BTCC: Donington Park Preview

News from the Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship 27/4/98 BANK ON ACTION AT DONINGTON WITH THE BTCC Complete with ripped-up formbook and an air of racing unpredictability not seen for many seasons, the Auto Trader RAC British...

News from the Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship 27/4/98

BANK ON ACTION AT DONINGTON WITH THE BTCC

Complete with ripped-up formbook and an air of racing unpredictability not seen for many seasons, the Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship thunders into Donington Park for the Bank Holiday weekend (May 3/4) with a promise of thrilling track action - and definitely no guarantees as to who will emerge on top on Monday.

This year's opening quartet of races have produced four different winners, qualifying and race upsets for the reigning champion Alain Menu and fast and furious action which has fully vindicated series organiser TOCA's race format changes.

Volvo's Rickard Rydell, Renault's Menu, Nissan's David Leslie and Ford's Will Hoy are the men who have tasted the victory champagne so far. But championship leader as the crews head for historic Donington is Jason Plato, who has guided his Laguna to the top four in every race so far.

"It's great to be leading the championship as we arrive at Donington Park, a circuit I really like," says Plato. "So far I've been playing the percentage game, scoring good points in all four opening races. But it would be good to start winning soon. That said, this series is so wide open that consistency is going to pay big dividends come the climax."

For Plato's team-mate Menu the coming rounds are crucial to his hopes of retaining his crown; the Swiss star failed to score at all at Silverstone last weekend, and has twice fallen foul of the new One-Shot Showdown qualifying procedure, being forced to start the Thruxton and Silverstone Sprint Races from the back of the grid. Menu, victor of three of Donington's four 1997 BTCC rounds, knows he has to get it right this time...

For surprise Silverstone Feature Race winner Will Hoy, Donington provides the chance to confound Ford's critics once more - particularly if it rains. "The Mondeo needs more fine tuning to maximise its potential in dry conditions, but no-one should count us out if we get some typical British Bank Holiday weather at Donington," said the 1991 champion. "Our win at Silverstone was no fluke; we got the tactics right and my pit crew were just fantastic. It's clear that no one driver is going to dominate this year and, whether it rains or not, I'm sure we're in for some more shocks this weekend."

Hoy's new Ford team-mate Nigel Mansell is expected at Donington to cheer on the Ford squad. The 1992 World Champion will be signing autographs and meeting spectators but won't be racing himself - his BTCC debut is scheduled for June.

Other likely frontrunners include Honda's James Thompson, three times a podium visitor already, Vauxhall's experienced duo John Cleland and Derek Warwick, and Volvo's ex-F1 star Gianni Morbidelli.

The battle for the Autosport Cup for Independents will be no less fierce; Robb Gravett, Matt Neal and Mark Lemmer lead the charge to Donington, pursued by Norwegian hot-shoes Tommy Rustad and Roger Moen.

* Television audience figures just released for the BBC Grandstand coverage of the opening pair of rounds of the 1998 Auto Trader BTCC show that more than 5 million viewers switched on to catch the action - more than double the figures recorded 12 months ago for the corresponding events.

* Official BTCC website: http://www.btcc.co.uk

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Series BTCC
Drivers Nigel Mansell , Jason Plato , Matt Neal , John Cleland , Rickard Rydell , Gianni Morbidelli , Will Hoy , Alain Menu , Tommy Rustad