BTCC: Thruxton Race Report

RYDELL & MENU SHARE THE THRUXTON HONOURS Volvo's Rickard Rydell and Renault ace Alain Menu emerged the twin winners at Thruxton this afternoon (Mon) in the opening rounds of the 1998 Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship. Sweden's ...


Volvo's Rickard Rydell and Renault ace Alain Menu emerged the twin winners at Thruxton this afternoon (Mon) in the opening rounds of the 1998 Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship. Sweden's Rydell recovered from a poor start to win the Sprint Race, and Swiss star Menu, the reigning champion, beat Rydell to the chequered flag in the Feature Race despite a tardy pit stop by the Williams Renault crew.

Rydell, who gained extra points for claiming pole position for both races, leads the championship with an eight-point advantage over Menu. Volvo and Renault tie for the manufacturers' championship lead.

The 16-lap Sprint Race provided a stunningly exciting start to the new season, Rydell following up his mastery of the new 'One-Shot Showdown' qualifying procedure with an impressive race victory, his first at the Hampshire circuit since 1996. But though the Swede started from pole position, his path to the chequered flag was anything but straightforward - a fluffed start handed the initial advantage to Honda's James Thompson.

In fact Rydell completed the first lap down in third place, behind both Thompson and the Renault of Jason Plato, with John Cleland's revitalised Vauxhall Vectra snapping at his heels. But Rydell was a man on a mission, snatching second from Plato after the Renault man attempted - and failed - to take the lead from Thompson on the second lap.

Rydell chose the same spot, the Campbell/Cobb/Segrave corner complex, to muscle his Volvo past Thompson's car and into the lead on the third lap. He opened out a healthy lead which, by the time Plato had managed to find a way past Thompson for second four laps later, had turned into an unassailable advantage.

There was plenty of action behind as reigning champion Alain Menu fought to make up for his lowly start slot - his qualifying time was disallowed after he "straightlined" the Club chicane. From 17th on the grid his Renault had battled through to 11th by the end of the first lap, aided by a spin from Derek Warwick's Vauxhall which led to a collision between Matt Neal's Nissan and Will Hoy's Ford. Menu then made short of work of passing the cars of Yvan Muller, Paul Radisich, Anthony Reid, Peter Kox, David Leslie and Gianni Morbidelli to rise to fifth spot behind Cleland with two laps to run. He tried to displace the Scot, too, but a last-lap lunge at the Vauxhall failed to pay off.

Watched by Volvo-TWR team boss Tom Walkinshaw, who jetted in specially from overseeing the Arrows F1 squad at the Argentine GP, Rydell claimed first blood of the season by a one-second margin from Plato, with Thompson hanging on to third from Cleland, Menu and Morbidelli's Volvo. Surrey hot-shot Mark Lemmer made a dream BTCC debut, claiming an untroubled Autosport Independent class victory in his Mint Motorsport Vauxhall Vectra.

The 32-lap Feature Race proved a tactician's nightmare, with sleet threatening to confuse tyre choice and pit-stop strategy. Rydell made up for his poor start to the Sprint Race with a strong getaway from the pole, holding off Anthony Reid's Nissan, Menu and Thompson. Reid was soon in trouble and leaking oil, Menu picking him off on lap four and the Primera thereafter slipping out of the top 10.

Menu immediately set about closing the gap between himself and Rydell, reducing it to less than a second within four laps. By lap nine he was through and into the lead, with Thompson holding a secure third place ahead of Leslie's Nissan and Plato.

The pit stops - new for 1998 - proved a fascinating innovation. Menu and Rydell, separated by just a car's length, made their stops together on lap 20, and it was the Volvo mechanics who proved the better drilled. They sent Rydell back on to the track and back into a three-second lead over Menu, leaving the champion facing the task of catching the Volvo, and passing it, for the second time in the race.

But catch and pass Rydell Menu indeed did, snatching back the lead with six laps to run. At the chequer's fall Menu was 2.6 seconds ahead of the Swede.

Thompson took third place for the second race in succession, ahead of Plato, who emerged in front of Derek Warwick, John Cleland and Peter Kox after a furious four-car duel which kept the crowds enthralled in the late stages. Matt Neal recovered from his Sprint Race disappointment to win the Autosport Independents division in his Nissan after Lemmer's demise with mechanical problems.

Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship Thruxton, Hampshire / 13 April 1998

Round 1: 16 laps / 37.70 miles / 60.67km 1 Rickard Rydell SWE Volvo S40 21m 01.194s 107.60mph 2 Jason Plato GB Renault Laguna +1.037s 3 James Thompson GB Honda Accord +1.826s 4 John Cleland GB Vauxhall Vectra +6.829s 5 Alain Menu SWI Renault Laguna +6.971s 6 Gianni Morbidelli ITA Volvo S40 +7.645s 7 David Leslie GB Nissan Primera +10.025s 8 Anthony Reid GB Nissan Primera +19.339s 9 Yvan Muller FRA Audi A4 +21.839s 10 Peter Kox NL Honda Accord +22.819s Top independent 14 Mark Lemmer GB Vauxhall Vectra +42.597s Fastest lap Rydell 1m 17.620s 109.27mph

Round 2: 32 laps / 75.39 miles / 121.34km 1 Menu 42m 43.116s 105.89mph 2 Rydell +2.600s 3 Thompson +40.510s 4 Plato +42.990s 5 Derek Warwick GB Vauxhall Vectra +46.893s 6 Cleland +49.259s 7 Kox +50.337s 8 Paul Radisich NZ Peugeot 406 +1m 05.265s 9 John Bintcliffe GB Audi A4 +1m 13.153s Top independent 10 Matt Neal GB Nissan Primera 31 laps Fastest lap Menu 1m 17.401s 109.58mph

Championship positions

DRIVERS 1 Rydell, 30 points; 2 Menu, 22; 3 Plato & Thompson, 20; 5 Cleland, 13; 6 Warwick, 6, etc.

MANUFACTURERS 1 Volvo & Renault, 27; 3 Honda, 20; 4 Vauxhall, 16; 5 Nissan, Audi & Peugeot, 10; 8 Ford, 6.

AUTOSPORT INDEPENDENTS 1 Robb Gravett (GB/Honda), 22; 2 Lemmer & Neal, 15, etc.

-- Official BTCC website

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About this article
Series BTCC
Drivers Anthony Reid , Peter Kox , Yvan Muller , David Leslie , James Thompson , Jason Plato , Matt Neal , Paul Radisich , Mark Lemmer , John Cleland , Rickard Rydell , Gianni Morbidelli , Derek Warwick , Will Hoy , Tom Walkinshaw , Alain Menu
Teams Williams