In this edition of BTCC Greats we were supposed to look back on the career of Dan Eaves – however we have elected to move that to next, thus making way for a unique issue.
This week in BTCC Greats we have decided to focus on a car instead of a driver, more importantly one car in particular that defined the years 2001 to 2004, the Vauxhall Astra Coupe.
As the Super Touring curtain was pulled, the BTCC stepped into a new era which was designed to be more cost effective – however many manufacturers by this time had elected that the BTCC wasn’t the place to be. Vauxhall though, decided that they would stay on in the series and launched their brand new Astra Coupe for 2001.
Not only would there be the Triple Eight Engineering team running two cars, but also Egg:Sport, a satellite team. Jason Plato and Yvan Muller had a titanic battle for the championship which ultimately Plato won whilst James Thompson and Phil Bennett had to settle for second best a lot of time.
The 2001 season saw small grids to begin with and even though Peugeot were the nearest rivals to Vauxhall, they couldn’t overhaul the mighty Astra Coupe. Over the course of the 26 race season, the Astra Coupe romped to 25 victories, with only Anthony Reid being able to secure a win in the penultimate round of the season.
With one season under their belts, Vauxhall picked up where they left off in 2002, this time with Muller and Thompson as team mates due to Plato stepping away for a few years. In the Egg:Sport camp, Matt Neal and Paul O’Neill entered the fray – attempting to take the fight to the top two. There were even more cars on the grid in 2002 but yet the Astra Coupe dominated again, this time gifting the championship to James Thompson. Out of the 20 races held, 15 fell the way of the marque manufacturer.
Reigning champions Vauxhall elected to cut down their Astra Coupes to just three by removing the Egg:Sport team and running three cars under the Triple Eight Engineering/ VX Racing banner. This time it was the turn of Muller in the Astra to take the title, Honda and MG were a lot closer this time in terms of how they performed, Vauxhall still managed to muster 11 victories though.
The final year of the Astra Coupe came in 2004, where once again it was a straight up fight between Muller and Thompson. The season had now been extended to 30 races and SEAT had entered the fray, with Jason Plato as their lead driver. The racing was fast and frenetic however the Astra managed to take another 11 victories and led Thompson to winning the title by a single point, earned by posting the fastest lap.
Many have since used the car as an Independent machine however it has since never enjoyed the success than when it was with Triple Eight Engineering.
Some believe that Vauxhall were ahead of the game in the building of the Astra Coupe however others feel that the sheer experience of the team moved the car forward so much.
The numbers speak for themselves, the Astra Coupe was a true BTCC Great – 62 wins from 96 starts tells you all you need to know about the quality of the car.
In next weeks edition we look back on the career of a man who became the first driver to win three races in one day, Dan Eaves.
PHOTO CREDIT: btcc.net