Alain Menu won both rounds three and four of the 2000 Auto Trader British Touring Car Championship at Donington Park, Derbyshire, today, and was part of history in the process. The Mondeo driver led home his team-mates Rickard Rydell and Anthony Reid to give Ford a 1-2-3 finish, the first clean sweep by a manufacturer team in the modern era of Super Touring racing. Ford nearly repeated the feat in round four but Honda's Gabriele Tarquini spoiled the party by splitting the Mondeos and finishing second after superb tactical work by the JAS Motorsport team.
SPRINT RACE - Round 3 Lightening quick reactions to the lights enabled Alain Menu to get the jump on his Ford Mondeo team-mates. Despite carrying 40kg of success ballast, courtesy of his round one win, and starting from third on the grid, the Swiss star flashed past Anthony Reid, in second, and pole-sitter Rickard Rydell to lead by the first corner. The move proved decisive with Menu taking the chequered flag ahead of the Swede, who had 20kg of ballast, and third-placed Reid carrying 30kg of ballast.
Taken by surprise by Menu's move, both Rydell and Reid then had to defend their positions from the Honda Accords of Gabriele Tarquini and Tom Kristensen who had both made good starts from fourth and fifth on the grid respectively. They valiantly tried to catch the Ford trio, Tarquini particularly aggressive in his efforts to latch on to Reid, but the had to settle for fourth (Tarquini) and fifth places.
The third Honda of Peter Kox, standing in for the injured James Thompson, was put under pressure by the lead Vauxhall Vectra of Yvan Muller, the Frenchman attempting to claim sixth place from the Dutchman. But Muller's challenge ended half way round the first lap with a broken clutch.
At the back of the grid reigning Michelin Cup for Independents champion Matt Neal scythed his way through the Class B runners before the first corner, after being forced to start last because his Nissan Primera failed a ride-height check in qualifying. He passed the Primera of fellow Independent Colin Blair by the end of lap one and immediately began to press the two Vectras of Vincent Radermecker and Jason Plato, who led the series coming into round three, creating the battle of the race.
Neal got ahead of Belgian Radermecker by the end of lap four to take eighth place and attacked Plato who, in turn, was on the exhaust pipe of Kox's Accord. Plato and Kox clashed mid-way through lap eight, with Kox forced off the track and into retirement, which gave the Vauxhall man sixth position (as well as a £250 fine and licence endorsement after the race).
Plato was then on the receiving end when Neal dived down his inside at the first corner of the next lap only to hit the Vectra side on and push Plato towards the outside gravel trap.
Radermecker seized his chance and went past both to claim sixth while Plato brilliantly prevented his car hitting the gravel and immediately began his pursuit to win back his position from Neal. This he did four laps later when Neal attempted to pass Radermecker. The Belgian defended his position but Plato saw his opportunity and went by them both on the inside to re-claim sixth, a position he held until the flag.
There was also a great battle in Class B, with pole-sitter Alan Morrison dropping two places after making a bad start in his Touring Car VIP Club Peugeot 306, which was completely re-built for this weekend after Morrison's heavy crash in round two at Brands hatch a fortnight ago.
Morrison's misfortune put James Kaye in front in his Barwell Motorsport Honda Accord but he was passed on the first lap by Robert Collard's Nissan Primera, run by Bintclffe Sport Racing. Morrison, however, was by now back in contention and when Collard dropped out because of broken suspension, he lunged past Kaye to take a lead he held on to for the remainder of the 18-lap race.
Menu: "I knew after qualifying that my only chance to win the race was to overtake Rickard and Anthony at the start. I thought about it all last night and this morning and I just managed to do what I wanted to. The car was very good all through the race and I am very happy for the team to get a 1-2-3."
Rydell: "I was quite surprised by Alain. I could see I was ahead of Anthony and he was second on the grid and I thought that was enough, but Alain must have made a really good start to get past both of us. The first three laps or so the car wasn't perfect, I had a bit of understeer, but it got better as the race went on and by the end I was lapping quicker than at the start."
Reid: "Ford have made history again! This hasn't been done by a manufacturer in the history of modern Super Touring. I think both Rickard and I were stunned by Alain's start. We'd both made half decent starts, nothing too risky, but Alain got past before I had the chance to close the door."
Neal: "It was a busy race. The problem is that all the cars are so close now and all the drivers in the championship have been at the sharp end for a while so it's very difficult to get past. I got past Vincent okay then had a stab at Jason and he didn't really want anyone to get past and it ended up with Vincent getting past both of us. Then I had a go at Vincent and it ended up with Jason going past both of us, so I lost out twice. I just thought things at the front were a bit boring and you have to do something to liven the proceedings up!"
Morrison: "After the crash at Brands it's really good just to be out on the track. The team did a great job in getting the car ready and I can' t thank them enough. I was slow off the line because I didn't want to make a bad start like I did at Brands."
