Italian Gabriele Tarquini made sure every manufacturer has won a round of the 2000 Auto Trader British Touring Car Championship with a controlled drive to take Honda's first win of the year in round eight at Knockhill, today. The Accord driver led from the green light to the chequered flag to claim the victory. Earlier Ford scored another 1-2-3 finish, with Rickard Rydell beating team-mates Alain Menu and Anthony Reid to win round seven. Matt Neal took two victories in the Michelin Cup for Independents while the Class B honours were shared between Mark Lemmer, who won round seven, and Alan Morrison, victor in round eight.
Today's results mean just seven points separate the top four drivers. Menu shares the lead with Rydell while Reid is only two points behind in third. Vauxhall's Yvan Muller is a further five points adrift of the Ford man.
SPRINT RACE - Round 7
The start was the key to success for Ford's Rickard Rydell. The Swede, second on the grid alongside team-mate Alain Menu, was quicker off the line and headed the field into the first corner, Duffus. Menu was close behind but could not fend off the 1998 BTCC champion's challenge.
Fellow Ford Mondeo ace Anthony Reid, however, suffered from wheelspin at the start and bogged down which allowed Honda's Gabriele Tarquini to pull alongside to challenge for third place. The pair went into the plunging Duffus side-by-side and touched which sent Tarquini's Accord into retirement. Glasgow-born Reid was put on the grass but managed to recover to hold on to his third place.
Independent Matt Neal also made a good getaway at the lights in his Team Dynamics Nissan Primera and held on to his starting position of fourth, despite the distraction of the skirmish ahead. Vauxhall's Yvan Muller, winner of rounds five and six, made up a place at the lights, passing Honda's James Thompson for fifth.
Thompson's team-mate Tom Kristensen - forced to start at the back of the grid after his qualifying time was disallowed because of a problem with the Accord's rear wing - stormed through the field at the start. He overtook the Class B cars and Michelin Cup for Independents runner Colin Blair to reach eighth by Duffus, behind Vauxhall's British star Jason Plato. The Dane was closely followed by Vauxhall's Vincent Radermecker, another at the back of the grid following disqualification in qualifying.
Reid and Tarquini's coming together saw the Safety Car appear at the end of the first lap, while Knockhill's marshals removed the stricken Honda, which allowed the pack to close up on Rydell. But the Swede got the jump at the re-start, two laps later, and was never headed for the remainder of the 22-laps, despite a mid-race challenge by Menu.
With the Team Ford Mondeo trio putting on an impressive formation driving display at the front, the action livened up behind with six drivers all challenging for fourth. Neal eventually emerged with the place, despite being forced to defend from a virtual race-long attack by Thompson who had re-passed Muller on lap five.
Radermecker passed Kristensen on lap four to take eighth, but the Dane was not to be outdone. After stealing back the place on the next lap, he put in the drive of the race passing the Vectra of Oxford-based Plato on lap ten and Muller on lap 14. He closed in behind Thompson, who just could not find a way past Neal, and got a better run out of the final hairpin on the last lap to snatch fifth from his team-mate on the line.
Class B runners Mark Lemmer, who had qualified on pole in his Honda Integra Type R, and Alan Morrison enjoyed a ding-dong battle for the first half of the race with Barwell Motorsport's Lemmer brilliantly defending his position from Morrison. The Touring Car VIP Club driver's Peugeot 306 was never more than half a car length away and he eventually got ahead, with a clever dive down the inside at Taylor's hairpin. But his Class B lead lasted less than a lap - Lemmer re-took the position when Morrison's car developed oil pressure problems and retired. Lemmer went on to win Class B ahead of the similar Integra of his team-mate James Kaye.
Rydell: "It is quite difficult to get past here and the three Fords are all quick in the same places, so it was important to be first into the first corner. I was not so happy to see the Safety Car out but it didn't affect me so much. I'm really pleased because I've been on the front row in six out of eight qualifying sessions and I should have won a few more races than I have. Hopefully I can now win some more."
Menu: "It was all done at the start. Rickard's start was very good, mine was OK, I thought, but he managed to pull in front of me before braking for the corner. After that I couldn't do anything to get past him. We have got a very good car and we drive it pretty well!"
Reid: "It was a good result. I'm obviously disappointed I didn't win, but you can't win every time you go out. Rickard and Alain were obviously a little quicker than me. The 30kg of success ballast on my car affected the performance I think. I seemed to have problems coming up the hill from the hairpin. It hurt most on the gear change, once I was in the power band it was OK."
