NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP, 7/9/97 AUDI AND VOLVO SHARE BRANDS HATCH HONOURS A thrilling pair of Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship races at Brands Hatch this afternoon (Sun) saw both the old order and the new enjoying race victories. Outgoing champion Frank Biela and his Audi A4 took the honours in round 21 and Rickard Rydell scored his first BTCC victory of the season -- and the maiden win for the new Volvo S40 racer -- in round 22.
There was a good finish also for the Nissan team and Anthony Reid, who claimed second place behind Rydell in the second of the day's races -- a season-best result both for driver and manufacturer. Newly crowned champion Alain Menu had to be content with a pair of third places in his Renault Laguna. The pattern of round 21 of the Auto Trader Championship was dictated by the unusual qualifying procedures forced by the abandonment of Saturday's practice sessions. As a further mark of respect for Diana, Princess of Wales, a minute's silence was observed before today's racing by drivers, teams, officials and spectators. A frantic 15-minute Sunday morning qualifying session saw '96 champion Biela edge his Audi on to pole position, ahead of Gabriele Tarquini's Honda and the second Audi of John Bintcliffe, with Menu and his Renault team-mate Jason Plato fourth and fifth on the grid. Further spice was added to the proceedings with the decision that grid placings for round 22 would be settled by fastest race lap times in round 21 -- offering the prospect of early pit stops for drivers hoping to start nearer the sharp end for the second of the day's races. First to take the opportunity was Nissan's Anthony Reid, whose qualifying had been hampered by engine problems. He peeled into the pits at the end of the warm-up lap to bolt on some softer rubber, and proceeded to use the race as an extended qualification session, persistence paying off with fastest race lap and thus pole position for round 22. Biela made the best of his Audi's four-wheel-drive traction advantage to lead the pack away, pursued initially by Bintcliffe. But Menu's getaway from the grid was exceptional also, and by the time they arrived at the Druids hairpin for the first time he had nosed alongside Bintcliffe and was through into second place, with Bintcliffe holding off Tarquini, Plato and James Thompson in the second Honda. The battle for fourth went Plato's way next time around, the Renault rookie taking advantage of a mistake from Tarquini. The Honda challenge soon faded, both Thompson and Tarquini picking up light damage which prompted them to visit the pits for repairs and qualifying tyres. As new champion Menu chased old title-holder Biela for all he was worth, all eyes were on Plato, who narrowed the gap between himself and Bintcliffe and eventually forced his way through and into third place on the 11th lap. Rickard Rydell was another man on a mission: the Swede made his way from ninth to fifth by mid-distance before he opted to pit for new tyres. At the front, Menu maintained the gap between Audi and Renault at less than a second for most of the race and tried several speculative lunges on the wily Biela. But Frank -- expected next year to return to his native Germany to race -- was having none of it and held sway to the chequered flag. "If this proves to have been my last win in a quattro, it will have been a special one..." he said. Menu, his crown secure, handed second place to Plato on the final lap, in the hope that it would help his team-mate in his duel with Biela for the series runner-up spot. Bintcliffe was fourth with Tim Harvey (Peugeot) lifting fifth place from David Leslie and Nissan's grasp in the late stages. Will Hoy took seventh for Ford ahead of Patrick Watts's Peugeot, with Lee Brookes in the independently run Peugeot taking ninth -- and Total Cup honours -- ahead of 1990 champion Robb Gravett (Honda). Round 22 of the championship was just as hard-fought, with Reid looking to make the most of his and Nissan's maiden pole position but conscious of the pressure from Thompson, Rydell and Paul Radisich (Ford), in-line astern on the grid.
Reid made a good start to lead Rydell, Radisich and Thompson into the first lap but, as they crossed the start/finish line to start the second tour, Rydell's Volvo was alongside the Nissan and lining up to take the lead. Reid's tenure of top slot was to last just a few yards more as the Swede swept past through Paddock.
There was drama behind as Thompson and Plato clashed at Druids, the Honda man recovering but then spinning into the barriers at Graham Hill Bend and out of the race. That let Menu up to fourth, hot on the heels of Radisich, but with Biela looming large in his mirrors. Plato meanwhile headed for the pits, his Laguna suffering terminal damage.
Rydell's romp to victory -- his first since Thruxton in August 1996 -- was impressive, but Reid's run into second was just as encouraging. At the chequered flag he was only three-and-a-half seconds adrift of the Volvo.
Menu stole third place from Radisich 14 laps from the end, but fourth was a good result for the Kiwi, indeed his and Ford's best of the year. First-race victor Biela was fifth, just ahead of Kelvin Burt's Volvo. In the enduring tussle for Total Cup honours -- the fight for which will now go down to the wire at Silverstone in a fortnight -- Brookes once again led home the independents, but only after a puncture robbed Matt Neal (Nissan) of the prize. With two rounds remaining, there's a three-way duel for the UKpounds60,000 Total Cup jackpot between Colin Gallie, Robb Gravett and Brookes.
Second place in the overall drivers' championship behind Menu now looks firmly within the grasp of Biela, who has a 24-point advantage over Plato, with Rydell fourth a further 11 points adrift. RESULTS Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, round 21 Brands Hatch, 7/9/97 38 laps/ 45.6 miles 1 Frank Biela (Ger), Audi A4, 29m 12.007s, 93.97mph; 2 Jason Plato (GB), Renault Laguna, +1.872s; 3 Alain Menu (Switz), Renault Laguna, +2.463s; 4 John Bintcliffe (GB), Audi A4, +10.015s; 5 Tim Harvey (GB), Peugeot 406, +13.937s; Fastest lap: Anthony Reid (GB), Nissan Primera, 44.674s, 96.99mph (record) Pole position: Biela, 44.619s, 97.11mph Round 22 38 laps/ 45.6 miles 1 Rickard Rydell (Swe), Volvo S40, 29m 04.698s, 94.37mph; 2 Reid, +3.562s; 3 Menu, +8.209s; 4 Paul Radisich (NZ), Ford Mondeo, +10.455s; 5 Biela, +10.891s; Fastest lap: Rydell, 45.223s, 95.81mph. Pole position: Reid, 44.674s, 96.99mph CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS Drivers 1 Menu, 271 points; 2 Biela, 168; 3 Plato, 144; 4 Rydell, 133; 5 James Thompson (GB/Honda), 120; 6 Bintcliffe, 119; 7 Tarquini, 112; 8 Leslie, 77; 9 Harvey, 66; 10 Burt, 51, etc. Manufacturers 1 Renault, 268; 2 Audi, 209; 3 Honda, 197; 4 Volvo, 186; 5 Nissan, 141; 6 Peugeot, 114; =7 Vauxhall & Ford, 105. Total Cup for Independents 1 Colin Gallie (GB/BMW), 221; 2 Gravett, 216; 3 Brookes, 205, etc. FINAL ROUNDS Silverstone, September 21 -- www.btcc.co.uk/