British Touring Car June 28, 1998 Croft - Rounds 13 & 14 Darlington, Durham UK Ford Mondeo Racing's regular team of Will Hoy and Craig Baird were reunited this weekend for rounds 13 and 14 of the Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship - midway point of the 1998 season. In a weekend which saw improved all-round dry weather pace from the Mondeo, New Zealander Craig Baird returned to his BTCC season with a vengeance, out-qualifying his highly experienced team-mate for the Feature Race and shadowing him through the rest of the weekend, both on the track and in his lap times. Testing in the wet and dry had gone well for the team, but after a wet warm-up - which saw a 2-3 from the Mondeos - good qualifying pace from Hoy was marred, after his Mondeo was judged to be below the minimum ride height in both sessions, disallowing his best times - "Very, very disappointing", was the 1991 Champion's assessment of the day, made more painful after the team assessed him as fastest car over two thirds of the circuit. He was therefore at the back of the grid for his 157th career BTCC race start, in the Sprint Race and endured heavy traffic, fighting his way to 13th at the chequered flag, one place ahead of team-mate Baird. He had to wait until the Feature Race to prove the Mondeo's refined dry weather ability and drew on all his racing experience to battle from 17th on the grid to a ninth place points finish, just one thousandth of a second - or a few feet - from eighth, and collecting an additional point for leading the race at mid-distance as the leaders pitted. A true measure of his car's continuing improvement was also evident as he was the fastest car on the track during his post-pit-stop charge. Craig Baird - one place above Hoy on the grid - capitalised on a flying start and was soon himself up in single figure places after leading Hoy up through the field in the opening laps, eventually emerging 12th after the pit-stop shuffle, a place he held until the closing laps of the race. "We didn't get the grid position we deserved - we'd been top three all week - so we needed a bit of luck.", said Hoy. "The first race was a nightmare with traffic and both Craig and myself were held up by Tim Harvey, but the second one was better and showed we can mix it in the dry now and fight for places - I was really closing on Cleland, but he just pipped me by a nose to the line. I lost track of the number of cars I overtook! "Looking ahead, Snetterton is a race I'm optimistic about, as it's a good circuit for the Mondeo and personally I have a good win record there." Craig Baird echoed the Londoner's words, boosted by his own testing performance earlier in the week, proving how his racing talent had adjusted to front-wheel drive by setting the same times as Hoy in the same car. "I'm reasonably happy with the performance. I had a small problem with the brakes, which slowed me a bit in the second race, but it's encouraging for me personally to be making progress and getting closer to Will. I'll look forward to Snetterton as it's a circuit I know, but there's some work to be done before then and we have some tests already planned for the break." Hoy and Baird's next racing appearance is in four weeks time, for rounds 15 and 16 of the 1998 BTCC at Snetterton on July 25/26.