Vauxhall’s VX Racing are looking to confirm their position as the most successful manufacturer team of modern times by clinching the Manufacturer’s title in the closing rounds of the 2005 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch this weekend. Mathematically, Vauxhall can fail to take the title; in reality, the British marque is hot favourite to seize the Manufacturer’s crown for the fifth consecutive year.
Brands Hatch has seen many British Touring Car Championship deciding races over the years and the finale to the 2005 season will be no exception. As VX Racing heads south to the Kent track this weekend, Yvan Muller, currently lying second in the Drivers’ Championship, will be pushing hard in his Astra Sport Hatch to close the 30 point deficit on Championship leader Matt Neal.
In the first of the weekend’s celebrations, Muller will make his 200th BTCC start on Sunday when he lines up on the grid for the first BTCC race of the day. With a total of 52 points up for grabs during the day, Muller will be aiming to capitalise on every point-scoring opportunity to take the 2005 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship title, though he acknowledges that it’s an outside chance.
VX Racing could achieve its 100th race win if Muller, Colin Turkington (Portadown, Northern Ireland) or Gavin Smith (Dublin, Ireland) take the chequered flag in first place in one of the three races at Brands Hatch. Muller has won six of the 27 races so far this season, Turkington has won two, while Smith’s best result is a 2nd place two weeks ago at Silverstone.
The British Touring Car Championship has not raced on the full-length Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit since 2002. Back then it was Vauxhall’s Yvan Muller who posted both the fastest qualifying lap (1m33.105s/100.54mph) and the fastest race lap (1m33.262s/100.44mph) in the championship winning Vauxhall Astra Coupe. At 2.62 miles in length, this is the longest and arguably the greatest circuit on the BTCC calendar.
With Muller’s Astra Sport Hatch heading to Brands Hatch with minimum weight (1150kg) and no weight ballast added, the Frenchman is eager to close the gap on championship leader, Matt Neal. Muller said, "We struggled a little at Silverstone but fortunately for me so did Team Halfords. It’s going to be difficult for me to take the drivers’ championship, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be trying. I’m looking forward to racing on the Grand Prix circuit, where I’ve been quick in previous years. It will be the first time that we’ve raced on that particular circuit with the new Astra Sport Hatch, so it’s going to be exciting."
Whilst Colin Turkington has not driven on the Grand Prix circuit in BTCC he is familiar with the layout. Colin explains, "I competed at the circuit back in 2001, although I’m sure racing in the Astra will be a different experience and one which I am looking forward to. I’ve won here previously at Brands Hatch and it’s a great feeling. If I can win here this weekend and claim Vauxhall’s 100th BTCC win, then it would be even better. I would certainly end the 2005 season with VX Racing on a high."
Third driver Gavin Smith is also a Brands Hatch race winner, taking his debut Seat Cupra Championship win on the grand prix circuit in 2004. Gavin’s confidence is strong after achieving his best result of the season at Silverstone last time out. The Dubliner said, "My second place at Silverstone was what I’d been looking for all season and it’s given me a taste for victory. I’ll be looking to go one step further on the podium this weekend and aim for my first race win. I’ve always performed well at Brands Hatch and I won a race there last year, so I’m optimistic for some good results."
It is highly likely that Vauxhall’s VX Racing team will leave the Brands Hatch circuit this weekend with the 2005 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship Manufacturers’ title. Only technicalities will mean that the team head home empty-handed.
Should one of the VX Racing drivers win at Brands Hatch this weekend, it would be Vauxhall’s 100th win in the British Touring Car Championship. John Cleland scored the first win on May 27, 1991 at Thruxton in a Vauxhall Dealersport Cavalier GSi. Vauxhall currently has 99 wins with Yvan Muller claiming a total of 36 and the most successful Vauxhall driver in the BTCC ever.
Yvan Muller will celebrate his 200th race in the BTCC series this weekend as he lines up on the grid for the opening race. Muller joined the championship in 1998 and currently has a total of 36 race wins. In addition to his title in 2003 he has been runner-up three times, in 2001, 2002 and 2004.
Yvan Muller holds the BTCC qualifying lap record for the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit, set in 2002: 1m33.105s at an average speed of 100.54 mph. Muller also holds the race lap record, 1m.33.262s (100.44 mph).
Gavin Smith and Colin Turkington arrive at Brands Hatch confident, as both have already competed on the Grand Prix circuit. They have competed here in the Seat Cupra Cup and the Ford Fiesta Zetec Championship respectively.Published 1 October 2005