An unlucky Jim Edwards Jnr and his Team B&Q Jet York City were caught out by the late rain and disqualified when they changed the Honda Accord's tyres to wets after the five minute board had been shown. However, the team's bad luck meant that the reserve car of Alan Blencowe, in his Gary Alyes Motorsport Alfa 156, was allowed to start from the back of the grid - and Blencowe stormed through the field to finish a superb sixth.
The heavy rain also seemed to be causing problems for Tech-speed's Mark Fullalove, who ended up in the gravel twice. Unfortunately his second excursion, on lap 22, resulted in his retirement, incredibly the only Production casualty of the race.
A jubilant Andy Priaulx took overall honours for Honda Racing after a nail-biting climax to the 40 lap feature race, run in worsening wet conditions. Priaulx survived a last minute excursion to take the flag ahead of Vauxhall Motorsport's Yvan Muller and James Thompson and record Honda's debut Green Flag BTCC victory.
An ecstatic Priaulx said:
"We were awesome! We did struggle in the sprint race as we've had no running in the wet, but we made a lot of changes for the feature and we found the sweet spot. I pushed as hard as I could to get the gap back to the Vauxhalls then relaxed and only started pushing again when Muller started moving up. There's still more to come from the car which is brilliant and although I think we'll have our work cut out at Brands with the success ballast, I'm optimistic for another good result in two weeks time."
Heavier rain just before the start of the feature race resulted in the first five racing laps being run under the Safety Car. Once the Safety Car had pulled in, Priaulx made a good start to hold his pole advantage but it was soon all change as many of the leading pack chose to take their mandatory pit stop as early as possible. This left MG Sport and Racing's Anthony Reid heading Egg Sport's Paul O'Neill - and the affable Scouser was flying! A superb move on Reid down the inside into Taylor's Hairpin saw O'Neill take the lead, a lead he held for the next couple of laps before he dived into the pits for his stop, closely followed by Reid. Meanwhile, Priaulx had completed a very quick stop for Honda Racing and was sitting pretty in fourth, behind three drivers who had yet to stop. The last of those was Barwell Motorsport's Tom Chilton who was going great guns in the dreadful conditions and subsequently led a BTCC lap for the first time. But Priaulx wasted no time in dealing with the impressive youngster, taking the lead on lap 20 and gradually pulling away from the chasing Vauxhall Motorsport pairing of Muller and Thompson.
The Vauxhall duo, with one eye on the manufacturers' crown, engaged in a feisty but fair tussle for position throughout the race – but never looked like challenging Priaulx for the lead. Until the penultimate lap that is, when Priaulx caught some standing water at the Glenvarigill chicane and went grass-tracking for a few seconds in his Civic Type-R. Rejoining the circuit with just a two second lead back to Muller, Priaulx collected it all together and drove hard to the flag, to secure Honda Racing's debut British Touring Car win under the current regulations. Muller followed him over the line, some five seconds ahead of team mate Thompson, from Egg Sport's Matt Neal and O'Neill in fourth and fifth places respectively after a tremendous race long battle which saw them both take Reid over the final couple of laps. Reid was disappointed to finish sixth, citing a wrong call on set-up as the reason for his lack of pace; however he still fared better than his team mate, Warren Hughes, who aquaplaned off the circuit on lap 20. Chilton finished seventh overall and top Independents' Cup driver after a terrific drive which saw him display great race pace and maturity beyond his years in the conditions. Team Petronas Syntium Proton's David Leslie followed him home in eighth, from Team Halfords' Tim Harvey and Honda Racing's Alan Morrison who fought back from an early spin.
Other drivers in the wars included Team Halfords' Dan Eaves, who was caught up in a bizarre pit lane incident with Team Atomic Kitten's Colin Turkington, putting him out on the spot. Turkington was only to last another handful of laps, as contact with Chilton at Taylor's Hairpin also saw his retirement.
The excitement continued in the Production Class, with local Scottish driver Gavin Pyper, in his GA Motorsport Alfa 156, securing his second win of the day to match his earlier brilliant win in the sprint race. Edenbridge Racing's Norman Simon made it a matching pair of second places, and Tech-speed's Mark Fullalove claimed an excellent third place.
An enthusiastic Pyper said:
"To get two poles and two wins is fantastic. We actually had a chance to use a wet setup on the car for this race, instead of the dry one we had for the sprint race, and it handled brilliantly. At some stages I was actually trying to keep up with the Touring cars, but then I started to try too hard and had to slow down."
