NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP, 23/8/97 RICKARD RYDELL and James Thompson this afternoon (Saty) proved themselves the fastest men in the Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, on the fastest circuit in the country. In official qualifying for Bank Holiday Monday's twin rounds of the Auto Trader Championship at Thruxton, Rydell and his Volvo S40 and Thompson's Honda Accord shared the pole position honours.

Rydell set his pole time in qualifying for round 19, hustling his Volvo around the Hampshire track in a time of 1m 16.341s, nearly two-tenths of a second inside the official qualifying record. It was the first pole position of the year for the Swede and for Volvo, and the maiden pole for the S40, introduced to racing at the beginning of the season. Thompson ran Rydell close, though, edging out John Bintcliffe's Audi for second on the grid.

In qualifying for round 20, Thompson topped the timesheets -- like Rydell, for the first time in 1997. With Rydell unable to do better than fourth fastest on this occasion, it was left to 1996 champion Frank Biela (a race winner at Thruxton in April) to take the challenge to Thompson.

Said Thompson: "I'm delighted for the team because I have been quick all year without managing to take a pole position. The last time I started from pole position here, I won..."

It was a slightly subdued day for the newly crowned champion, Alain Menu. The 34-year-old Swiss Renault team leader set fourth and third- best times respectively in the two sessions, complaining of a lack of grip. Though Menu already has the drivers' title in the bag, he is still seeking to net the manufacturers' and teams' championship prizes for Renault and Williams.

** The Nissan team today became the first of the BTCC squads to confirm their driver line-ups for the 1998 season, announcing that their '97 pairing of David Leslie and Anthony Reid would be retained for the coming year. Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship Official qualifying, Thruxton, 23/8/97 Round 19 1 Rickard Rydell (Swe), Volvo S40, 1m 16.341s, 111.10mph; 2 James Thompson (GB), Honda Accord, 1m 16.762s; 3 John Bintcliffe (GB), Audi A4, 1m 16.811s; 4 Alain Menu (Switz), Renault Laguna, 1m 16.859s; 5 Frank Biela (Ger), Audi A4, 1m 16.944s;

Round 20 1 Thompson, 1m 16.392s, 111.02mph; 2 Biela, 1m 16.413s; 3 Menu, 1m 16.452s; 4 Rydell, 1m 16.526s; 5 Gabriele Tarquini (It), Honda Accord, 1m 16.700s

-- www.btcc.co.uk