Snetterton proved to be a challenge for the VX Racing Astra Sport Hatch this weekend in the seventh event of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, with its long straights not suiting this year’s new car, but Yvan Muller used all his racing prowess to bring home the only podium of the day for VX Racing, with a third place finish in the final race of the day. Muller’s trophy winning finish rounded off consistent performances for the Frenchman with two fourth place finishes in the first and second races of the day. Young VX Racing driver, Colin Turkington, had mixed results with two seventh place finishes and a DNF due to mechanical problems. Gavin Smith also turned in solid performances with ninth, eleventh and eighth place finishes in races one, two and three respectively. With additional points for fastest lap times in the second and third races, Muller stays second in the drivers championship and with all three drivers adding to the points tally, Vauxhall remain in the lead of the manufacturers championship.
Saturday's qualifying session resulted in Muller as the lead VX Racing Astra Sport Hatch lying in fourth place on the grid for the first race, with Turkington lining up alongside him in fifth and Smith further back on the fifth row in ninth place. These start positions reflected the pace of the VX Racing team, as Muller summed up after the first race and finishing in fourth, "I think that was the best we could do. Our car is good through the corners but not quick enough down the straights. It is not a problem with the engine, it is more that the car is wide. We lose about two to three kph on the straight - it’s not much, but it’s too much."
Teammate Turkington started well, shadowing Muller and settling into fourth place until running wide on the last lap, which ended with the Irishman taking an excursion across the grass, some engine damage and a seventh place finish. Smith, meanwhile, started from ninth, moved up in the opening laps, but fell back to ninth in the closing stages.
In the second race, reduced ballast for Muller and Turkington was expected to help the straightline speed of the VX Racing Astra Sport Hatch, but neither driver was able to improve on their race one finish position. Muller held third spot for most of the race but on the last lap a tap on the rear bumper from championship leader, Matt Neal, challenging from behind sent Muller wide and Neal slipped through to take away the podium position. Turkington was unable to improve on his seventh place start position, saying after finishing seventh: "We are still struggling for overall pace as we don’t have the straightline speed. I hope to take advantage of the reverse grid for the third race to start near the front, and hope we can stay there!" Smith, after losing ground to the hard-charging SEATs was unable to claim tenth for the third race pole and forced to settle for eleventh.
The reverse grid for the final race gave Turkington a fourth place start, with Muller in seventh and Smith eleventh. Muller, with less ballast, was able to challenge the leaders from the start, quickly moving to second before dropping back to third which he was able to hold until the chequered flag. Behind Muller, Turkington was pushing hard until a broken sump put him out of the race after eight laps. Smith enjoyed the best result of the day for him with an eighth place finish. Smith reflected, "It was my best finish of the day but the circuit didn’t really suit our car. I hope I can improve at Knockhill which should be more favourable."
VX Racing team manager, Ian Harrison, added, "We knew it was going to be hard here, it’s our worst circuit, but Yvan has only lost three points to Matt Neal, which is pretty good. Yvan did a brilliant job, exactly what we expected of him. All in all I’m glad to have this one out of the way and get to some circuits where we can win." VX Racing leaves Snetterton lying first in the manufacturers championship and second in the team championship, with Muller second in the drivers championship, Turkington fifth and Smith in tenth place.
The 2005 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship is the first year of competition for the VX Racing Astra Sport Hatch. This year VX Racing will be aiming to repeat the triple-title winning success of the past four years and continues its title hunt at the next round of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Knockhill on 28 August.Published 8 August 2005