FEATURE RACE - Round 4 Round four was all about pit-stop strategy and Ford came out on top again, but only just. Redstone Team Honda's Gabriele Tarquini, run by Italian outfit J.A.S. Motorsport, split the Mondeos of Alain Menu and Rickard Rydell to claim the first podium finish of the year for an Accord driver.
All eyes were on Menu at the start, to see if he could repeat his earlier grid antics and blast past Rydell. But the Swede made the better getaway this time round and held off Menu going into the first corner.
Scot Anthony Reid also started well to make it another all-Ford show at the front, but this time Tarquini was not to be outdone. Starting from fourth the Italian clung on to the boot lids of the three Fords and the four opened up a gap of 2.5 seconds on the rest of the field, led by Honda's Tom Kristensen.
On lap nine 1994 BTCC Champion Tarquini moved to third when Reid made the first pit-stop of the Ford trio. The Italian then closed in on Menu and the pair were nose to tail when Rydell dived into the pits on lap 14. Menu was forced on the defensive for one lap but handed Tarquini the lead on lap 15 when he stopped. Menu's stop was half a second quicker than Rydell's and he emerged just in front of the Swede.
Tarquini stayed out for two laps, to try to open up a bigger gap, but after his stop on lap 17 he exited the pits just as the three Mondeos were passing. He shot out and entered the first corner Redgate alongside Rydell, holding his nerve round the tight right-hander to take second place.
The bad day of Honda's third driver Peter Kox continued. He jumped the start and was given a drive-through penalty which dropped him to the back of the pack from sixth on the grid. He eventually crossed the line ninth, 43 seconds behind the winner.
Vauxhall's Yvan Muller produced one of the drives of the day, after starting from the pit-lane following frantic work by his team to repair the failed clutch of the first race. By the end of the first lap he had passed all the Class B contenders, Independent runner Colin Blair and team-mate Vincent Radermecker to take eighth place. On lap seven he was the first driver to take his mandatory pit-stop which, after his rivals had all stopped, saw him move ahead of team-mate Jason Plato and Kristensen into sixth.
Muller then profited from radio trouble suffered by Independent Matt Neal, and moved to fifth where he finished. Neal's Team Dynamics pit-crew radioed him in for his compulsory stop, but Neal did not hear the call and came in a lap later. Because the pit-crew is not allowed into the pit-lane until the actual lap in which the driver is stopping, Neal was penalised and had to take a drive-through penalty.
Neal fell back behind fellow penalty-sufferer Peter Kox but caught the Honda driver up and passed him on the penultimate lap to take an respectable eighth place.
Alan Morrison's Peugeot 306 dominated class B for much of the race. But 11 laps from the finish he had to make an unscheduled pit-stop to allow his Touring Car VIP Club team to tape down a loose bonnet. This cost Morrison the lead and second as Barwell Motorsport's James Kaye, in an Accord, and Mark Lemmer, in a Honda Integra Type R, went ahead. The pair stayed in front forcing Morrison to settle for third.
Ford Team Mondeo, who claimed the Teams' and Manufacturers' honours in the race, also won the second round of the Michelin Pit-Stop Challenge with Reid completing the fastest pit-stop. For their efforts, the team won a £500 cash prize.
Menu: "I am very happy. It is nice to go away from here with two wins. I managed to catch Rickard when he got held up by the back-markers then I came out of the pit-stop just in front. My engineer was shouting go-go-go at me because it was so close. Just on the exit of the pit-lane you can have a look in your right mirror and I could see Rickard and Anthony coming down the straight so I had to go all the way to the right to defend the corner. We thought with the 40kg of weight penalty we might struggle but this is obviously a track where the Ford goes well. We will have to wait and see if it is the same at other tracks."
Tarquini: "My tactics were good because I stopped later than the three Fords and I joined the track and overtook Rickard. Also my car in the second race was better than the first race. In the first race I had a little mechanical problem after two laps which did not help. But the second race was good because I was pretty close to Alain. After the nightmare of the first meeting when my car wasn't really good, this is a lot better for the team."
Rydell: "It was another good result for the team to finish first and third. Obviously I would have liked to have won and I thought I had quite a comfortable lead but I was very unlucky with the back-markers and Alain caught me up. Then he got past me through the pit-stops."
Neal: "Everyone's really impressed - I actually overtook a couple of people without hitting them in this race. The penalty was because the radio was a bit crackly and I didn't hear the call so the guys came out a lap early and I found out that this year that carries a drive-through penalty! I still believe we've got the pace to finish higher, we've just had a lot of bad luck this year."
Kaye: "We haven't got the pace of the Peugeot. On race pace we're three-quarters
of a second off it, but the Peugeot's had two years of development whereas this only our fourth race. We have a long way to go and hopefully very soon we'll be on the pace and we'll be able to race together. We've just got to keep scoring points until we are on the pace."