NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP 20/4/97
Menu and Renault score Silverstone double
Alain Menu and the Renault team this afternoon (Sun) strengthened their grip on the Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship with another impressive pair of race victories at Silverstone, bringing their tally for the season so far to four wins out of four.
Swiss ace Menu, 33, led both races all the way, save for the opening two laps of the day's second BTCC battle, after James Thompson jumped the start -- for which he was penalised with a stop-go pitlane penalty.
Menu now enjoys a 25-point championship lead over Swede Rickard Rydell (Volvo), with Renault heading Volvo in the manufacturer race by 12 points.
First race of the day -- round three of the Auto Trader Championship -- was a thriller from the word go, for as the lights flashed to green, pole-sitter Jason Plato (Renault) stalled on the grid. Team-mate Menu made no error, however, to lead into the first corner ahead of the charging Kelvin Burt, whose Volvo had sprinted up from sixth on the grid. James Thompson's Honda held third from Frank Biela's Audi, up from ninth position on the grid, with David Leslie (Nissan) fifth from Rydell.
There was carnage at the second corner as Paul Radisich (Ford), John Bintcliffe (Audi) and Anthony Reid (Nissan) collided, debris from the accident accounting also for the Ford of independent racer Matt Neal.
Rydell made his move on lap two, recovering from a poor start in the S40 to overhaul Biela and Leslie and snatch fourth position. Next time around Rydell snatched third from Thompson and locked on to the tail of team-mate Burt. As Menu eked out a two-second gap at the front, all eyes were on the battling Volvos of Burt and Rydell. The Swede was clearly the quicker of the two but it took him an agonising eight laps to find his way through and into second position.
By this time Menu was cruising ahead with a four-second advantage, but the Renault man was visibly backing off, allowing Rydell to close in to within a second as the duo entered their last lap. Rydell threw everything he had into the run down to the flag, but at the close the Renault was still 0.7 seconds ahead.
Leslie moved ahead of Burt seven laps from home to notch up a maiden podium placing for the nascent Nissan team, with Burt collecting fourth ahead of Gabriele Tarquini in the Honda. Tarquini's was the drive of the race after a very poor start and first-lap delays. Twelfth at the end of the first lap, his progress through the field to fifth was a spectacular effort and made up for Honda's disappointment at losing Thompson from fourth place with engine failure after six laps.
Plato charged through the field also, posting faster lap times than Menu and making it into the top 10 two laps from home to collect a solitary championship point. Some further consolation for the young Brit was the honour of setting fastest lap of the race. The 1990 champion, Robb Gravett, earned a good win in the Total Cup for Independents on his return to the championship, his Honda overhauling Lee Brookes's Peugeot at mid-distance and maintaining a three-second advantage at the flag.
Round four saw pole man Menu make another excellent start, but Thompson, alongside on the front row, made an even better one. Too good, as it transpired, and after two laps in the lead the Honda man was called into the pits for a stop-go penalty by the clerks of the course, dropping him way down the field. Thompson later complained that he was suffering from a slipping clutch as the result of an engine change between races.
Burt made another good start, but his race ended on lap one when he tangled with the charging Plato and spun into the gravel, an incident which was later to be investigated by the race stewards. By lap three Menu enjoyed a one-second lead over Rydell, with Reid in third place for Nissan ahead of Plato and the Peugeots of Patrick Watts and Tim Harvey. Reid slipped back to sixth next time around, and into retirement with a misfire the following lap.
The battle for the lead was a fierce one, but by middle distance the gap had expanded to two seconds and, with Rydell unable to live with Menu's pace, the Swiss cruised in to his second victory of the day. The winning margin at the chequer was three seconds.
Plato kept in touch to claim third, ahead of Harvey and the battling Vauxhalls of Derek Warwick and John Cleland, with Will Hoy salvaging seventh for Ford by passing Watts on the final tour. Thompson recovered from his penalty to take ninth, just ahead of Gravett, who claimed the Total Cup honours again.
Further action was provided by Leslie and Bintcliffe, who collided on lap 17 while disputing eighth place. Both retired. After the race Plato was excluded for his part in the lap-one incident with Burt, but he was subsequently reinstated after an appeal by the Renault team.
RESULTS Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, round 3 Silverstone, 20/4/97 20 laps/45.04 miles 1 Alain Menu (Switz), Renault Laguna, 28m 20.191s, 95.47mph / 153.64kmh; 2 Rickard Rydell (Swe), Volvo S40, +0.704s; 3 David Leslie (GB), Nissan Primera, +13.016s; 4 Kelvin Burt (GB), Volvo S40, +15.266s; 5 Gabriele Tarquini (It), Honda Accord, +20.520s. Fastest lap: Plato, 1m 23.257s, 97.37mph / 156.71kmh (establishes record). Round 4 20 laps/45.04 miles 1 Menu, 28m 13.133s, 95.86mph / 154.28kmh; 2 Rydell, +3.187s; 3 Jason Plato (GB), Renault Laguna, +5.722s; 4 Tim Harvey (GB), Peugeot 406, +26.476s; 5 Derek Warwick (GB), Vauxhall Vectra, +29.250s. Fastest lap: Menu, 1m 23.428s, 97.17mph / 156.38kmh. CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS Drivers 1 Menu, 61 points; 2 Rydell, 36; 3 Plato, 26; 4 Burt, 20; =5 Leslie & Tarquini, 18, etc. Manufacturers 1 Renault, 60; 2 Volvo, 48; 3 Honda, 26; 4 Nissan, 24; 5 Audi, 23; 6 Vauxhall, 22; 7 Ford, 21; 8 Peugeot, 18. Total Cup Independents 1 Colin Gallie (GB/BMW), 50; 2 Gravett, 30; 3 Jamie Wall (GB/Vauxhall), 28, etc.
Next rounds May 5, Thruxton
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