NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP
Audi duo take Knockhill double top
The Audi team this afternoon (Sun) revisited the form which swept Frank Biela to outright victory in last year's Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, staging dominant 1-2 finishes in both of today's rounds at Scotland's Knockhill circuit.
Biela took one race win to propel himself into second place in the championship and his team-mate John Bintcliffe claimed the other to score his maiden BTCC victory. The four-wheel-drive 'Silver Arrows' finished a country mile ahead of the front-drive opposition on both occasions, championship leader Alain Menu heading the pursuers in round 15 and Honda's Gabriele Tarquini taking third spot in round 16.
Menu's first defeat in four races was followed in the next by the almost unthinkable: retirement. His Renault Laguna suffered a suspected broken driveshaft after a series of comings-together with other cars.
Nonetheless, Menu maintained his healthy championship lead: with 210 points under his belt and Biela his closest challenger on 107, the Swiss driver now has both hands on the crown. He may get to wear it next weekend, when the Auto Trader Championship switches to Snetterton in Norfolk.
Bintcliffe drove like a pro of many years standing to claim his debut BTCC victory. He led round 15 all the way from his maiden pole position to the chequered flag, with Biela an ever-present menace in his mirrors. Yet try as he might, the wily German could find no way past his young British team-mate.
The Audi team had decided that with the championship title almost certainly beyond anyone's reach but Menu's, there was little point in issuing team orders. Thus Biela attacked with gusto and finished just seven-tenths of a second down on Bintcliffe.
Menu and the rest simply couldn't live with the pace of the Silver Arrows. At the chequered flag the champion-elect was third, 24 seconds adrift, and holding off the cars of Rickard Rydell (Volvo), Anthony Reid (Nissan), James Thompson and Gabriele Tarquini (both Honda), which had circulated throughout in a four-way duel for fourth place.
Kelvin Burt took eighth for Volvo ahead of Vectra men Derek Warwick and John Cleland, maintaining the Vauxhall team's excellent points-scoring record. The Total Cup honours fell to Robb Gravett's Honda after Matt Neal's Nissan suffered transmission problems.
Round 16 was a much less good-tempered affair. As Biela shot off the pole pursued by Bintcliffe, Thompson and Menu brushed wheelarches, slowing Menu just enough to allow Rydell to squeeze past. Yards later Thompson lost control with a puncture and spun his Honda into the tyre barriers, while Menu had a go at retrieving third from Rydell, the resultant contact leaving a trailing Volvo rear bumper and a stove-in Renault front end.
After a six-lap Safety Car interlude while Thompson's beached Honda was removed to safety, the race restarted exactly where it had left off -- the two Audis in front and Rydell and Menu in collision. This time they both lost out from their clash, Rydell slipping back to fifth and Menu to 10th.
That let Anthony Reid into third for Nissan and his chance for a podium visit on home soil. Alas his hopes were dashed at mid-distance after a bump from behind -- courtesy Tarquini -- folded the Primera's exhaust pipe and cut its engine.
Once again the Audis were disappearing into the distance and, as in the previous race, the two cars circulated as if attached by a short tow- rope. Biela was three seconds in front of Bintcliffe at the flag.
Tarquini hung on to third, 22s down. Rydell would have been next up, but for a late-race dash to the pits to secure a flapping passenger door, a legacy of his biffs with Menu. Thus Jason Plato, who had started the race from the back of the grid after a qualifying crash, claimed fifth for Renault and Cleland was top Scot in sixth. That honour would have gone to David Leslie, but his Nissan holed its fuel tank on the final lap and he lost a certain fifth place. Gravett took the Total Cup honours for the second time to move within a point of Independents front-runner Colin Gallie.
Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, round 15 Knockhill, 3/8/97, 35 laps/45.5 miles 1 John Bintcliffe GB Audi A4 31m 46.368s 84.60mph 2 Frank Biela Ger Audi A4 +0.721s 3 Alain Menu Switz Renault Laguna +24.470s 4 Rickard Rydell Swe Volvo S40 +26.837s 5 Anthony Reid GB Nissan Primera +27.150s 6 James Thompson GB Honda Accord +27.514s Fastest lap: Biela, 53.445s, 86.21mph (record)
Round 16 40 laps/52.0 miles 1 Biela 38m 41.554s 79.39mph 2 Bintcliffe +2.987s 3 Gabriele Tarquini It Honda Accord +21.891s 4 Kelvin Burt GB Honda Accord +28.953s 5 Jason Plato GB Renault Laguna +43.056s 6 John Cleland GB Vauxhall Vectra +46.202 Fastest lap: Biela, 53.461s, 86.19mph
Championship positions DRIVERS 1 Menu, 210 points; 2 Biela, 107; 3 Rydell, 101; 4 Plato, 100; 5 Bintcliffe, 90; 6 Tarquini, 82; 7 Thompson, 79; 8 David Leslie (GB/Honda), 58, etc.
MANUFACTURERS 1 Renault, 212; 2 Honda, 150; 3 Audi, 147; 4 Volvo, 145; 5 Nissan, 101; 6 Vauxhall, 86; 7 Peugeot, 84; 8 Ford, 66.
TOTAL CUP for INDEPENDENTS 1 Colin Gallie (GB/BMW), 161; 2 Gravett, 160; 3 Lee Brookes (GB/Toyota), 130.