Biela and Tarquini take Thruxton victories
Alain Menu and the Renault team had their Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship winning streak brought to a dramatic end at Thruxton this afternoon (Mon), heavy showers playing havoc with both races at the Hampshire circuit. Reigning champion Frank Biela claimed victory for Audi in round five, with Honda's Gabriele Tarquini taking round six to notch up his first BTCC victory since his championship-winning season in 1994.
Menu victor of all four of the Auto Trader Championship's opening rounds placed third in both of today's races to extend his overall championship lead. Said Menu: "I am happy enough with two third places and the points. The conditions were very difficult today and I had to play it safe for the championship..."
It was the weather more than anything which decided the outcome of round five of the Auto Trader Championship, a light shower minutes before the green light making the Thruxton track surface sufficiently greasy to favour the four-wheel drive of the Audi duo Biela and John Bintcliffe. At the start Biela rocketed away from fourth on the grid to overhaul pole man Menu for the lead, with Honda's Gabriele Tarquini slotting into third ahead of Bintcliffe and Kelvin Burt's Volvo. Menu's Renault team-mate Jason Plato fell foul of the scrum for the lead positions, sustaining front suspension damage in a Biela/Bintcliffe Audi squeeze which put the Laguna out of the race.
Championship contender Rickard Rydell made up for a poor eighth-place grid slot, manoeuvring his Volvo in front of James Thompson's Honda and Burt to claim fifth spot on the second lap. Next time around Burt had dropped to 10th after a spin, retiring two laps later after a further trip into the scenery.
Tarquini made his move on lap four as further rain began to fall, passing Menu for second as Biela made the most of the conditions to eke out a 2.5-second lead. But the Audi's early advantage soon evaporated along with the moisture on the track; by lap 10 he was less than a second ahead of the Honda.
Tarquini seized his moment on lap 11, overhauling Biela as the reigning champion struggled to maintain grip up Woodham Hill, putting a Honda in front for the second time this season. The reigning champion was not done yet, however, and regained the lead three laps from home. Tarquini stayed well in touch for the duration but eased off on the final lap to finish 3.5 seconds behind the German.
Biela didn't even realise he had taken victory: earlier in the race he had been passed by John Cleland (Vauxhall) and Patrick Watts (Peugeot), not realising that they were a lap down after pitting for wet-weather tyres. "I thought I was dicing with Gabriele for third place," said Biela. "It was a nice surprise to find that I had won..."
Menu claimed a safe third position ahead of Bintcliffe, who repassed Rydell on lap 12, with Thompson sixth after posting the fastest lap of the race on the final tour. Engine failure for early Total Cup leader Lee Brookes (Peugeot) gifted the Independents' prize to Matt Neal's Ford Mondeo.
Round six saw even heavier rainfall, and it was to have a major effect on the race. Tarquini, sharing the front row with Menu, made the better start to lead, with Honda team-mate Thompson pulling into second ahead of Menu, Plato and Bintcliffe. Behind there was drama for Biela, whose Audi spun into the barriers within yards of the startline and into retirement. His car was judged to have come to rest in a dangerous position, and the Safety Car was brought into play for two laps while the stricken Audi was removed to safety.
But as the Safety Car pulled off, so the heavens opened and a posse of canny drivers led by Peugeot's Tim Harvey peeled into the pits for a switch to grooved tyres.
At the restart, Menu pulled in front of Thompson for second and set about closing the gap to Tarquini. The Swiss made a do-or-die lunge for the lead at the chicane on lap eight, but the Honda held on in front and managed to ease out a one-second advantage over the Renault, with Thompson just managing to hold off Rydell for third.
All eyes were on Harvey's progress, however: he rejoined the race in 16th position and by mid-distance was up to ninth, his Michelin intermediates clearly the tyre to have in the tricky wet-to-dry conditions. In successive laps Harvey picked off the cars of Will Hoy (Ford), David Leslie (Nissan) and Bintcliffe, moving up to sixth on the tail of Plato and Thompson. Thompson obliged by pulling off with gearbox failure and the unstoppable Harvey made short work of Plato and Rydell to take up third spot with two laps to run. Menu was the next to succumb and, entering the final lap, the Peugeot was fast making up ground on leader Tarquini.
"If only the race had been a lap longer," mused Harvey after closing to within 0.7 seconds of Tarquini at the finish line. "You could call my result fortuitous, but everybody had the chance of changing tyres. It was my only real hope..."
Menu held on for third ahead of Anthony Reid's Nissan, the faltering Rydell, Derek Warwick's Vauxhall and Plato. Matt Neal was once again the Total Cup for Independents victor. Menu's lead over Rydell in the championship is stretched now to 35 points, with Tarquini moving into third slot.
Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, round 5 Thruxton, 5/5/97, 18 laps/42.41 miles 1 Frank Biela Ger Audi A4 27m 03.695s 94.02mph 2 Gabriele Tarquini It Honda Accord +3.535s 3 Alain Menu Switz Renault Laguna +5.926s 4 John Bintcliffe GB Audi A4 +6.973s 5 Rickard Rydell Swe Volvo S40 +16.535s 6 James Thompson GB Honda Accord +16.840s 7 David Leslie GB Nissan Primera +23.860s 8 Anthony Reid GB Nissan Primera +26.453s 9 Tim Harvey GB Peugeot 406 +43.973s 10 Paul Radisich NZ Ford Mondeo +48.617s 13 & Total Cup Independents: Matt Neal (GB), Ford Mondeo, +1m 09.981s Fastest lap: Thompson 1m 23.749s 101.27mph
Round 6 22 laps/51.83 miles 1 Tarquini 34m 12.672s 90.90mph 2 Harvey +0.687s 3 Menu +4.449s 4 Reid +6.312s 5 Rydell +12.246s 6 Derek Warwick GB Vauxhall Vectra +17.262s 7 Jason Plato GB Renault Laguna +20.797s 8 Bintcliffe +20.922s 9 John Cleland GB Vauxhall Vectra +25.371s 10 Radisich +26.129s 14 & Total Cup Independents: Neal 21 laps Fastest lap: Thompson 1m 18.751s 107.70mph
Championship positions DRIVERS 1 Menu, 83 points; 2 Rydell, 48; 3 Tarquini, 45; 4 Plato, 30; 5 Biela, 29; =6 Bintcliffe & Harvey, 23, etc.
MANUFACTURERS 1 Renault, 80; 2 Volvo, 62; 3 Honda, 53; 4 Audi, 42; 5 Nissan, 38; 6 Peugeot, 35; 7 Vauxhall, 30; 8 Ford, 28.
TOTAL CUP for INDEPENDENTS 1 Colin Gallie (GB/BMW), 72; 2 Gravett, 52, etc.
------- BTCC97 www.demon.co.uk/racing