NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP, 19/6/97 SAFETY fears from the drivers delayed the start of the first Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship testing session at the recently reopened Croft circuit, near Darlington, today (Thurs). The test -- precursor to next weekend's (Jun 28/29) double-header rounds of the championship -- had been due to start at 10am but didn't get underway until 1.15pm, following alterations to some run-off areas and barriers.

Driver spokesman Derek Warwick, the former F1 racer whose younger brother, Paul, was killed in an accident at a UK track, said: "We arrived at Croft this morning and felt there were several safety issues that needed looking at. We have had the full co-operation of the circuit owners, who undertook to make certain alterations.

"Some of these have already been done this morning and the others have been guaranteed by the time we race next weekend.

"So far as I am concerned, Croft is a great circuit and we are very happy to be here. There are a couple of issues that were overlooked and, together with the circuit owners and the RACMSA, we have now put these right."

Next weekend's meeting -- rounds 13 and 14 of the Auto Trader Championship -- is certain to be the North-East's biggest motor sporting event in living memory. Some 7,000 advance tickets have been sold.

Renault's Jason Plato topped the testing timesheets this afternoon, more than a tenth of a second ahead of team-mate and championship leader Alain Menu, with James Thompson and Gabriele Tarquini leading the pursuers in their Hondas. Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship Official testing, Croft, 19/6/97 1 Jason Plato (GB), Renault Laguna, 1m 21.146s, 94.36mph; 2 Alain Menu (Swi), Renault Laguna, 1m 21.304s; 3 James Thompson (GB), Honda Accord, 1m 21.387s; 4 Gabriele Tarquini (Ita), Honda Accord, 1m 21.532s; 5 Frank Biela (Ger), Audi A4, 1m 21.742s; 6 David Leslie (GB), Nissan Primera, 1m 21.757s; 7 Anthony Reid (GB), Nissan Primera, 1m 21.859s; 8 John Bintcliffe (GB), Audi A4, 1m 21.861s; 9 Rickard Rydell (Swe), Volvo S40, 1m 21.873s; 10 John Cleland (GB), Vauxhall Vectra, 1m 22.046s; 11 Kelvin Burt (GB), Volvo S40, 1m 22.134s; 12 Paul Radisich (NZ), Ford Mondeo, 1m 22.659s.

-- www.btcc.co.uk