Thompson takes title by the narrowest margin
Monday 27 September 2004
James Thompson won the British Touring Car Championship by a single point from his Vauxhall team-mate Yvan Muller after a tense final three races in the series yesterday. "It was a bit emotional," Thompson said. "There was a bit of a tear in the eye." It was the Yorkshireman's last race for the team - and in the Championship.
A point-earning fastest lap in the last race of the season, which Muller won despite intense pressure from the 2001 champion Jason Plato in the SEAT, earned Thompson the title. The other race winners were Plato and Honda's Tom Chilton, but the real story was the battle between Thompson and Muller for the title. By and large the pair have got along well over four years in the same team, but they fell out after an on-track clash at Brands Hatch last month.
Controversy kicked off as predicted in race one, with Thompson in the thick of it. First he pitched the race-leader Matt Neal off at the Old Hairpin on lap one and then he clashed with Muller on lap two. Plato, recovering from a botched start, passed Thompson into Redgate corner and Muller tried to follow him through. That meant running side-by-side down the fearsome Craner Curves. It was no surprise that Muller, on the outside, ended up flirting with the gravel trap at the next corner - the Old Hairpin.
Muller dropped to 14th place, but at the flag the Frenchman was seventh - 13 points down on Thompson, but with a better grid position for the next race and less success-ballast than his title rival.
Muller halved the points difference with a hard-earned second place in race two, as Thompson finished fifth. The win went to the 19-year-old Chilton, who got a good break in traffic early on to build a substantial lead. Muller battled with Dan Eaves' Honda for several laps and then reeled in Chilton, who just kept ahead to the flag. Eaves was third.
Muller took the lead of the last race from Chilton midway round the first lap but Plato was soon on his tail. Muller drove a perfect defensive race though and stayed ahead even when Plato upped the ante with a series of taps that unsettled Muller's Astra over the last two laps.
Muller won, but Thompson was sitting pretty in third place, which with his fastest lap point kept him one point ahead in the final standings. "I did all I could," was all Muller - who will be back with Vauxhall for another season in 2005 - could say.
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