Anthony Reid broke his Auto Trader British Touring Car Championship duck at Donington Park today, taking his first victory of the year in round 17. He did not manage to repeat the feat in round 18, coming home third, but the results were enough to catapult him to the top of the series standings, relegating Ford team-mate Alain Menu to second. Honda's Gabriele Tarquini, who started both races from pole position, also put himself back in the title race by winning round 18. New Michelin Cup for Independents champion Matt Neal was one of the stars of the Donington show, claiming a brace of second places, his highest position of the year. Class B was won by Alan Morrison in round 17 and James Kaye in round 18.
SPRINT RACE - Round 17
After dominating the entire meeting up to the race, pole-sitter Gabriele Tarquini looked to have everything under control. But his lead lasted less than half a lap when he went off at the Old Hairpin and plummeted down the field. The Italian said afterwards he simply made a mistake on cold tyres.
The Honda man's misfortune handed the advantage to Ford's Anthony Reid who was desperate to take his first win of the year after finishing on the podium in all but two previous races. Reid kept his head while all around were losing theirs and, despite one lunge from Michelin Cup for Independents champion Matt Neal, was never challenged for the rest of the event.
Behind, Honda's Tom Kristensen was hit at the first corner by Vauxhall's Jason Plato which dropped the Dane from fifth to sixth. But Kristensen fought back and muscled back past Plato at the last corner of the opening lap. The resulting panel damage from those two incidents forced Kristensen into the pits though two laps later and he dropped out of contention.
Plato continued to eventually finish fifth, despite suffering understeer in his Vectra, but his Vauxhall team-mate Vincent Radermecker was also in the wars. After starting ninth, he had moved up to seventh in the Plato/Kristensen incidents, but at the end of the second lap he was hit from behind by an out of control Rickard Rydell.
The Ford man, who began the race at the back of the grid, had caught the main pack and was challenging Tarquini but locked up going into the Melbourne hairpin and shot into the back of Radermecker. This sent both drivers into the pits for repairs and Radermecker was able to get back on track to come home a respectable ninth. Rydell, however, managed only one more lap before retiring with broken steering.
In the melee, series returnee David Leslie had worked his way to seventh in the Independent PRO Motorsport Nissan Primera. He then spent much of the race fending off the now hard-charging Tarquini. Leslie, the 1999 BTCC runner-up, showed he had lost none of his racing skills and kept the Italian at bay until the penultimate lap when Tarquini got a better run out of the last corner to slip by on the Scot's inside at the first corner of the last lap.
Championship leader Alain Menu had looked to be cruising to the line in a solid fifth place, after avoiding all the panel-bashing, but he lost out when he caught up with the slower Class B cars which didn't get out of his way. Menu could not avoid contact, which caused his bonnet to work dangerously loose and he had to pit for repairs. That dropped him to eighth.
Once all the action had stopped at the back of the pack, the front-runners decided to put on a show. Neal, in second, was put under enormous pressure by Honda's James Thompson, in third, who, in turn, was being attacked by fourth-placed man Yvan Muller, of Vauxhall.
Neal's situation was not helped after he accidentally hit Class B runner Lee Linford, which sent the Peugeot man into a spin, causing damage to his Team Dynamics Nissan Primera's bonnet. At one point Neal, Thompson and Muller could not be separated and every time Thompson attempted to get past Neal, Muller had a go at the Honda ace.
Despite six laps of this frantic action no-one could find their way past anyone and they crossed the line less than a second apart, Neal taking his highest placed finish of the year and Muller just missing out on the podium.
Class B was just as incident packed. Pole-man James Kaye was embroiled in a bumper-to-bumper battle with series leader Alan Morrison for much of the race. But the Touring Car VIP Club Peugeot proved just too strong for Kaye's improving Barwell Motorsport Honda Accord and Morrison edged in front five laps from the finish.
Bintcliffe Sport Racing's Marc Nordon was forced to retire after his Nissan Primera was hit by Linford's spinning Peugeot in the Neal incident, while Nick James's Honda Integra Type R suffered damage to its rear bumper when it was hit by Menu. James was later fined and reprimanded for not allowing the more powerful Ford past. Barwell's Mark Lemmer came home third, in his Integra after overtaking Nordon's team-mate Robert Collard.
Reid: "I'm more relieved than delighted to win my first race this year. Actually it was just so easy after Gabriele went off. It was much easier to win than it was to finish second or third, as Matt and James will testify. It's good news for my championship hopes. Gabriele seemed to be in trouble on the first lap, then he just put a wheel on the grass and slipped out wide. Getting the lead doesn't often happen like that, you've just got to be grateful for it."
Neal: "I was looking after the car and tyres at the start as Anthony was just that little bit too quick for me. So I thought if I looked after everything I could challenge towards the end, but as soon as we came across the back-markers I ran into someone which ruined that plan. The damage had surprisingly little effect on the car and I was able to hold off James, but he had the pressure on. It's great to be at the right end of the grid at last."
