NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP
Menu clinches championship with Snetterton victory
Alain Menu claimed the Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship drivers' title this afternoon (Sun) in virtuoso style, the Swiss Williams Renault team leader claiming his 11th race victory of the season in the Snetterton sunshine to celebrate his 34th birthday weekend in the best possible way.
Menu's Renault Laguna led the 17th round of the Auto Trader Championship from pole position to chequered flag, setting fastest lap on his way to a two-second victory over Honda's James Thompson. In the second race of the afternoon Menu finished a close second to his rookie Renault team- mate Jason Plato, who notched up his debut BTCC victory.
Menu's Snetterton win ironically his first at the Norfolk track in a BTCC career spanning five years was the culmination of a dominant season for the Renault team, an offshoot of the Williams-Renault Grand Prix squad. Menu won the first four races of the year, at Donington and Silverstone, and followed up that superb start to the season with single victories at Brands Hatch and again at Donington, as well as double tops at Oulton Park and Croft. Oxfordshire-based Menu's touring car career began with BMW in 1992 before his successful switch to Renault; he was BTCC runner-up for the French manufacturer in 1994, '95 and '96. Menu had previously been championship runner-up in Formula Ford and the British F3000 Championship.
In addition to his title win, Menu also this weekend collected the 5,000 Michelin Award for achieving the most number of pole positions in the season.
Round 17 of the championship was settled at the first corner, Menu romping into an early lead from Nissan's Anthony Reid and Thompson. Reid's challenge was shortlived, clutch problems dropping him from the top 10 before the end of the first lap, and into retirement. Thompson chased the Renault valiantly, reducing Menu's advantage from two seconds to just a car's length by mid-distance but, as the Honda man admitted, he "pushed too hard, too early, and couldn't stay with Alain".
Outgoing champion Frank Biela collected third place for Audi after an inspired last-lap attack on Plato, who held on for fourth ahead of Rickard Rydell's Volvo. Paul Radisich was sixth for Ford his best result since the first race of the year with team-mate Will Hoy 10th to record Ford's best team result of the season. Early departures from the race included those of Honda's Gabriele Tarquini and Volvo's Kelvin Burt, who collided on lap six while disputing 13th position.
Total Cup for Independents victor was the reigning cup-holder, Lee Brookes, whose Peugeot inherited top slot after Matt Neal's Nissan succumbed with engine problems.
Round 18 proved a thriller of a race, Plato outgunning pole-sitter Menu from second on the grid to lead into the first corner, with the Hondas of Tarquini and Thompson in line astern. Menu, who had earlier said he would not gift any victories to his team-mate "because he was not yet ready to win", harried Plato all the way to the chequered flag, never more than a car's length behind at any stage. Menu in turn had his mirrors full of Tarquini's Honda for the duration of the race.
Displaying racecraft beyond his 28 years, Plato never put a wheel wrong to lead the new champion across the line by just 0.38s, with Tarquini whose last-lap, last-ditch overtaking attempt on Menu only just failed had to settle for third, a further three-tenths of a second behind. Thompson took fourth ahead of Rydell and David Leslie's Nissan. Neal put behind him the disappointment of his first-race retirement to lead the Total Cup runners all the way.
With six rounds remaining and Menu's points tally of 239 beyond reach, there's still a battle for the runner-up position Plato now has a four-point advantage over Biela, with Rydell a further six points down. And the Auto Trader Championship for manufacturers is still open, although Renault's 68-point lead over Honda looks unassailable. In the Total Cup, Robb Gravett holds a three-point lead over Colin Gallie.
Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, round 17 Snetterton, 10/8/97, 23 laps/44.90 miles 1 Alain Menu Switz Renault Laguna 27m 12.654s 98.99mph 2 James Thompson GB Honda Accord +1.935s 3 Frank Biela Ger Audi A4 +20.184s 4 Jason Plato GB Renault Laguna +20.724s 5 Rickard Rydell Swe Volvo S40 +22.836s Fastest lap: Menu, 1m 10.024s, 100.35mph (establishes record)
Round 18 23 laps/44.90 miles 1 Plato 27m 15.149s 98.84mph 2 Menu +0.381s 3 Gabriele Tarquini It Honda Accord +0.677s 4 Thompson +4.930s 5 Rydell +8.463s Fastest lap: Menu, 1m 09.871s, 100.57mph (record)
Championship positions DRIVERS 1 Menu, 239 points; 2 Plato, 123; 3 Biela, 119; 4 Rydell, 113; 5 Thompson, 99; 6 Tarquini, 92; 7 John Bintcliffe (GB/Audi), 90; 8 Leslie, 65; 9 Harvey, 53; 10 Burt, 46, etc. MANUFACTURERS 1 Renault, 242; 2 Honda, 174; 3 Volvo, 163; 4 Audi, 162; 5 Nissan, 112; 6 Vauxhall, 94; 7 Peugeot, 92; 8 Ford, 82. TOTAL CUP FOR INDEPENDENTS 1 Robb Gravett (GB/Honda), 184; 2 Colin Gallie (GB/BMW), 181; 3 Brookes, 145, etc.