BTCC: Brands Hatch report

NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP BRANDS HATCH, 22/9/96 The dramatic Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship continued to thrill right to the final chequered flag of the season at Brands Hatch this afternoon (Sun),...

NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP BRANDS HATCH, 22/9/96 The dramatic Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship continued to thrill right to the final chequered flag of the season at Brands Hatch this afternoon (Sun), with a multi-car accident decimating the field for the first race of the day and narrow victories for Renault's Alain Menu and Audi's newly crowned champion Frank Biela in the twin races. With the drivers' title already settled in Biela's favour and Audi having scooped the manufacturers' and teams' prizes, championship interest centred on the fight for the runners-up positions: Menu took the honour for the third year running, and BMW beat Volvo to second in the car-maker's contest. Main drama of the day came at the start of the penultimate round of the championship: as pole position man Jo Winkelhock made a slow getaway with engine problems in his BMW, his team-mate Roberto Ravaglia shot through from the second row of the grid to claim the lead as the pack entered Paddock Hill Bend. But Ravaglia and Menu both spun on cold tyres as they disputed the lead, triggering a pile up which sidelined not only them but a further six cars: the Fords of Paul Radisich and Steve Robertson, James Thompson's Vauxhall, James Kaye's Honda, Tim Harvey's Peugeot, and the Nissan of Gary Ayles. Peter Kox (BMW) emerged from the carnage to lead from Rickard Rydell's Volvo and John Bintcliffe's Audi. But with the track blocked by debris the race had to be halted. None of the drivers was injured. Most of the damaged cars could not be repaired in time to take the restart, but Menu was able to retake his place on the front row of the grid, Harvey made it back to his grid slot and Radisich was able to start from the back. At the restart Menu took the lead, pursued by David Leslie's Honda and Kox; the BMW man made short work of Leslie, moving up into second before the end of the first lap. Menu quickly eased out a two- to-three-second lead over his pursuers, but Kox whittled away at the gap, smashing the lap record on lap 11 as he did so, to close to within half a second of Menu by mid-distance. Leslie stayed in touch in third place, chased by Biela and a quartet of cars disputing fifth place: Rydell's and Kelvin Burt's Volvos, John Cleland's Vauxhall and Will Hoy's Renault. Positions remained static until lap 19, when Cleland staged a dramatic manoeuvre to demote Burt to seventh. The strangest twist in the race came four laps from the end, when Ravaglia's hastily repaired car joined in -- far too late for the Italian to stand any chance of being classified a finisher. Ravaglia circulated slowly until he saw the leaders appear in his mirrors, then badly baulked Menu as he tried to pass, allowing his BMW team-mate Kox to close right on to the Renault man's tail. Fortunately Menu was able to maintain his lead, but was furious with Ravaglia: 'I have never seen anything so disgraceful in all my career,' stormed the Swiss driver. Ravaglia fired back, claiming that Menu's driving tactics 'had cost BMW four victories this season'. Stewards met after the races to settle the dispute. Menu was just four-tenths of a second ahead of Kox at the flag, with Leslie third ahead of Biela, Rydell, Cleland, Burt, Hoy, John Bintcliffe (Audi) and Patrick Watts (Peugeot). The final round of the championship was a thriller from start to finish, with Biela blasting away from second on the grid to lead Winkelhock and Ravaglia, with Menu, Kox and Leslie right in their wheeltracks to make it a six-car duel for the front. Biela withstood continued attacks from Winkelhock until lap 12, when the German edged past through Clearways. As Ravaglia attacked Biela with the intention of making it a BMW 1-2, Winkelhock led the way for 14 laps until tyre problems cost him time through the Druids hairpin. Biela needed no second bidding and nipped past and back into the lead again, with Ravaglia following him through into second. Ravaglia chased Biela all the way to the chequered flag, but the new champion held on a for an appropriate eighth and final victory of the season. 'It was great to win the last race of the season,' said Biela. 'I hope to be back next year to defend my title but the decision is Audi's.' Winkelhock held third despite late-race pressure from Menu, with Leslie pinching fifth place -- and fourth position in the championship as a result -- from under Kox's nose on the final lap. Strong top-10 runs from Hoy and Cleland came to nought within sight of the flag, Hoy spinning into the Druids gravel trap and Cleland sidelined with a puncture. Rickard Rydell's hopes of a good finish and second in the championship evaporated on lap 23 with driveshaft failure. The UKpounds30,000 prize for top Total Cup privateer runner of the year went to season-long points leader Lee Brookes (Toyota). Brookes failed to win the privateer class in either of the day's races, but claimed the title when chief rival Richard Kaye was unable to start after he crashed his Vauxhall in qualifying. ** Volvo has announced that it will again contest the Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship in 1997, and that the team has re- signed drivers Rickard Rydell and Kelvin Burt to lead the campaign. They will have a new car, however: a racing version of the new S40 saloon. RESULTS Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, round 25 33 laps -- 39.6 miles / 63.69km 1 Alain Menu (Switz), Renault Laguna, 25m 33.61s, 93.23mph / 150.04kmh; 2 Peter Kox (Neth), BMW 320i, +0.38s; 3 David Leslie (GB), Honda Accord, +1.36s; 4 Frank Biela (Ger), Audi A4, 1.78s; 5 Rickard Rydell (Swe), Volvo 850, 6.42s; 6 John Cleland (GB), Vauxhall Vectra, 6.90s; 7 Kelvin Burt (GB), Volvo 850, 8.26s; 8 Will Hoy (GB), Renault Laguna, 11.80s; 9 John Bintcliffe (GB), Audi A4, 17.16s; 10 Patrick Watts (GB), Peugeot 406, 18.55s. 12 & Total Cup Privateers: Matt Neal (GB), Ford Mondeo, 32 laps. Fastest lap: Kox, 45.71s, 94.79mph / 152.55kmh (record). Round 26 37 laps -- 44.4 miles / 71.41km 1 Biela, 28m 37.19s, 93.36mph / 150.25kmh; 2 Roberto Ravaglia (It), BMW 320i, +0.53s; 3 Jo Winkelhock (Ger), BMW 320i, +4.11s; 4 Menu, +4.72s; 5 Leslie, +5.76s; 6 Kox, +6.11s; 7 Burt, +6.27s; 8 James Kaye (GB), Honda Accord, +22.42s; 9 Tim Harvey (GB), Peugeot 406, +24.00s; 10 Bintcliffe, +24.31s. 13 & Total Cup Privateers: Neal, 36 laps. Fastest lap: Kox, 45.84s, 94.52mph / 152.12kmh. FINAL CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS Drivers: 1 Biela, 289 points; 2 Menu, 197; 3 Rydell, 194; 4 Leslie, 159; 5 Winkelhock, 158; 6 Ravaglia, 157; 7 Bintcliffe, 113; 8 Cleland, 102; 9 Hoy, 95; 10 James Thompson (GB/Vauxhall), 83. Manufacturers: 1 Audi, 298; 2 BMW, 258; 3 Volvo, 244; 4 Renault, 234; 5 Honda, 201; 6 Vauxhall, 172; =7 Ford & Peugeot, 74. Total Cup Privateers: 1 Lee Brookes (GB/Toyota), 312; 2 Richard Kaye (GB/Vauxhall), 272; 3 Neal, 155. -- Official BTCC website: Best in British Motor Sport http://www.demon.co.uk/racing

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