NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP 29/6/97 Menu double victory at drama-packed Croft IN ITS first visit to the North-East of England, the Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship beat the weather to provide some ...

NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP 29/6/97

Menu double victory at drama-packed Croft

IN ITS first visit to the North-East of England, the Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship beat the weather to provide some superb entertainment for nearly 30,000 spectators at the revitalised Croft circuit this afternoon (Sun) -- Alain Menu and the Renault team taking twin victories in incident-packed races.

Racing might easily have had to be abandoned had circuit staff not toiled overnight to clear some 140,000 gallons of standing water from the track. Torrential rain yesterday caused a qualifying wash-out, with grid positions for today's events having to be decided by championship order. Alan Gow, Chief Executive of championship organiser TOCA, said: "Croft responded magnificently to the weather crisis, and we're delighted that our debut visit to the circuit has been so successful."

Although the results of round 13 of the Auto Trader Championship had a familiar look to them, Renault's romp to its third one-two result of the season was by no means a clear-cut affair, with Menu headed by Volvo's Rickard Rydell for the first 10 laps on the damp-but-drying track before the Swiss seized the lead, and Jason Plato being forced to stage a dramatic fight-back after completing the first lap well down the order.

Rydell took the initiative away from the grid, beating pole man Menu into the Hairpin. John Bintcliffe and reigning champion Frank Biela held third and fourth for Audi until they touched at the fast right-hander before the pits and Bintcliffe spun down the pack. There was more drama on lap two, when David Leslie's Nissan -- assisted by Kelvin Burt's Volvo -- took to the escape road at Sunny and slid out of fifth.

Rydell had eased out a one-second gap over Menu by the fourth tour, but with the Honda of Gabriele Tarquini displacing Biela from second place three laps later, the Renault racer set about closing the gap between him and the Swede. Said Rydell later: "I pushed hard early on but after four or five laps Alain was quicker and I couldn't keep him back." Menu confirmed: "I was happy to settle for second early on, then Tarquini started to catch us so I had to go for it."

Menu powered around Rydell at Tower Bend on lap 11; Tarquini tried to follow him through to take second but was made to wait another lap before he could make the manoeuvre stick. Alas for Honda, the Italian's charge was brought to a premature halt eight laps later when he attempted to lap backmarker Robb Gravett -- also in a Honda -- and slid off the track. Tarquini got going again in 13th place but soon after retired.

Rydell's inheritance of second place was also shortlived -- two laps from the chequered flag the persistent Plato, who had slipped as low as seventh early on and had had to drive around both Burt and Biela, nipped past the Volvo to make it a Laguna one-two. Rydell just held on for third ahead of Biela, with James Thompson's Honda fifth after a bruising early-race clash with Burt. The second Volvo finished 12th after another spin.

The works Nissans of Leslie and Anthony Reid both suffered mechanical maladies but there was consolation for the many spectating staff from Nissan's Sunderland factory when Matt Neal's Primera scooped the Total Cup for Independents prize ahead of Jamie Wall's Vauxhall.

Round 14 was an even more incident-packed affair, sadly curtailed after 18 laps -- five of those having taken place under the Safety Car procedure -- after a heavy crash involving Thompson.

Menu took the lead away from the line pursued by Rydell, but the Swede spun at the first corner hairpin after a shove from Bintcliffe. Tarquini also spun after a nudge from Plato and, in a separate incident, Will Hoy's Ford was punted into the gravel trap. As Menu crossed the line to finish the opening lap the Safety Car was brought out while Hoy's stricken car was recovered. At the restart two laps later, Menu led from Bintcliffe, Biela and Plato.

Lap five saw more action as Plato and Biela made contact, Thompson making the most of the confusion to slot into second ahead of Bintcliffe, Tim Harvey's Peugeot and Leslie. The Nissan was soon on the move, deposing Harvey from fourth on lap nine and, next time around, seizing third from Bintcliffe.

Tarquini, meanwhile, had recovered from his lap-one spin to move into seventh place, but he lost control on lap 13 and spun into the barriers exiting the Hairpin, heralding a four-lap Safety Car interlude as his Honda was recovered. The restarted race was all too brief, Thompson suffering an identical crash to that of his team-mate; the impact was heavier and his car came to rest in a dangerous spot, and the race had to be red-flagged. Thompson, complaining of back pain, was removed to hospital for precautionary checks.

The results were declared after 17 laps, Menu the winner from Thompson, Leslie, Plato and John Cleland. It was Menu's 10th victory of the season for Renault and, though only half points were awarded, his championship lead is further extended. Lee Brookes (Peugeot) headed Gravett for Total Cup honours.

Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship, round 13 Croft, 29/6/97, 25 laps/53.18 miles 1 Alain Menu Switz Renault Laguna 35m 03.301s 91.01mph 2 Jason Plato GB Renault Laguna +2.849s 3 Rickard Rydell Swe Volvo S40 +3.603s 4 Frank Biela Ger Audi A4 +4.273s 5 James Thompson GB Honda Accord +15.138s Fastest lap: Gabriele Tarquini (It), Honda Accord, 1m 22.604s, 92.69mph (establishes record)

Round 14 17 laps/36.159 miles 1 Menu 28m 41.470s 75.61mph 2 Thompson +0.943s 3 David Leslie GB Nissan Primera +1.356s 4 Plato +1.695s 5 John Cleland GB Vauxhall Vectra +2.178s Fastest lap: Menu, 1m 22.048s, 93.32mph (record)

Championship positions DRIVERS 1 Menu, 192.5 points; 2 Plato, 90; 3 Rydell, 88; 4 Biela, 79; 5 Tarquini & Thompson, 68; 7 Bintcliffe, 59.5; 8 Leslie, 53; 9 Harvey, 46; 10 Burt, 32, etc.

MANUFACTURERS 1 Renault, 184.5; 2 Honda, 126; 3 Volvo, 123; 4 Audi, 114; 5 Nissan, 88; 6 Peugeot, 73.5; 7 Vauxhall, 71; 8 Ford, 60.5.

TOTAL CUP for INDEPENDENTS 1 Colin Gallie (GB/BMW) & Robb Gravett (GB/Honda), 124; 3 Brookes, 114.5.

-- www.btcc.co.uk

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Series General
Drivers Frank Biela , Anthony Reid , Tim Harvey , David Leslie , James Thompson , Jason Plato , Kelvin Burt , Matt Neal , John Cleland , Rickard Rydell , Gabriele Tarquini , Alan Gow , Alain Menu