NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP, 9/8/97 Champion elect Alain Menu edged a little closer to the Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship drivers' title at Snetterton this afternoon (Saty), claiming pole position -- on what was his 34th birthday -- for both of tomorrow's races at the Norfolk track.
The Swiss Renault team leader beat Nissan's Anthony Reid to the pole spot for round 17 of the Auto Trader Championship by nearly a tenth of a second, with early testing pacesetter James Thompson third fastest for Honda.
Reid fought back in qualifying for round 18, however, besting Menu by two-tenths of a second, only to have his and Nissan's debut BTCC pole position denied by a technical infringement -- his Primera failed the pit-lane ride height check.
That put Menu on to the pole for the 12th time this season, ahead of Renault number two Jason Plato and David Leslie in the second Nissan. Although he has converted seven poles to race wins already this year, Menu was circumspect about his chances tomorrow: "I aim just to stay out of trouble and finish well. Everyone is very evenly matched here and it will not be easy to win..."
Menu can afford not to take chances: a good points score in both races will see him confirmed as champion after finishing runner-up for three seasons.
Ford's Paul Radisich, an encouraging seventh quickest in round 17 qualifying, was another to strike problems in the second session: after posting a time which would have earned him fourth on the grid, it too was disallowed for a ride height infringement. To add injury to insult, he then crashed his Mondeo and, though unhurt, may be forced to sit out both tomorrow's races with a badly damaged car. Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship Official qualifying, Snetterton, 9/8/97 Round 17 1 Alain Menu (Switz), Renault Laguna, 1m 08.839s, 102.08mph; 2 Anthony Reid (GB), Nissan Primera, 1m 08.957s; 3 James Thompson (GB), Honda Accord, 1m 09.057s; 4 Frank Biela (Ger), Audi A4, 1m 09.071s; 5 Jason Plato (GB), Renault Laguna, 1m 09.238s; Round 18 1 Menu, 1m 09.346s, 101.33mph; 2 Plato, 1m 09.585s; 3 David Leslie (GB), Nissan Primera, 1m 09.675s; 4 Gabriele Tarquini (It), Honda Accord, 1m 09.682s; 5 Rickard Rydell (Swe), Volvo S40, 1m 09.687s;