BTCC: Silverstone race report

LESLIE AND HOY SURPRISE AT SILVERSTONE David Leslie gave the Nissan team its first Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship victory for five years this afternoon (Sun), the 44-year-old Scotsman's Primera sprinting to victory in the ...

BTCC: Silverstone race report
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LESLIE AND HOY SURPRISE AT SILVERSTONE

David Leslie gave the Nissan team its first Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship victory for five years this afternoon (Sun), the 44-year-old Scotsman's Primera sprinting to victory in the shorter of the day's two races at Silverstone. The pit-stop Feature Race saw a surprise win for 1991 champion Will Hoy; it was Hoy's first victory since 1995 and also Ford's first for three years. British drivers filled the top three in both races.

It was a day of disaster for reigning champion Alain Menu, who crashed his Renault out of both events and failed to score a single point. Menu's team-mate Jason Plato now leads the title race, with Renault still ahead in the manufacturer's championship.

The Sprint Race - round three of the Auto Trader BTCC - started to go Leslie's way when he made the best of the tricky damp track conditions to blast off the startline ahead of the Honda of pole position man James Thompson. Thompson made a comparatively poor start but nonetheless managed to hold off Jason Plato's Renault for second, with Derek Warwick fourth for Vauxhall.

Peter Kox's race lasted less than a lap: he spun off at Copse, prompting the appearance of the Safety Car for the first time this season while his Honda was recovered. There was drama at the restart two laps later as the Renault of reigning champion Alain Menu - which was battling through the pack from a lowly grid slot - collided with the Nissan of Independent racer Matt Neal. Both men's races ended as a result of the accident.

While Leslie eased out a modest gap over Thompson and Plato at the head of the field, there were battles galore in the midfield as Warwick was forced to defend his fourth position from Will Hoy's Ford and then the Volvos of Gianni Morbidelli and Rickard Rydell. At the flag Leslie held a six-second advantage over Thompson, with Plato - who had put the Honda man under severe pressure over the final laps - a further half-second adrift.

Warwick held on ahead of Rydell to give British drivers a clean sweep of the top four places, John Cleland battling through to sixth for Vauxhall, just ahead of Anthony Reid's Nissan. Like Menu, Reid had started from the back of the pack. Top finisher among the Autosport Independents was Robb Gravett, driving a Honda.

Driver quotes round 3 Plato: "In the first laps I couldn't live with David or James, but my car came better towards the end. But James drives a very wide car when he wants to and it wasn't worth the risk to try anything..." Thompson: "I had a bad start - the track wasn't as wet as I had been expecting. But that said, David was very quick early in the race. I had a good dice with Jason, playing cat and mouse for the last two laps, but I managed to fend him off." Leslie: "It may have looked easy, but it wasn't... We had to guess at most of the settings on the car but it all worked out well. I hope this is the first of many wins for Nissan."

Showery weather played havoc with the teams' pit-stop strategies in the Feature Race, which started dry but saw a deluge on the fifth lap. Early leader and pole sitter Plato was the first to fall foul of the conditions, sliding off at Becketts but managing to regain the track unscathed.

His Renault team-mate Menu had earlier proved less fortunate, the Swiss colliding with Leslie's Nissan on the first lap as the duo disputed second place. The incident caused the retirement of both men's cars.

As the rain continued to fall and Plato skated off, Thompson picked up the lead for a lap before pitting for a tyre change and handing the baton to Hoy. In a brilliant estimation of the changing conditions the Ford team called Hoy in two laps later and sent him back out on intermediate rubber, regaining the lead from Gravett after two laps.

Hoy built up a massive lead but Plato made a stunning comeback from his earlier spin, aided by a swap to grooved, hand-cut slick Michelins. The Renault man's charge back up from 14th took him to second, within seven seconds of the Ford by the end, but Hoy's victory was never in doubt. He became the fourth different winner from four Auto Trader BTCC races.

Reid - also on hand-cut slicks - sliced through to third ahead of Kiwi Paul Radisich in the Peugeot, with Gianni Morbidelli fifth for Volvo. Volvo team leader and erstwhile championship leader Rickard Rydell crashed out on the 10th lap. Gravett staged a superb Independents win, snatching victory from Tommy Rustad's Renault on the final lap. Gravett, the 1990 champ, ran on slicks throughout.

Driver quotes round 4 Reid: "It's been a fantastic weekend for Nissan. I didn't have a great day yesterday in qualifying and to finish on the podium is the best I could have hoped for. I passed Jason a couple of times but then made a couple of mistakes and at the end the cut slicks on his car gave him a crucial advantage. It's just amazing this championship is so wide open." Plato: "I was first into the deluge and it caught me out. By the time I got back on to the track I had to take a gamble on the tyres. I went for cut slicks and it paid dividends at the end. It's great to be leading the championship. I have been playing the percentage game and it's worked so far." Hoy: "It's a great result for everyone at Ford and in the team. I had been praying for rain and it happened spot on for me. We made an excellent pt stop and the right call on tyres. At the end I was taking it easy to make sure I won. Perhaps Nigel Mansell is our lucky mascot!"

Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship Silverstone, Northants / 26 April 1998 Round 3: 17 laps / 38.56 miles / 62.04km

 1 David Leslie GB Nissan Primera 25m 34.057s 89.95mph 2 James Thompson GB Honda Accord +6.600s 3 Jason Plato GB Renault Laguna +7.090s 4 Derek Warwick GB Vauxhall Vectra +11.118s 5 Rickard Rydell S Volvo S40 +13.045s 6 John Cleland GB Vauxhall Vectra +14.412s 7 Anthony Reid GB Nissan Primera +17.729s 8 Gianni Morbidelli I Volvo S40 +18.167s 9 Will Hoy GB Ford Mondeo +22.673s 10 Yvan Muller F Audi A4 +24.080s 

Top independent 13 Robb Gravett GB Honda Accord +30.964s

 Fastest lap Leslie 1m 24.576s 95.85mph 

Round 4: 30 laps / 68.04 miles / 109.48km

 1 Hoy 46m 49.868s 86.62mph 2 Plato +6.867s 3 Reid +11.812s 4 Paul Radisich NZ Peugeot 406 +19.943s 5 Morbidelli +28.287s 6 Warwick +1m 09.885s 7 Cleland +1m 21.276s 8 Muller +1m 30.345s 9 Thompson +1m 34.029s 10 Craig Baird NZ Ford Mondeo 29 laps 
 Top independent 12 Gravett 29 laps 
 Fastest lap Thompson 1m 24.764s 95.64mph 

Championship positions

DRIVERS 1 Plato, 44 points; 2 Rydell & Thompson, 36; 4 Alain Menu (SWI/Renault) & Cleland, 22; 6 Warwick, 20; 7 Leslie, 19; 8 Hoy, 18; 9 Reid, 17; 10 Morbidelli, 14 etc.

MANUFACTURERS 1 Renault, 49; 2 Volvo, 39; 3 Honda & Nissan, 35; 5 Vauxhall, 29; 6 Ford, 26; 7 Peugeot, 21; 8 Audi, 18.

AUTOSPORT INDEPENDENTS 1 Gravett, 52; 2 Tommy Rustad (NOR/Renault), 36; 3 Roger Moen (NOR/Honda), 28 etc.

-- Official BTCC website www.btcc.co.uk

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