Thompson: "It was an interesting race. We know the car would be strong at the end of the race, but we knew the success ballast I was carrying would hurt if I pushed too hard at the start so I just made sure I was careful to be there at the end. Obviously the back-markers played a little bit into my hands. It was a good dice with Matt and Yvan kept me occupied enough to stop me overtaking Matt. It was fun and good racing."
Morrison: "James has been strong all weekend. Honda's done a lot of development work and he's caught up with us. But we knew we'd have a strong car towards the end of the race, it was just a matter of getting past. He did a lot of defending but I eventually got by and it's great to get another win. I thoroughly enjoyed it, it's great to be racing with somebody."
FEATURE RACE - Round 18
Pole position man Garbriele Tarquini was determined not to repeat his Sprint Race antics and throw away the lead on the first lap, but a brilliant start by round 17 winner Anthony Reid saw the Italian relegated to second place by the time they hit the first corner.
Independent ace Matt Neal held on to his third place, despite pressure from Ford's Rickard Rydell and Honda's James Thompson, who had started from fourth and fifth on the grid respectively. Sixth-place starter Tom Kristensen, however, lost out on the first lap with both Yvan Muller (Vauxhall) and Alain Menu (Ford) getting past, Muller passing Menu in the process to move from ninth to sixth.
Vauxhall's Jason Plato, eighth on the grid, bogged down at the start and dropped back a place to ninth. He then got up to speed in his Vectra and put the pressure on Kristensen. Together with Menu, the three were locked in a nose-to-tail battle for the early laps allowing Vauxhall's Vincent Radermecker and Michelin Cup for Independents driver David Leslie (Nissan Primera) to catch up and join in the fray.
It came to a head at the start of lap seven when Plato and Kristensen clashed through the first corner. Kristensen, who had been passed by Plato on the previous lap, attempted to re-take eighth place at the first corner but the pair touched as they went through side-by-side and the Dane was spun into retirement leaving Plato to pursue Menu.
At the front, Reid was stretching out a gap over former Formula One driver Tarquini. But when the pit-stops came into play Tarquini took his chance brilliantly to put his Honda Accord back ahead of the Scot, coming out of the pit-lane a fraction in front of the Ford Mondeo.
Reid then got caught behind Leslie, who had moved into second before taking his mandatory pit-stop, and could not find a way passed his countryman for virtually a full lap. This gave Tarquini the advantage and he stretched out his lead, crossing the line with a three-second advantage.
Reid, once he had overtaken Leslie, looked certain to claim second but Neal had different ideas. In the last eight laps, the Primera driver, back in third after the pit-stops, chased down the Ford and muscled past on the penultimate corner to claim second, matching his excellent result from the Sprint.
Muller came home fourth, after good pit work from the Vauxhall team put him ahead of both Thompson and Rydell, who finished fifth and sixth. Plato came home seventh, after overtaking Menu with seven laps remaining, and Radermecker finished eighth, he too passing Menu in the closing stages.
James Kaye controlled the Class B battle in his Barwell Motorsport Honda Accord, leading from lights to flag. His charge was helped inadvertently by his team-mate Mark Lemmer, who locked up at the chicane on the first lap and hit the back of second-placed Alan Morrison sending his Peugeot 306 into a spin.
This gave Kaye the chance to pull out a big lead and despite the best efforts of Morrison, who recovered to finish second, the Honda man could not be caught. Lemmer came home third in his Honda Integra Type R following the retirement from Marc Nordon and Robert Collard (both Bintcliffe Sport Racing Nissan Primeras), Lee Linford, team-mate of Morrison, and Nick James (Arnold James Sport Honda Integra Type R).
Tarquini: "It's really a pleasure to be back on the top of the podium. I think my car was the fastest car this weekend. I made the best lap in the test, took two pole positions and I think I could have won both races, but I made a really big mistake in the first one. That was the only mistake I did this weekend. We have improved the car a little bit on the front suspension, but I was the fastest Honda driver the last time we came to Donington as well. I'm really happy with this weekend, it has been very good."
Neal: "To come here and be third in qualifying twice, then finish second twice is just ace. It was a nice payback for all the team. It's weekends like this for the little independent teams that make it all worthwhile for everyone. Hopefully there's more to come. You just need a bit of luck on your side and this weekend we had it."
Reid: "I'm very happy with today's work. It was a great points haul and I scored my significant first win, which I need more of if I'm going to have a chance of the title. I thought I had second fair and square in the Feature Race but my pace was not quite as good as I expected over the last ten laps and Matt gave it the big squeeze and he caught me on the last lap. I have to say I was impressed with Matt, it was a good move and nothing other than I would have done in the same situation."
Kaye: "The car was much better this weekend. We've managed to develop a lot of things in the last few weeks and they gave us the extra performance here which was fantastic. We have the pace now, we've still got a bit of catch up to do in the championship but as long as we keep scoring the extra points for fastest laps and pole positions I think we can catch him up."