Ford's Alain Menu and Vauxhall's Jason Plato scored a win apiece in the opening two rounds of the 2000 Auto Trader British Touring Car Championship, at Brands Hatch, today (Sunday, 9 April). Menu was victorious in Round 1, after claiming pole position and leading from the green light to the chequered flag, and Plato won Round 2 thanks to slick pit-work from the Vauxhall team. After finishing fourth in Round 1, Plato leads the championship by two points from his team-mate Yvan Muller and Menu. Matt Neal won Round 1 of the Michelin Cup for Independents with Colin Blair taking Round 2. Class B was won by Alan Morrison in the first race and James Kaye in the second.
SPRINT RACE - Round 1
A perfect start for Ford's Alain Menu on pole position put the Swiss star in total control of the race from the lights and he never looked back. Behind him, wheelspin at the start caused his team-mate Rickard Rydell to dive to the inside, from second on the grid, to protect his position into the first corner from Vauxhall's Yvan Muller who got away from the line better.
Muller was forced to the outside round the plunging Paddock corner and had to fall in behind Rydell going into the Druids hairpin, but the spectacular French ace was not going to let 1998 BTCC champion Rydell go. The pair provided the battle of the race for the next seven laps as Muller attacked at virtually every corner. He eventually dived through on the inside at Surtees while Rydell was lapping a slower Class B car. Muller then began the pursuit of Menu, facing the challenge of closing down a gap of three seconds.
The fight for the final place on the podium was just hotting up, however, with a four-car battle for third place developing between Honda's James Thompson, Vauxhall's Jason Plato, Rydell and reigning Michelin Cup for Independents champion Matt Neal, in a Nissan Primera. Neal dropped out of the pack a lap later after receiving damage in a collision with Rydell, the resulting oversteer slowing his progress.
Thompson then attempted to overtake Rydell but spun as he got past and dropped two places, putting Plato into fourth and Rydell third. Plato tried everything to pass the Swede but Rydell defending his position well to stay ahead at the flag.
Neal held on to his lead in the Michelin Cup for Independents, coming home tenth, just ahead of Colin Blair in a similar Nissan Primera. In Class B, Alan Morrison had it all his own way. After out-qualifying all his rivals, he was quick off the line at the lights and was never headed, taking the first win in Class B in the BTCC.
Menu: "I managed to open up a small gap in the first three laps, then I just had to control the race. When Yvan overtook Rickard I wasn't sure what to expect but the gap stayed the same so I decided to back off a bit and did enough to stay in the lead. I'm more pleased for the guys in the team than I am for me. They have worked so hard during the winter to make this car into a winner and all their efforts have paid off."
Muller: "I think if I had three of four more laps I might have been able to catch Alain, but we'll never know. I am very happy with this result considering the position we were in when we came here last year. The Vauxhall is much improved."
Rydell: "I'm very pleased to be up there on the pace of Alain and Anthony. This is my first year with the team and to be so competitive early on is better than anything I could have hoped for."
Neal: "Obviously I'm pleased to have won the Michelin Cup for Independents but I'm disappointed with the overall result because the car felt so good early in the race. Going into Surtees Rickard hit the rear corner of the car and that caused terminal oversteer which just got worse and worse."
Morrison: "The Peugeot seems to have the legs on everyone in Class B at the moment and it's great to win the first race. But I'm sure the others will catch up as the season progresses."
FEATURE RACE - Round 2
An incident packed Feature Race thrilled the Brands Hatch spectators and live BBC Grandstand television audience. The original 28-lap distance was extended to 33 laps after the Safety Car was sent out three times due to racing incidents. On lap 16, Honda's James Thompson lost control of his Accord at the famous Dingle Dell Corner , where the cars leap over a brow, and it went into the barriers directly in front of a BBC film crew. Fortunately both the cameramen and Thompson escaped with minor cuts and bruises.
Earlier, Class B's Alan Morrison went out of the race in an incident at the next corner, Stirlings Bend while Matt Neal and Honda's Tom Kristensen both retired from the action when Neal lunged down the inside to attempt a passing move at the same corner on lap three.
At the start, pole-sitter Alain Menu had threatened a repeat performance of the Sprint Race when he blasted off the grid to maintain his lead into the first corner. He led the race until he came in for his mandatory pit-stop on lap 14 when team-mate Rickard Rydell took over. Ford completed a hat-trick of leaders a lap later when Rydell went into the pits and Anthony Reid hit the front in his Mondeo.
Following the final Safety Car outing, Honda's Gabriele Tarquini briefly led the pack but he still had to make his stop and when he entered the pits Vauxhall's Jason Plato, emerged at the front, the Vauxhall team's strategy of bringing him in early for his stop, on lap nine, paying dividends. He was, however, closely followed by the Ford trio - Reid, Menu and Rydell Ð and they put him under intense pressure for the first few laps after the Safety Car withdrew. But the Oxford-based Vectra driver held them off and opened up a one second lead over second-placed Reid to take the win.
Yvan Muller, who had endured a problem with his front left wheel on the grid and then with his front spoiler early in the race which caused him to make two pit-stops, finished third after a brilliant fight-back drive. The Frenchman found himself at the back of the pack after his second pit-stop but stormed through the field, picking off his team-mate Vincent Radermecker, Menu and Rydell in the space of three laps. Although he pressured Reid in the final laps he could not find a way through.
Newcomer to the series Colin Blair took victory in the Michelin Cup for Independents after a steady drive in his Nissan Primera and Honda Accord driver James Kaye won the Class B honours after a good race-long battle with his team-mate Mark Lemmer.
Vauxhall, who claimed the Teams' and Manufacturers' honours in the race, also won the first Michelin Pit-Stop Challenge with Vincent Radermecker completing the fastest pit-stop. For their efforts, the team won a £500 cash prize.
Plato: "The pit-stops certainly worked in our favour as we hoped when we planned the strategy. I had qualified badly so I had nothing to lose by coming in early. The idea was to give me some space on the track and then for me to put some quick laps in and that worked. It's great to win for the team and me. The car is great in the race; we just have to work on qualifying. There is still plenty more to come from the car."
Reid: "We've been strong all weekend which is a good sign for the championship and I'm glad to have made the podium. The team has made great progress during the winter. Last year was the first year for everyone with the Mondeo and it was very much a development year, but a lot of hard work has gone in during the last six months and we've seen the results today."
Muller: "I tried everything to get past Reid in the last few laps but he closed the door, like he has to do, and it was all done very well without any touching. I had a few problems in the race but I'm the only person to be on the podium twice today and that is a great start to the season."
Blair: "I had a gearbox problem in the Sprint Race but the team sorted that out for the Feature and the car was much better. It's a big learning curve, but it's great to be racing in the BTCC."
Kaye: "I think the Class B drivers and the Super Touring drivers all did a great job today and proved they can race together. It was a very good race - the most exciting thing for me was being overtaken by the Super Touring cars.