Biela and Menu the Donington victors DESPITE a defeat at the hands of reigning champion Frank Biela in one race and a poor opening lap in the second, the seemingly unstoppable Alain Menu nonetheless left Donington Park this afternoon (Sun)...
Biela and Menu the Donington victors
DESPITE a defeat at the hands of reigning champion Frank Biela in one race and a poor opening lap in the second, the seemingly unstoppable Alain Menu nonetheless left Donington Park this afternoon (Sun) with a race win under his belt and an increased Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship points lead.
Before a 25,000 crowd and in front of BBC Grandstand's live TV cameras, the BTCC boys provided some vintage race action, wet weather helping to decide the outcome of round 11 of the championship and jump starts by Volvo's Kelvin Burt and Honda's Gabriele Tarquini gifting victory to Menu in round 12.
The steady Donington drizzle played right into the Audi team's hands for round 11 of the Auto Trader Championship. Despite relatively lowly sixth and seventh positions on the grid, Biela and Bintcliffe made the most of the superior four-wheel-drive traction of their Audi A4s to rocket past the wheelspinning front-drive cars including that of pole man Menu as the start lights flashed to green.
As the pack streamed into Redgate for the first time, Biela and Bintcliffe were already well ahead of their grip-challenged pursuers, headed by Tim Harvey's Peugeot, Menu, James Thompson's Honda and Jason Plato in the second Renault.
Harvey's tenure of second place was brief, though, as Peugeot hopes for a repeat of his thrilling Thruxton form faded fast; Menu moved in front of the 1992 champion on lap two and Thompson knocked him back to fourth a lap later.
By now the Audi Silver Arrows were three seconds to the good, and Menu's chances of catching them looked slim. The Swiss ace nevertheless buckled down to the job in hand and reduced the gap to a second by mid-distance. For the next seven laps the Renault doggedly tailed the second Audi and, as a dry line gradually appeared, waited for his moment to pass. It came three laps from the chequered flag, Menu outbraking Bintcliffe into Redgate.
Reigning champion Biela was not such an easy proposition, though. He held on in front to record his and Audi's second victory of the '97 season, heading Menu across the line by a second, with Bintcliffe a further 1.8s further back in third. Plato collected fourth after late-race mistakes from Thompson and Harvey, with Rickard Rydell fifth for Volvo. Reigning Total Cup champion Lee Brookes took the Independents' honours in his Peugeot.
With the track dry for round 12, Menu made a good getaway from pole position to lead Tarquini and Burt into Redgate. But a rare mistake from the Swiss ace saw the Renault run wide at McLeans on the opening lap, giving Tarquini and Burt a heaven-sent opportunity to edge past Menu and demote him to third. Any smiles in the Volvo and Honda pits were shortlived, however: Tarquini and Burt were judged to have anticipated the start and were instructed to visit the pits for stop-go penalties. Burt was the first to obey the black flags.
Adding spice to the situation was the arrival on the track of the Safety Car while Robb Gravett's beached Honda was removed from a gravel trap; as the Safety Car pulled in at the end of lap six, so did leader Tarquini for his penalty the resultant traffic jam caught out several drivers, including Menu, who was fortunate to regain the lead just ahead of Harvey. In the scrum, Plato and Thompson tangled, the Honda driver striking the pit wall and Plato suffering body damage which was to cause his retirement.
Menu settled back into a lead he would not lose for the duration of the race, but Harvey giving the Peugeot team its best-yet dry weather performance chased him hard all the way to the chequered flag, just ahead of Biela, who perhaps profited more than anyone from the early-race confusion. Tenth on the opening lap, Biela found himself promoted to fifth by the eighth tour, and quickly disposed of Bintcliffe and Rydell to take up third slot.
Bintcliffe was fourth from Patrick Watts, completing Peugeot's excellent day, with Tarquini sixth, smashing the lap record as he fought back from his penalty. Kelvin Burt's race ended in the gravel after a clash with Anthony Reid's Nissan. Lee Brookes was again the Total Cup for Independents victor.
With the Auto Trader Championship now at the half-way mark, Menu leads the drivers' title fight with 168 points, his closest rival, Rydell, a seemingly insurmountable 91 points behind. Renault leads Honda in the manufacturers' championship by 162 points to 112.
Driver quotes (round 11) Biela: "The weather was on our side and I made a pretty good start. My real problem was keeping John behind while trying to keep the tyres fresh. But once I had a little gap I was able to go at my own speed." Menu: "I was expecting the Audis to come by. I think I was a bit quicker than Frank but I don't know how hard he was pushing and I wasn't desperate to get past him." Bintcliffe: "There were no team orders I just couldn't get past Frank, he was too quick. I was perhaps ahead of him at the first corner but Frank got into a bit of a slide and I backed off." Driver quotes (round 12) Menu: "I had big oversteer on the first lap which meant I lost two places. I was right behind Tarquini and I didn't know that he had to come in for a penalty. As the Safety Car pulled off he slowed up and I couldn't overtake, Thompson hit me from behind. It was amazing. I guess I am lucky..." Biela: "I am a bit surprised to be third. The car felt perfect and the tyres were good. My only worry was that others would get past when the Safety Car pulled off, but they were stupid." Harvey: "I knew I was on the pace of the leading group, but I was lucky with the Safety Car incident. I ran into the back of Plato and all hell broke loose around me."
Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, round 11 Donington Park, 15/6/97, 25 laps/48.93 miles 1 Frank Biela Ger Audi A4 33m 27.982s 87.72mph 2 Alain Menu Switz Renault Laguna +0.977s 3 John Bintcliffe GB Audi A4 +2.792s 4 Jason Plato GB Renault Laguna +7.169s 5 Rickard Rydell Swe Volvo S40 +8.953s Fastest lap: Menu, 1m 19.414s, 88.72mph.
Round 12 26 laps/50.96 miles 1 Menu 32m 13.115s 94.77mph 2 Harvey +2.017s 3 Biela +2.369s 4 Bintcliffe +3.610s 5 Watts +25.824s Fastest lap: Tarquini, 1m 11.566s, 98.45mph (record).
Championship positions DRIVERS 1 Menu, 168 points; 2 Rydell, 77; 3 Plato, 74; 4 Biela, 71; 5 Tarquini, 68; 6 Thompson, 56; 7 Bintcliffe, 55; 8 Leslie, 48; 9 Harvey, 43; 10 Burt, 32, etc. MANUFACTURERS 1 Renault, 162; 2 Honda, 112; 3 Volvo, 109; 4 Audi, 101; 5 Nissan, 80; 6 Peugeot, 67; 7 Vauxhall, 61; 8 Ford, 54. TOTAL CUP for INDEPENDENTS 1 Colin Gallie (GB/BMW), 119; 2 Robb Gravett (GB/Honda), 108; 3 Brookes, 99, etc.