Brands Hatch - Yvan Muller narrowly missed out on pole position, and a valuable championship point, after finishing second quickest in the qualifying session for round 22 of the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship. Muller's VX Racing team mates, James Thompson and Luke Hines, will begin the first of tomorrow's three races in fourth and fifth places respectively. The qualifying result, and Muller's second place start, means that he remains just one point ahead of Thompson in the driver's championship.
A red flag in the opening minutes of the qualifying session did nothing to dampen Muller's determination; the Frenchman took to the track immediately after the re-start and instantly went to the top of the time sheets. Muller was soon deposed by eventual pole-sitter, Matt Neal, but the three VX Racing drivers remained in the thick of the action, with Muller, Thompson and Hines holding second, third and fourth positions for the first half of the session.
A charge from James Kaye towards the closing stages led to Hines and eventually Thompson each being demoted by one place. Hines could not improve on his fifth place and his Vauxhall Astra Coupe returned to the pits shortly before the end of the session having used his allocation of tyres. Thompson had to settle for a second row start despite setting the fastest lap of the day in the first free practice session. The final minutes saw Muller poised to strike for pole, but despite his blistering pace, the reigning champion could not steal the lead from Neal, and finished second quickest.
The three VX Racing drivers used the two morning practice sessions to fine tune their set-ups for both qualifying and race laps. In the first session all three drivers adjusted the balance of their cars and prepared for the weekend ahead. For the second session Thompson concentrated on race set up, while Muller set the pace and held the lead to the end. Third driver, Hines, finished the second practice session third quickest.
Yvan Muller, Car No. 1
"I am not very happy with the qualifying result. I didn't find the sort of lap that I wanted. At the same time I didn't find the balance to give me the chance to do a good lap. If I take one part of one lap and another part of a different lap, it would probably give me pole, but I didn't do it all in the same lap. At the moment the car is too hard to drive to do a very good lap."
James Thompson, Car No. 2
"I'm a bit disappointed because I was quickest this morning in the first session. I think the temperature probably played a part, but I'm not too upset. The cars in front of us are lighter and you can't overlook that fact, it is still a couple of tenths. I don't think I got the best out of it in that session. It is always close here, so it would have been nice to get pole position."
Luke Hines, Car No. 57
"I think that is probably the best qualifying session I've had so far this year, and in terms of the result it's also one of the best. Also, to be just a few hundredths away from James is good. We stopped early because we had got through our tyres. I just wanted to go as quick as possible, and maybe we did it all too quickly! I'm pleased with the car, and we're starting from a good position so it should be a good race."Published 23 August 2004