Bennett bitter as Plato powers past

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James Thompson and Yvan Muller took the wins in rounds 15 and 16 of the British Touring Car Championship as the in-house rivalry at Vauxhall turned bad-tempered in an action-packed night race here on Saturday.

Jason Plato, the championship leader, had taken pole position for both races and was still at the top of the standings at the end of the evening having finished second twice. The 33-year-old from Oxford is four points ahead of his Vauxhall team-mate Muller but had been at the centre of a series of controversial on-track clashes in the midnight feature race.

The relatively calm sprint race kicked off earlier in the evening in the gathering dark after a heavy shower had doused the Norfolk track. After front-row qualifier Phil Bennett had pulled off on the warm-up lap with transmission problems, the remaining three Vauxhalls battled out the first handful of corners before Muller established a lead from Thompson and Plato.

Thompson challenged hard until a Muller run-in with the slower BTC Production class cars tipped one into the Englishman's path, and that dropped him to third behind Plato.

All four Vauxhall men led the feature race and rookie Bennett looked to be the quickest of the lot, but when he passed Plato to take the lead, their cars touched and Bennett spun out of contention.

"He decided to have me off," complained Bennett, while Plato simply reckoned Bennett had: "bitten off way too much," in making his move. "He was already spinning when I hit him," added Plato.

A couple more body-bending encounters between Plato and Muller had the Frenchman musing: "If you want to push someone off, it's easy. I can do it as well, but I didn't yet."

The net result was that Thompson, who'd looked out of sorts in the early running, but pitted early to switch to slick tyres on the drying track, found his strong mid-race charge rewarded by the chance to pass his squabbling fellow Astra drivers. Thompson grabbed the lead and held on to win a race stopped early as the crashed Peugeot of Dan Eaves was in a dangerous position. Plato was second and Muller third after an alarming spin past Eaves's wrecked 406.

Simon Graves won the BTC production class sprint and the quasi-handicap format with his Honda Accord over the finish-line fractions of a second ahead of Muller. In the feature race Graves was again a contender, but was beaten into second place by Gareth Howell.

BRITISH TOURING CARS CHAMPIONSHIP (Snetterton) Feature Race: 1 J Thompson (GB) Vauxhall Astra Coupe 37min 17.912sec (27 laps, 84.78mph); 2 J Plato (GB) Vauxhall Astra Coupe 37:19.029 (27 laps) +1.17sec; 3 Y Muller (Fr) Vauxhall Astra Coupe 37:28.351 (27); 4 S Soper (GB) Peugeot 406 Coupe 38:15.112 (27) +57.2sec; 5 T Erdos (Br) Lexus IS200 38:22.181 (27) +1:04.269; 6 P Bennett (GB) Vauxhall Astra Coupe 38:31.503 +1:13.591; 7 G Howell (GB) Ford Focus 37:41.730 (26) +1lap; 8 S Graves (GB) Honda Accord, 37:46.070 (26) +1 lap; 9 M Jackson (GB) Ford Focus 38:12.927 (26) 1 Lap; 10 S Harrison (Gbr) Peugeot 306 38:16.677 (26) +1 lap.