BTCC: Thruxton report

NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP Thruxton 6/5/96 FRANK BIELA and the Audi Sport team put their qualifying problems behind them to notch up another impressive Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship performance...

NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP Thruxton 6/5/96 FRANK BIELA and the Audi Sport team put their qualifying problems behind them to notch up another impressive Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship performance at Thruxton this afternoon (Mon). Biela romped home to a decisive victory -- his fourth in five races -- in the first of the day's encounters, with his talented young British team-mate John Bintcliffe following him home for second place and his best result of the season. And Biela took a stunning third place in round six of the championship despite the enormous handicap of starting from the back of the grid with a 10-second penalty, a legacy of his crash in Saturday qualifying. The 31-year-old German virtually destroyed his four-wheel-drive Audi in the accident, and his team had to put in 40- plus hours of work to rebuild it for today. Said Biela, who now enjoys a 35-point championship lead: 'The car was perfect today. I have to drive it, but it was my team who did all the work to enable me to win the race. They did a brilliant job' Round six was won by Biela's countryman Jo Winkelhock, the 1993 Champion, who led home team-mate Roberto Ravaglia for a BMW 1- 2. Biela dominated round five, blasting into the lead away from pole position, ahead of Winkelhock, the Renault of Swiss star Alain Menu and David Leslie's Honda. Winkelhock's challenge was to last but half a lap -- he spun out of contention after a touch from Menu. Leslie took up the chase of Biela until lap three, when Bintcliffe sprang an attack from fourth to pass both Menu and the Honda and take up position behind his team-mate. As Leslie slipped back in the confusion, a nudge from the Volvo of Kelvin Burt sent him spinning down the order. Menu charged hard in third place, right on Bintcliffe's tail, for the next 10 laps. But the Englishman didn't crack under the intense pressure and instead it was Menu who struck trouble, spinning out on unlucky lap 13 and handing third to Rickard Rydell's Volvo. The drive of the race came from reigning champion John Cleland, who recovered from a poor start in his Vauxhall Vectra which left him back in 11th place at one stage to pass in the closing laps his team-mate James Thompson, Will Hoy (Renault), Ravaglia and Burt. Cleland locked on to Rydell's tail on the final lap but had to give best to the Volvo man. Top Total Cup privateer was Lee Brookes (Toyota), who finished 11th.

Round six proved to be a BMW benefit, with Winkelhock assuming command immediately from pole position, ahead of Ravaglia, Hoy and Rydell. But as the BMWs swept into the distance all eyes were on Biela. Frank's cause was boosted by the arrival on the track on lap two of the safety car, brought out after Steve Robertson's Ford left the circuit and came to rest in a dangerous position. That allowed the field to close up and, when the safety car was withdrawn two laps later, Biela was in the perfect position to capitalise.

Eleventh on the sixth lap, the Audi man made up positions on each successive lap, hitting the top six by lap 11. He made short work of James Thompson's Vauxhall and Leslie to take up position on the tail of third-placed Cleland with seven laps to run. The reigning champion used every ounce of his experience and skill to keep his Vauxhall in front but, two laps from the chequered flag, he had to capitulate. Said Biela later: 'I never expected to make the podium in this race. It was the safety car which helped me...'

Winkelhock finished just over a second clear of Ravaglia, with Biela a further second down ahead of Cleland, Leslie and Thompson. Brookes was again leading Total Cup Privateer. Notable casualties of the race included Hoy, whose charge was hindered by overheating problems, and Menu, who failed even to make the start after his round-five crash. Tim Harvey's Peugeot was sidelined with crash damage after a lurid two-car spin at the chicane which also involved Bintcliffe.

After the race, Cleland appealed for the weight differential between the all-conquering four-wheel-drive Audis and the two-wheel-drive opposition -- including his own Vauxhall Vectra -- to be increased. Said the Champion: 'I don't think Biela has even had to try hard yet; nobody has challenged him. The Audi domination is a worry for the championship.' RESULTS Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, round 5 19 laps -- 44.764 miles 1 Frank Biela (Ger), Audi A4, 25m 20.70s, 105.97mph / 170.54kmh; 2 John Bintcliffe (GB), Audi A4, +2.97s; 3 Rickard Rydell (Swe), Volvo 850, +5.69s; 4 John Cleland (GB), Vauxhall Vectra, +6.21s; 5 Will Hoy (GB), Renault Laguna, +8.19s; 6 Kelvin Burt (GB), Volvo 850, +11.53s; 7 Roberto Ravaglia (It), BMW 320i, +11.70s; 8 James Thompson (GB), Vauxhall Vectra, +14.49s; 9 David Leslie (GB), Honda Accord, +25.48s; 10 Owen McAuley (GB), Nissan Primera, +49.24s. Total Cup Privateers: Lee Brookes (GB), Toyota Carina E, +51.34s. Fastest lap: Biela, 1m 17.86s, 108.93mph / 175.31kmh (record). Pole position: Biela, 1m 16.676s, 110.61mph / 178.01kmh. Round 6 21 laps -- 49.56 miles 1 Jo Winkelhock (Ger), BMW 320i, 30m 38.01s, 96.90mph / 155.95kmh; 2 Ravaglia, +1.07s; 3 Biela, +2.37s; 4 Cleland, +4.17s; 5 Leslie, +11.51s; 6 Thompson, +18.73s; 7 Bintcliffe, +18.83s; 8 Rydell, +22.07s; 9 James Kaye (GB), Honda Accord, +26.03s; 10 Patrick Watts (GB), Peugeot 406, +26.41s. Total Cup Privateers: Brookes, +36.36s. Fastest lap: Winkelhock, 1m 17.81s, 109.00mph / 175.42kmh (record). Pole position: Winkelhock, 1m 16.820s, 110.40mph / 177.68kmh. CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS Drivers: 1 Biela, 80 points; 2 Winkelhock, 45; 3 Rydell, 42; =4 Bintcliffe & Alain Menu (Switz/Renault), 35; 6 Ravaglia, 34; 7 Cleland, 31; 8 Will Hoy (GB/Renault), 30; 9 Kelvin Burt (GB/Volvo), 19; 10 Thompson, 13, etc. Manufacturers: 1 Audi, 80; 2 Renault, 60; 3 BMW, 58; 4 Volvo, 56; 5 Vauxhall, 47; 6 Honda, 27; 7 Peugeot, 21; 8 Ford, 16. Total Cup Privateers: 1 Brookes, 67. Next rounds: Silverstone, May 19. -- Official BTCC website: Best in British Motor Sport http://www.demon.co.uk/racing

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