Vauxhall’s VX Racing team today secured the British Touring Car Championship manufacturers’ crown for the fifth successive year, confirming the British marque as the most successful BTCC competitor of modern times. The new Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch has scored eight race wins and 16 other top-three finishes in its first season of competition, beating Seat to the coveted manufacturer’s prize by 781 points to 629.
VX Racing’s star driver, Yvan Muller, claimed second place in the driver’s championship to series veteran Matt Neal. Muller amassed 273 points in the 30-race season, Neal 316 points.
Muller retained a mathematical chance of winning the driver’s title until the second of today’s three races, round 29 of 30, on the fast Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit. Muller had run strongly to second place in the day’s opening race, crossing the line two places ahead of Neal – but mid-way through race two Muller’s Vauxhall and Neal’s Honda brushed against each other while running side-by-side out of a corner and the collision punctured Muller’s offside front tyre. Muller was forced to make a pit-stop (on the seventh of the race’s 14 laps), which dropped him just outside the points in 11th place, while Neal was able to finish the race and take the crown.
With a shrug, Muller said straight afterwards: "There was light contact between us when we were running side-by-side onto the straight. I got a puncture, he didn’t. He was lucky, I wasn’t - that’s the story of the whole season."
Muller didn’t have any more luck in the third race of today, ending the BTCC season in the gravel trap on the outside of Paddock Hill Bend. Running immediately in front of Muller, Dan Eaves (Honda Integra) had been surprised by how early Warren Hughes had braked for the corner and had to brake early himself, with the result that Muller tapped Eaves’ rear bumper; Eaves lost control of his car and spun across the track, taking Muller off with him.
VX Racing’s best results today were delivered by Gavin Smith, who withstood pressure from newly-crowned champion Matt Neal to take third place in round 30, and ran strongly in second place for most of round 28, the day’s opening race, one place ahead of Muller - but the introduction of the Safety Car to the track on the 13th of 15 laps changed both their fortunes. Soon after the Safety Car returned to the pits and racing re-started, Muller passed team-mate Smith for second. Smith found himself on the disadvantaged outside line going through the tight Druids Bend and several other cars squeezed past him, demoting him to sixth, one place ahead of VX Racing team-mate Colin Turkington. Dan Eaves won the day’s opening race, with Jason Plato (Seat Toledo) third behind Muller. Plato won the next race from Eaves and Neal. Robert Collard (MG ZS) won the final race of the day and the year, from James Pickford (Seat Toledo) and VX Racing’s Smith.
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