The race had to start behind the Safety Car for the first five laps, in an attempt to dispel the standing water on the track, but as soon as the Safety Car pulled off poleman Pyper accelerated away and never looked in danger of relinquishing his lead. His Alfa 156 handled so well in the conditions that he actually managed to finish 11th overall, ahead of three of the Touring cars. Second place man, Simon, drove a controlled race but once Pyper had raced away Simon never looked likely to catch him, concentrating instead on not making any mistakes on the treacherously wet track and securing the vital points to keep his championship dreams alive. Simon is now just 41 points behind championship leader James Kaye, for Synchro Motorsport, and is the only driver with a realistic chance of still catching him.
Behind Simon, Mark Fullalove drove an excellent race from third on the grid, keeping Kaye at bay, to claim a great third place and make up for the disappointing result from the earlier sprint race, which he failed to finish. Kaye had a battle on his hands to secure his second fourth of the day, eventually finishing just under a second ahead of the charging Graham Saunders, for GA Motorsport, with Kaye's team mate Dave Allan crossing the line a further ten seconds back in sixth.
GA Motorsport's Alan Blencowe was once again lucky to get into the race, as he was unable to qualify within the required 107% time. However, following the retirement of Touring Class driver Phil Bennett, he was allowed onto the back of the grid and he made the most of the opportunity, finishing eighth, despite having to take to the grass to avoid a spinning Jim Edwards Jnr, in his Team B&Q Jet York City Honda Accord, who recovered to finish a strong seventh.
Amazingly the only Production car that failed to make it to the finishing line was the unlucky Spencer Marsh in his Beacon Motorsport Honda Accord, who had to retire in the pits on lap 22.
Provisional championship points for the Production Class after 16 of 20 rounds (top six only): Kaye 161, Simon 120, Marsh 95, Edwards Jnr 84, Boardman 77, Pyper 70.
Provisional championship points for the Touring Class after 16 of 20 rounds (top six only): Thompson* 166, Muller* 142, Neal* 124, Reid 101, Priaulx 98, O'Neill 72 (*denotes engine change - minus 5 points).
Provisional championship points for the Independents' Cup (top three only): Slight 132, Eaves 124, Howell 109.
Provisional Sprint Race Results
1 Matt Neal GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
2 Anthony Reid GBR MG ZS
3 James Thompson GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
4 Yvan Muller FRA Vauxhall Astra Coupe
5 Alan Morrison GBR Honda Civic Type-R
6 Paul O'Neill GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
7 Andy Priaulx GBR Honda Civic Type-R
8 Colin Turkington GBR MG ZS
9 David Leslie GBR Proton Impian
10 Tom Chilton GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
11 Tim Harvey GBR Peugeot 406 Coupe
12 Dan Eaves GR Peugeot 406 Coupe
13 Gavin Pyper GBR Alfa 156
14 Norman Simon GRB BMW 320i
15 Spencer Marsh GBR Honda Accord
16 James Kaye GBR Honda Civic Type-R
17 Dave Allan GBR Honda Civic Type-R
18 Alan Blencowe GBR Alfa 156
19 Mark Thomas GBR Honda Accord
20 Tom Boardman GBR BMW 320i
21 Graham Saunders GBR Alfa 156
22 Annie Templeton GBR Peugeot 306
DNF Mark Fullalove GBR Peugeot 306
DNF Gareth Howell GBR MG ZS
DNF Warren Hughes GBR MG ZS
DNF Carl Breeze GBR Peugeot 406 Coupe
DNF Aaron Slight NZL Vauxhall Astra Coupe
DNF Phil Bennett GBR Proton Impian
Provisional Feature Race Results
1 Andy Priaulx GBR Honda Civic Type-R
2 Yvan Muller FRA Vauxhall Astra Coupe
3 James Thompson GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
4 Matt Neal GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
5 Paul O'Neill GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
6 Anthony Reid GBR MG ZS
7 Tom Chilton GBR Vauxhall Astra Coupe
8 David Leslie GBR Proton Impian
9 Tim Harvey GBR Peugeot 406 Coupe
10 Alan Morrison GBR Honda Civic Type-R
11 Gavin Pyper GBR Alfa 156
12 Aaron Slight NZL Vauxhall Astra Coupe
13 Gareth Howell GBR MG ZS
14 Carl Breeze GBR Peugeot 406 Coupe
15 Norman Simon GRB BMW 320i
16 Mark Fullalove GBR Peugeot 306
17 James Kaye GBR Honda Civic Type-R
18 Graham Saunders GBR Alfa 156
19 Dave Allan GBR Honda Civic Type-R
20 Jim Edwards Jnr GBR Honda Accord
21 Alan Blencowe GBR Alfa 156
22 Tom Boardman GBR BMW 320i
23 Mark Thomas GBR Honda Accord
24 Annie Templeton GBR Peugeot 306
DNF Spencer Marsh GBR Honda Accord
DNF Warren Hughes GBR MG ZS
DNF Colin Turkington GBR MG ZS
DNF Dan Eaves GR Peugeot 406 Coupe
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