Free practice: Thompson stakes a claim

Just when it seemed as though reality had been suspended, the British Touring Car Championship woke up from its collective fantasy at Donington Park today (Saturday) and normality was resumed

Free practice: Thompson stakes a claim

What the hell are we talking about? Well, how about Steve Soper's Peugeot topping the first free practice session... And what about the Vauxhall steamroller shifting back into overdrive to take a top four clean sweep later on and re-establish the superiority of the Astra Coupe hordes?

For the first time since round two at Thruxton, James Thompson looks a serious contender for victory after finally heading the morning's running by more than 0.3 seconds in his Egg Sport Vauxhall.

"Everybody has a bit of a go just before qualifying," he said. "We're just trying to get the car a little bit more to my liking, really. It was unfortunate in the test [earlier this week at Snetterton] because we lost an engine and only got three hours of running, so we're just getting on and testing through all the sessions today.

"Our main work is on the balance and just getting the car how I like it [Thompson is a much smoother driver than Jason Plato and Yvan Muller, who did the initial development on the Astra]. This car tends to respond to chucking it in."

Muller took the second fastest time from Plato, the top three all setting their best efforts in a late flurry after an early shower in the second session. Phil Bennett, in the second Egg car, was fourth.

Superbike star Aaron Slight put in a respectable performance in the third Peugeot to be 1.3 seconds adrift of Soper. Meanwhile, the JSM Alfa Romeos are in trouble again - Tim Harvey did just a few laps in the first session before his 147 threw a cambelt, needing an engine change for the second period, in which he did one slow lap before parking. Dave Pinkney, meanwhile, didn't even make it onto the track.

In the Production session, Gavin Pyper's Alfa Romeo was fastest from the Ford of Gareth Howell. The much-ballasted Peugeot and Honda of Simon Harrison and James Kaye were respectively sixth and seventh on a circuit where extra weight counts heavily, because of the tight Esses and two hairpins.

James Thompson (Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe) 1m42.769s
Yvan Muller (Vauxhall Astra Coupe) 1m43.075s
Jason Plato (Vauxhall Astra Coupe) 1m43.199s
Phil Bennett (Egg Sport Vauxhall Astra Coupe) 1m43.857s
Steve Soper (Peugeot 406 Coupe) 1m44.036s
Dan Eaves (Peugeot 406 Coupe) 1m44.386s
Kurt Luby (ABG Motorsport Lexus IS200) 1m44.610s
Aaron Slight (Peugeot 406 Coupe) 1m45.304s
Tim Harvey (JSM Alfa Romeo 147) 1m45.923s

Gavin Pyper (GA Janspeed Alfa Romeo 156) 1m47.643s
Gareth Howell (GR Motorsport Ford Focus) 1m48.148s
Roger Moen (HTML Peugeot 306) 1m48.197s
Simon Graves (Barwell Motorsport Honda Accord) 1m48.296s
Mat Jackson (GR Motorsport Ford Focus) 1m48.514s
Simon Harrison (HTML Peugeot 306) 1m48.627s

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