NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP
THE Vauxhall team celebrated its first Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship victory of the season at Snetterton this afternoon (Sun), James Thompson giving the new Vectra its maiden BTCC win in a barnstorming 11th round of the series. The second race of the day was won by Jo Winkelhock for BMW. Audi's Frank Biela has an extended championship lead after the day's events: he now has 134 points to nearest rival Rickard Rydell's 85. Thompson's victory in round 11 -- although hinted at in pre-race testing and his fourth-place grid position -- was in fact a fortunate one, not least because the 22-year-old suffered a sideways 'moment' at the first bend in his Vauxhall Vectra which saw him complete lap one down in eighth place. It was the BMWs of Jo Winkelhock and Roberto Ravaglia which made all the running initially, the German leading away from pole position and his fast-starting Italian team- mate snatching second from third on the grid. Championship leader Biela made a good start also, displacing Rydell's Volvo from third place on lap one. Winkelhock's lead was shortlived, however: next time around he handed the leader's baton to Ravaglia as he spun down to fifth. That set the pattern for the rest of the race, with Ravaglia, Biela, Rydell, Alain Menu (Renault), Winkelhock and John Cleland (Vauxhall) furiously scrapping bumper-to-bumper among themselves and swapping position in a vindication of the recently introduced new BTCC weight limit system. Rydell and his front-drive Volvo made his move on the four-wheel-drive Audi of Biela on lap three, taking second place and latching on to the bumper of Ravaglia's rear-drive BMW. Meanwhile, the recovering Winkelhock was back up to fourth in front of Menu and, a lap later, past Biela and into third, followed through by Menu to make the order Ravaglia - Rydell - Winkelhock - Menu - Biela - Cleland. By lap 10 Thompson was joining in the battle also, displacing David Leslie (Honda) and then team-mate Cleland to grab sixth. Winkelhock was on the move again too, taking up station behind his team-mate, Ravaglia, after lifting second from Rydell. Two laps later, in a repeat of his earlier blunder, Winkelhock spun back to fifth again. Lap 14 saw Menu demote Rydell from second. The decisive moment of the race came at the tricky Snetterton chicane on lap 20, where leader Ravaglia made an error on the exit and the pursuing Menu and Rydell saw their chances. As they crossed the line and hurtled towards the right-hander at Riches to start lap 21, they quickly discovered that three into one wouldn't go -- Ravaglia and Rydell were eliminated on the spot with collision damage while Menu continued in the lead for a further half-lap until electrical problems halted his Laguna. That left a surprised Thompson, who had earlier snuck past Biela, with a modest lead over the Audi team leader which he managed to hold to the chequered flag two laps later... Round 12 was less fraught but no less competitive, with Winkelhock on this occasion converting his pole position to a race-long lead and fourth victory of the season. Cleland made an excellent start from fourth on the grid to snatch second spot, and the Vectra driver followed the BMW all the way to the chequered flag.
Hoy and Rydell held third and fourth places respectively until lap two, when the duo brushed and Rydell's Volvo spun down to fifth place, Hoy's Renault to 10th. That left Menu to take up third place behind Cleland, trailed by Thompson and the recovered Rydell. Biela was exluded from sixth place after an incident involving him and the car of David Leslie.
RESULTS Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, round 11 23 laps -- 44.8 miles / 72.2km 1 James Thompson (GB), Vauxhall Vectra, 28m 39.11s, 94.01mph / 151.30kmh; 2 Frank Biela (Ger), Audi A4, 0.70s; 3 John Cleland (GB), Vauxhall Vectra, +2.77s; 4 Tim Harvey (GB), Peugeot 406, +8.32s; 5 Jo Winkelhock (Ger), BMW 320i, +8.68s; 6 John Bintcliffe (GB), Audi A4, +9.32s; 7 Will Hoy (GB), Renault Laguna, +9.65s; 8 Richard Kaye (GB), Vauxhall Cavalier, +20.25s; 9 David Leslie (GB), Honda Accord, +23.20s; 10 Gary Ayles (GB), Nissan Primera, +40.82s. Total Cup Privateers: Richard Kaye. Fastest lap: Winkelhock, 1m 13.33s, 95.82mph / 154.22kmh.
REVISED ROUND 12 PROVISIONAL POSITIONS 1 Jo Winkelhock (Ger), BMW 320i, 28m 27.03s, 95.54mph / 153.76kmh; 2 John Cleland (GB), Vauxhall Vectra, +4.63s; 3 Alain Menu (Switz), Renault Laguna, +4.96s; 4 James Thompson (GB), Vauxhall Vectra, +8.88s; 5 Rickard Rydell (Swe), Volvo 850, +9.20s; 6 John Bintcliffe (GB), Audi A4, +19.13s; 7 James Kaye (GB), Honda Accord, +21.34s; 8 Paul Radisich (NZ), Ford Mondeo, +25.87s; 9 Will Hoy (GB), Renault Laguna, +27.19s; 10 Steve Robertson (GB), Ford Mondeo, +32.89s. CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS Drivers: 1 Biela, 134 points; 2 Rydell, 85; 3 Winkelhock, 83; 4 Bintcliffe, 79; 5 Menu, 73; 6 Roberto Ravaglia (It), BMW 320i, 70. Manufacturers: 1 Audi, 142; 2 BMW, 128; =3 Volvo & Renault 112; 5 Vauxhall, 93; 6 Honda, 63; 7 Peugeot, 47; 8 Ford, 37.
-- Official BTCC website: Best in British Motor Sport http://www.demon.co.uk/racing