NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP, 25/8/97 RENAULT FINISHES JOB AS AUDI TAKES DOUBLE THRUXTON VICTORY
Although the Audi team swept all before it at Thruxton this afternoon (Mon) -- John Bintcliffe and Frank Biela sharing the Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship victories -- it was the Williams Renault team spilling the champagne as it celebrated clinching the manufacturers' and teams' championships.
Second place for Alain Menu in the second of today's races was enough to make Renault's championship sweep a clean one. Thirty- four-year-old Menu had tied up the drivers' championship a fortnight ago with six rounds remaining. Changeable weather made tyre choice and car set-ups for round 19 of the Auto Trader Championship something of a lottery -- several drivers, David Leslie, John Cleland and Tim Harvey among them, opted to abandon their rightful grid positions and start instead from the back after a late change to dry-weather slick tyres. Pole position man Rickard Rydell chose to stay on grooved intermediates and paid for his decision with a first-lap drubbing at the hands of the slick- shod Audis and Hondas. Bintcliffe made a demon start from third on the grid to lead his Audi team-mate Biela away from the green lights, with James Thompson and Gabriele Tarquini muscling their Hondas ahead of Rydell's Volvo for third and fourth. The Swede concluded his handicap was too great on the second lap and pitted for more suitable rubber, rejoining in 20th position. The duel for the lead was the most competitive seen all season, with the cars of Bintcliffe, Biela, Thompson and Tarquini fighting for the duration of the 20-lap sprint. 1996 champion Biela tried everything in his repertoire to find a way past his younger and less experienced British team-mate, but Bintcliffe survived his assaults and, having the slight advantage of softer-compound Dunlops, was able to maintain his advantage. Biela had the handicap of two hungry Hondas in his mirrors, and Thompson tried on several occasions to take advantage while Biela attacked Bintcliffe, only to see the Audis gain ground once more. The top four finished as they started, less than two seconds separating them. Will Hoy claimed fifth -- his best finish of the year for Ford -- ahead of Harvey's Peugeot. Rydell and Volvo team-mate Kelvin Burt retired with gearbox problems. Menu finished a lowly 17th -- a late pre-race damper adjustment resulted in a poorly fitted right rear wheel which wobbled and damaged a brake disc on the warm-up lap; he started from the pits a lap behind the field. Menu was right back on form for round 20, though, starting the race from third on the grid behind Thompson and Biela. As Thompson made a tardy getaway, Biela put his Audi's four-wheel drive to excellent use to establish an early lead over Menu and Thompson.
New champion chased old for the duration of the race, Menu closing down on Biela in the fastest parts of the ultra-quick Hampshire circuit only for the Audi to pull away again out of the twisty sections. Thompson kept the lead battlers on their toes for the first half of the race before dropping back. At the chequered flag Biela was just two seconds in front of Menu, with Thompson a further nine seconds adrift, just ahead of Tarquini.
Bintcliffe displayed his earlier form to pass both Rydell and Jason Plato's Renault for fifth. A last-lap attack from Rydell on Plato failed to pay off for the Swede.
Although the Auto Trader Championship drivers', manufacturers' and teams' titles are now settled in the favour of Menu, Renault and Williams Touring Car Engineering, the UKpounds60,000 Total Cup for Independents prize is still up for grabs. Lee Brookes and his Peugeot was top independent in both the Thruxton races, but it is young Scott Colin Gallie who leads the title battle, enjoying a nine- point lead over Robb Gravett.
RESULTS Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, round 19 Thruxton, 25/8/97 20 laps/ 47.12 miles 1 John Bintcliffe (GB), Audi A4, 26m 30.915s, 106.62mph; 2 Frank Biela (Ger), Audi A4, +0.358s; 3 James Thompson (GB), Honda Accord, +1.772s; 4 Gabriele Tarquini (It), Honda Accord, +1.968s; 5 Will Hoy (GB), Ford Mondeo, +15.445s Fastest lap: Tarquini, 1m 17.876s, 108.91mph
Round 20 20 laps/ 47.12 miles 1 Biela, 26m 25.410s, 106.99mph; 2 Alain Menu (Switz), Renault Laguna, +2.394s; 3 Thompson, +11.673s; 4 Tarquini, +14.237s; 5 Bintcliffe, +19.836s Fastest lap: Biela, 1m 17.729s, 109.11mph CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS Drivers 1 Menu, 251 points; 2 Biela, 146; 3 Plato, 132; 4 Thompson, 120; 5 Rydell, 118; 6 Bintcliffe, 111; 7 Tarquini, 108; 8 Leslie, 69; 9 Harvey, 58; 10 Kelvin Burt (GB/Volvo), 46, etc. Manufacturers 1 Renault, 260; 2 Honda, 196; 3 Audi, 192; 4 Volvo, 171; 5 Nissan, 121; 6 Vauxhall, 104; 7 Peugeot, 103; 8 Ford, 97. Teams 1 Williams Renault, 368; 2 Audi Sport, 255; 3 Honda Sport, 226, etc. Total Cup for Independents 1 Colin Gallie (GB/BMW), 201; 2 Robb Gravett (GB/Honda), 192; 3 Brookes, 175, etc. -- www.btcc.co.uk