NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP, 21/9/97 THE title-winning Renault team ended the Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship in appropriate style at Silverstone this afternoon (Sun), Alain Menu and Jason Plato...
NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP, 21/9/97 THE title-winning Renault team ended the Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship in appropriate style at Silverstone this afternoon (Sun), Alain Menu and Jason Plato claiming a win apiece in a pair of hard-fought season-closing encounters. Renault's double victory brings the manufacturer's tally of race wins for the year to 14 from 24 races.
Today's events -- watched by a Silverstone BTCC record of 30,000 spectators -- settled the battle for second place in the championships, Frank Biela pipping Plato for the drivers' honour by a single point and Audi edging out Honda for runner-up place to Renault in the manufacturers' battle. In the cash-rich Total Cup for Independents, Robb Gravett claimed the UKpounds60,000 champion's prize. Menu's victory in round 23 of the Auto Trader Championship was possibly his most controversial of the year, after he wrested the lead from his Renault team-mate Plato on the 10th of the scheduled 20 laps. Plato had made a perfect getaway from pole position to lead Menu and Nissan's Anthony Reid. But the newly crowned champion was in no mood to play second fiddle: as the leading trio approached Becketts, Menu lunged down Plato's inside, forcing his team-mate wide and on to the 'dirty' side of the track. As the Swiss star romped into the lead, Reid spotted his opportunity and followed him through, demoting Plato to a disappointed third. Said Plato: "Alain jumped down the inside; it was at the last possible moment and I was forced either to back off or go around the outside and pick up debris on the tyres. At the end of the day we are both racing for ourselves but we are also racing for the team." Menu was unrepentant: "I always say that unless given an order, I drive my own race..." The race was brought to a halt two laps early when Lee Brookes's Peugeot spun and clouted the barriers exiting the Ireland esses; Brookes was unhurt but his car came to rest in the middle of the track. With the results declared at 17 laps, Menu was the winner by 2.3 seconds from Reid, with Plato -- suffering with damaged tyres -- a further four seconds adrift. Gabriele Tarquini, who made a poor start from the front row of the grid, was fourth for Honda, ahead of Kelvin Burt's Volvo and David Leslie in the second Nissan. Biela finished eighth to cement his championship runner-up position. Matt Neal's Nissan was the leading Total Cup for Independents runner in 14th; he had been planning to hand the class win to Brookes until the latter's accident. If Plato was disappointed by his first-race result, he more than made up for it with a storming start to the second encounter. As the lights flashed to green he blasted away from the grid and pole man Menu to lead the field into the first corner, with Menu holding second from James Thompson's Honda, Reid and Tarquini.
The two Renaults fought for the final win of the year throughout the race, Menu never more than half a second from Plato and trying everything in his championship-winning repertoire to find a way past. This time, however, the Briton made sure he did not present any overtaking opportunities to the wily Swiss and they finished as they had started, separated by less than a quarter of a second.
The battle for third position was no less intense: Reid harried Thompson mercilessly all the way to the 11th tour, finding a way alongside the Honda half-way around the lap only for the manoeuvre to end in collision. As both cars slowed, Tarquini swept past and into a third place he would never lose. Thompson got going again to claim fourth, but Reid's race ended in the pits, his Nissan battered. Paul Radisich took fifth for Ford, ahead of Leslie's Nissan and Rickard Rydell's Volvo.
The Total Cup battle was a fraught one: Colin Gallie -- who needed race victory to claim the title -- led initially, only to fall behind Neal's Nissan. Gravett drove another steady race to third place among the independents, enough to confirm his bumper Total pay-day. * Though the 1997 Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship is now complete, there will be further UK Super Touring action on October 19 at Donington Park, venue for the all-star RAC Tourist Trophy.
** The victorious Williams-Renault team is expected to announce on Wednesday whether it will return to defend its Auto Trader Championship titles in 1998. RESULTS Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, round 23 Silverstone, 21/9/97 17 laps/ 38.28 miles 1 Alain Menu (Switz), Renault Laguna, 24m 13.272s, 94.83mph 2 Anthony Reid (GB), Nissan Primera, +2.306s; 3 Jason Plato (GB), Renault Laguna, +5.699s; 4 Gabriele Tarquini (It), Honda Accord, +9.964s; 5 Kelvin Burt (GB), Volvo S40, +12.795s; Fastest lap: Reid, 1m 24.351s, 96.11mph Round 24 20 laps/ 45.04 miles 1 Plato, 28m 30.311s, 94.80mph; 2 Menu, +0.249s; 3 Tarquini, +11.466s; 4 James Thompson (GB), Honda Accord, +19.235s; 5 Paul Radisich (NZ), Ford Mondeo, +22.026s; Fastest lap: Menu, 1m 24.407s, 96.04mph.
FINAL CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS Drivers 1 Menu, 281 points; 2 Frank Biela (Ger/Audi), 171; 3 Plato, 170; 4 Rickard Rydell (Swe/Volvo), 137, etc Manufacturers 1 Renault, 278; 2 Audi, 210; 3 Honda, 209; 4 Volvo, 191; 5 Nissan, 155; 6 Peugeot, 118; 7 Ford, 113; 8 Vauxhall, 106. Teams 1 Williams Renault, 422; 2 Audi Sport, 283; 3 Honda Sport, 254; 4 Volvo S40 Racing, 191, etc. Total Cup for Independents 1 Robb Gravett (GB/Honda), 236; 2 Lee Brookes (GB/Peugeot), 225; 3 Colin Gallie (GB/BMW) 225, etc.