Neal: "I'm very, very pleased to finish a race and be so high up. We seem to have had a lot of misfortune this year and lot of it with Hondas. So to be surrounded by Hondas again I was anticipating a big hit, but they all drove very nobly and fairly. We're running the engine slightly different in our car now which kept me ahead, I was able to pull out a car length over James on the straight. It was close though, at one point I could see him blinking profusely!"
Lemmer: "I had Alan on my bumper and I knew it was going to be a long tough defensive fight. To be honest I didn't think our car would have the legs to be able to defend up the hill, but I used everything I knew to keep him behind."
FEATURE RACE - Round 8
Italian maestro Gabriele Tarquini was the star of the show in round eight, taking a lights to flag victory, the first for Redstone Team Honda this season. The 1994 BTCC champion fended off an early challenge from series leader Alain Menu (Ford) then pulled out a healthy gap to win at the end of 40 laps by a comfortable three seconds.
Menu looked certain to claim another second place finish, but eight laps from the end he lost control of his Mondeo at Duffus and spun into retirement. That promoted James Thompson to second, the Yorkshireman having moved up from fourth after losing a place at the start to Rickard Rydell.
Thompson, competing for the first time since recovering from injuries sustained in an accident at the championship's opening meeting at Brands Hatch, crossed the line to claim his first podium finish of the year - only to have it taken away from him after his Accord failed a ride-height check at the end of the race.
The Stewards' decision promoted Rydell to second and Scotland's Anthony Reid (Ford) to third, his second of the day. Reid had started from ninth on the grid but moved through the field as he put on the style in front of his home crowd. In the early stages of the race, the Glasgow-born Mondeo man sliced past Vauxhall's Vincent Radermecker at the hairpin to claim eighth - then repeated the move a lap later on Radermecker's team-mate Yvan Muller to take seventh.
The Scot had to wait ten more laps before he pulled off the same overtaking move, this time Michelin Cup for Independent leader Matt Neal the victim. He inherited another place when Honda's Tom Kristensen - who had earlier overtaken Rydell at the hairpin with a similar move used to such good effect by Reid - retired from fourth with a broken driveshaft. Menu's demise then put the Scot up to fourth.
The unluckiest driver of the day was Vauxhall's Jason Plato, who came off worst when four cars all went into the hairpin on the first lap. Only three emerged up the start-finish straight and Plato's Vectra was left stranded in the gravel trap. He eventually dragged it out but by that time was nearly a lap down and had to play catch up for the remainder of the race, finishing a creditable eighth.
Neal took his second Michelin Cup victory of the day, finishing fifth overall. The Stourbridge-based driver, and reigning Independent champion, was passed early on by Reid and Muller but held off Radermecker who was challenging the Team Dynamics Nissan Primera for much of the race.
In Class B, Alan Morrison gained revenge over Mark Lemmer to further strengthen his lead at the top of the table. The pair were embroiled in another close battle at the start, but by lap four the Touring Car VIP Club Peugeot 306 of Morrison began to pull away from Lemmer's Barwell Motorsport Honda Integra Type R. Lemmer's team-mate James Kaye finished third in another Integra.
Tarquini: "My car was really good. I got pole position which is very important because overtaking is very difficult here. I made a good start and stayed in front. It is a big advantage to drive with nobody in front because you save your tyres, brakes and temperatures, and the race was quite easy to control because of that. It is too early to say if this is a good sign for the rest of the season because of the ballast in the Fords and Vauxhalls. I think it really affected them here so we will have to wait and see."
Rydell: "The car was quite good, I just had a couple of problems in the hairpin which let Tom Kristensen past. Fortunately for me he retired later and then I picked up third when Alain went out, which was unfortunate for him but at least it makes the championship more interesting."
Reid: "It's unfortunate for James, but I'm very pleased to be moved up to third. It now puts me very close to the lead of the championship."
Neal: "We had a big problem with front end grip in the first race, or lack of it, so we did a bit of fine-tuning between the races to try to improve it and actually made it worse. Right from the word go I was slower than I in the first race so I was pleased to finish where I did."
Morrison: "I just wanted to make amends for what happened in the first race when we had a couple of problems. After I got away from Mark I just protected my lead and it's good to take another win. The first race was good though, even with the oil pressure and brake problems I had. Let's hope there's more like that."