Fifteen years ago today (September 22nd), the British Touring Car Championship yet again came down to the wire for the second race of the Donington Park finale.
On this day in... 2002
The showdown for the Drivers’ title featured Triple 8 Vauxhall Astra duo James Thompson and Yvan Muller, both bidding to lift their first crown.
Ahead of the two races on the Donington Grand Prix circuit, Englishman Thompson and Frenchman Muller were tied on five race wins in the BTC-spec Astras that had replaced the Super Touring-spec Vectras at the start of 2001, but Thompson had thrown down the gauntlet by winning the 20-lap Sprint race earlier in the day to take a 10-point advantage into the Feature-race decider. Muller could only manage fifth in the Sprint so had much work to do to overhaul his team-mate.
The pair would start from third and fourth on the grid for the crucial race, Thompson edging Muller by just two-tenths of a second. His advantage was negated after a slow getaway from the rolling start and he fell back several places.
Muller’s only option, meanwhile, was to fight his way to the front to try to build a gap between him and his adversary. And it true Muller style he did just that.
Sadly for the driver of the #2 Astra, the typically robust manoeuvres in the ever-competitive BTCC would be costly. He appeared to survive contact with Matt Neal in another of the Triple 8 Astras, the Egg-liveried machine, and fought back up into the lead battle after falling back. It wasn’t long though before the car pitted, Muller complaining on the radio that the suspension was damaged after more contact.
Muller got out of the car and walked to the back of the garage as the title slipped from his grasp for the second consecutive time.
Thompson heard the news over the radio and punched the air as he passed the pits, knowing that with Muller on the sidelines he’s champion. Running just inside the top 10, he was in cruise-and-collect mode as the team told him just to enjoy himself.
After making his compulsory pitstop for tyres Thompson got stuck in regardless, enjoying a scrap over third, fourth and fifth with Neal and Paul O’Neill in the second Egg Astra.
In the late stages of the 27-lap race, Neal retired with engine failure, while O’Neill, who had managed to outbrake Thompson into the Esses, spoiled it for himself by running off-track and dropping to fifth.
The new champion crossed the line in the third to guarantee title celebrations up on the podium, a whisker ahead of poleman Andy Priaulx in the Honda Civic. Second went to the MG ZS of Warren Hughes, while Priaulx’s team-mate Alan Morrison stayed out of trouble to notch his maiden BTCC win.
British Touring Car Championship – Donington Park, round 20
1 Alan Morrison (GB) – Honda Civic Type-R, 27 laps
2 Warren Hughes (GB) – MG ZS, +12.71s
3 James Thompson (GB) – Vauxhall Astra Coupé, +23.00s
4 Andy Priaulx (GB) – Honda Civic Type-R, +23.11s
5 Paul O’Neill (GB) – Vauxhall Astra Coupé, +28.30s
6 David Leslie (GB) – Proton Impian, +33.81s
Photography courtesy of LAT Images
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