BTCC: Knockhill Ford Mondeo Report

Knockhill - Rounds 19 & 20 Fife, Scotland UK Mondeos Shine In Knockhill Rain There was a surprise in store for Ford Mondeo Racing's Craig Baird, as he went from 18th place to lead round 20 of the 1998 Auto Trader RAC ...

Knockhill - Rounds 19 & 20 Fife, Scotland UK Mondeos Shine In Knockhill Rain There was a surprise in store for Ford Mondeo Racing's Craig Baird, as he went from 18th place to lead round 20 of the 1998 Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship at Knockhill. Baird - who had hinted at his true pace three weeks before, with a sixth place at Snetterton - took advantage of slippery conditions in his sure-footed Ford Mondeo, to climb steadily through the field from the last row of the grid and lead for three laps. Dry qualifying had given neither Mondeo the grid position they wanted, but in tricky conditions on race day, the Ford Mondeo Racing team took a tactical decision to start Baird on intermediate tyres - a decision which seemed inspired as the race unfolded and the weather deteriorated. "I thought we'd made the best decision of the field!", said the Kiwi later. "We were really good in the first half, but it just got so wet it was undriveable and I had to be really careful not to go off, as that would have been so easy." After a lightning start, team-mate Will Hoy took advantage of an early Safety Car appearance to duck into the pits for his own intermediate tyres and made similar rapid progress through the field, revelling in the Mondeo's legendary wet-weather prowess to put himself in third, behind the leading Baird. "What a start - from tenth to sixth in the first lap!", said Hoy. "We were so close to a good result, and I thought it would dry out, but it just got worse!" Ultimately, the deciding factor was the unpredictable Knockhill weather, with worsening rain making the track too wet even for an intermediate-shod Mondeo. Baird slipped back down the order to 13th and Hoy slipped off the track completely in the closing laps, leaving the team to contemplate the clever tactics which had made the day very nearly theirs. "It was a calculated gamble and it very nearly paid off", commented team principal Dick Bennetts. "It looked like the right decision and it got Craig to lead the race, which is good for him. By the time the weather was working against us, it was too late to realistically call either car in, but it could equally have gone the other way - slightly drier and we would have retained our lead." However, there was consolation for Will Hoy, with a creditable sixth place points finish in the day's earlier Sprint Race, after a battle through from 10th on the grid - only just missing out on fifth by "pushing Leslie really hard and getting a bit loose on the penultimate lap!". Said Hoy later: "It's such a short track here, it's difficult to pass and these conditions are so difficult to predict. I had a couple of good races here, considering where we qualified, so it's been OK." Ford Mondeo Racing will be back in action at Brands Hatch on August 31, when double World Champion, Nigel Mansell will make his second of three appearances for the team, after his stunning debut at Donington Park in June.

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