BTCC: Donington report

NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP, 31/3/97 THE Renault team staged a near perfect start to its 1997 Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship campaign at Donington Park this afternoon (Mon), Alain Menu winning in...

NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP, 31/3/97 THE Renault team staged a near perfect start to its 1997 Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship campaign at Donington Park this afternoon (Mon), Alain Menu winning in style both rounds one and two of the series. His new team-mate Jason Plato finished a close second in the first of the day's races, but was forced out of runner-up spot in the second with engine problems six laps from the chequered flag. Menu leads the championship with 30 points, with Plato second, 16 points adrift. Said Menu: "It's a great start to the season but we all know

how competitive the BTCC is. Volvo are almost there and I'm sure the others will catch up soon." On Plato, he added: "I always knew he would be quick but now I must consider him a championship rival. I shall have to raise my game." Round one of the championship was a Renault runaway, with Menu outgunning Plato off the front row of the grid to lead into the first corner. Championship debutant Plato -- who surprised series regulars and even himself by scooping pole position for both of his first two BTCC races -- made a good getaway also, to slot in behind Menu and ahead of the Volvo S40 of Swede Rickard Rydell. Rydell chased the 28-year-old newcomer hard, hooked on to the Renault's bumper for much of the race. Three laps from the chequered flag, however, the TWR-prepared Volvo began to smoke; the Swede was forced out of the race on the final lap -- some track debris had punctured his car's radiator and the engine expired Menu, meanwhile, had eased out a comfortable lead over Plato, smashing the circuit lap record as he went. Plato finished three seconds behind his team leader. The fight for fourth place -- which became third with Rydell's demise -- was the battle of the race. Reigning champion Frank Biela made a lightning start from the fourth row of the grid in his Audi to claim the upper hand on the opening lap from Kelvin Burt's Volvo and James Thompson's Honda. Thompson swiftly displaced Burt and Biela to take the advantage for six laps, until his debut run in the Accord was brought to a premature halt when a rear wheel came loose. Biela was in trouble even sooner, his title defence faltering after only four laps when his Audi's radiator sprang a leak, possibly as a result of contact with Thompson's car. That left Burt holding on to an insecure advantage over David Leslie in the new Nissan Primera. Leslie shadowed Burt all the way to the flag to record a promising debut finish for his new team. John Bintcliffe collected fifth place for Audi after surviving separate scrapes with the Ford Mondeo of Will Hoy and Gabriele Tarquini's Honda. Paul Radisich, who started a lowly 14th in his Ford Mondeo, was promoted to sixth after all the retirements. Round two was a Renault repeat performance, Menu again blasting into an early lead. This time around, though, it was Thompson's Honda in his wheeltracks, with Plato third from Biela. But Thompson's chase for the lead was shortlived -- under pressure from Plato on lap two the Honda man spun down the field at McLeans corner. Plato took up his accustomed number two spot, chased hard by Biela and the battling Volvos of Burt and Rydell. It became clear that Burt was holding up his team-mate, but it took the Swede until lap seven (of 18) to find his way past and into fourth spot. Seven laps later it was Biela's turn to succumb to a Rydell attack. When Plato's engine expired, Rickard found himself in second position, bearing down on leader Menu. But by this time Menu was far enough in front to be able to ease off dramatically and cruise to his second victory of the day; he was 2.4 seconds clear of Rydell at the flag. Biela resisted late-race pressure from Tarquini to salvage third for Audi, with his team- mate Bintcliffe fifth ahead of the recovered Thompson. Another championship newcomer -- Scotland's Colin Gallie -- made an impressive debut, claiming victory in the Total Cup for Independents battle in both races after strong drives and mechanical problems from his trio of non-works rivals. RESULTS Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, round 1 Donington Park, 31/3/97 18 laps/45.00 miles 1 Alain Menu (Switz), Renault Laguna, 29m 36.777s, 91.23mph/146.83kmh; 2 Jason Plato (GB), Renault Laguna, +3.142s; 3 Kelvin Burt (GB), Volvo S40, +24.241s; 4 David Leslie (GB), Nissan Primera, +24.520s; 5 John Bintcliffe (GB), Audi A4, +30.541s; Fastest lap: Menu, 1m 37.084s, 92.70mph/149.19kmh (record). Round 2 18 laps/45.00 miles 1 Menu, 29m 49.841s, 90.57mph/145.76kmh; 2 Rickard Rydell (Swe), Volvo S40, +2.366s; 3 Frank Biela (Ger), Audi A4, +4.269s; 4 Tarquini, +5.507s; 5 Bintcliffe, +11.689s Fastest lap: Menu, 1m 37.570s, 92.24mph/148.44kmh. CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS Drivers 1 Menu, 30 points; 2 Plato, 14; =3 Burt, Bintcliffe, Tarquini & Rydell, 12, etc. Manufacturers 1 Renault, 30 points; 2 Volvo, 24; 3 Audi, 18, 4 Nissan 14; 5 Honda, 13; 6 Ford, 12; 7 Vauxhall, 8; 8 Peugeot, 4. Total Cup Independents 1 Gallie, 30 points; =2 Jamie Wall (GB/Vauxhall) & Matt Neal (GB/Ford), 12. -------- BTCC97 www.demon.co.uk/racing/

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Series BTCC