BTCC Greats - Yvan Muller
Charismatic, flamboyant and French; three words that describe the legendary Yvan Muller, who is the subject in this edition of the returning feature, BTCC Greats.
Muller entered the British series in the year of 1998 as he took the seat of Frank Biela at Audi off the back of racing in the German and Italian Supertouring championships. Muller was also a master on the ice after recording a record amount of Andros Ice Racing championships, ten to be exact.
The highlight in the first season of BTCC came at Donington Park when the Audi driver became a key figure of the Nigel Mansell show. In wet conditions, Muller mixed it with the likes of Reid, Mansell and Cleland thus putting on a show for the crowds in what went down as one of the greatest touring car race in the illustrious history it holds.
In 1999 Audi pulled out of the championship leaving Muller to join the Triple Eight Engineering outfit of Vauxhall. The Frenchman joined John Cleland and secured his first victory in the series at round seven around Brands Hatch. Laurent Aiello, champion of 99, and Jason Plato both had several laps scrapping for the lead before on the penultimate lap, Muller pulled off a somewhat audacious manoeuvre down the inside the both of them into Paddock Hill Bend.
The turn of the millennium saw Muller joined at Vauxhall by Plato and Vincent Radermeker in what would be a tough season for the 888 outfit. The domination of Ford meant that Muller could only settle for fourth place in the championship, although he was the best placed Vauxhall.
The 2001 season saw the dawn of a new era for the BTCC with new regulations being brought in. Vauxhall brought in their brand new Astra Coupe which somewhat dominated the year. Team mates became rivals in 2001 as Muller and Plato went to war to be the first to clinch their own driver’s title. An incident at Silverstone where both made contact on the last lap saw Muller refuse Plato’s handshake on the podium and the pair race even closer than perhaps the team wanted. In treacherous conditions around the Brands Hatch Indy circuit for the final round, both drivers had the opportunity to be crowned champions. Unfortunately Muller suffered a final round engine fire forcing him to pull off to the side of the track and gifting Plato the crown.
Plato departed the BTCC for 2002 allowing James Thompson to take his seat and partner Muller. The team was somewhat more harmonious this year however it would again be despair for the Vauxhall driver. The championship battle was thrown to either side of the garage as Muller won five races in 2002 but another last race mechanical failure gifting another championship to his team mate.
After two years of being the bridesmaid, Muller finally clinched his first BTCC championship in 2003. Consistency once again played its part in the Frenchman’s season but his success saw six victories fall his way and good luck fall into his lap for once. Thompson pushed him hard all season but at Oulton Park at the final meeting, Muller kept his head to score two points finishes and secure his first championship in the BTCC. He also became only the second Frenchman ever to win the BTCC crown.
Finally had his chance to run the #1 on his car for the 2004 season, just as the series was becoming a dominant force. Grid sizes were growing always and Plato had returned with SEAT. A thirty race system had been employed by series director Alan Gow ensuring that fans would get their money’s worth and the racing would be get closer. The consistency that had led the VX Racing outfit in the past emerged again as both Muller and Thompson found them at the sharp end of the title battle. The battle was that close though that it was Thompson who clinched his second title by virtue of a single point, a point that was claimed by posting a fastest lap.
Muller’s final season in the championship came in 2005 upon which became a tough season for the Frenchman. As always, Muller was once again in the title battle but had to concede the crown to Matt Neal making it four runner-up spots in five years. One of the major moments that defined Muller’s 2005 season and perhaps his BTCC career was his impeccable car control at the Thruxton round. A slight tap entering the final chicane sent the Vauxhall drivers car sideways and seemingly of the track until the Frenchman used his ice racing skills as he somehow powered out of the slide and straight into meeting the apex of the chicane, a truly staggering piece of car control.
The Frenchman in the end secured 36 wins, 79 podium finishes, 17 pole positions and a staggering 30 fastest laps in a seven year period in the British series.
Since the BTCC, Muller has gone on to become a star on the world stage by clinching three WTCC titles and the first man to ever win two titles with two different teams. Coupled with his Chevrolet Cruze Muller has become a dominant force in the series and for 2013 remains with an independent backed RML project running the Cruze again. Ex-BTCC race winner Tom Chilton is his team mate.
In the next edition of BTCC Greats, we stick with the Vauxhall theme as we look back on the career of the charismatic Scot, John Cleland.
Article originally written on Friday, 5 April 2013. Read more articles from the BTCC Crazy Archive.