It was an historic day for the Auto Trader British Touring Car Championship at Oulton Park, Cheshire, today, with Alain Menu scoring Ford's 500th victory, in round nine, and Honda's Tom Kristensen claiming his first BTCC win in round ten. Both victors showed how important pole position is as they each led from start to finish. Menu, who finished sixth in round ten, remains at the head of the championship with Ford team-mate Anthony Reid second, just seven points behind. Ford's Rickard Rydell and Vauxhall's Jason Plato are tied in third. Matt Neal won both rounds of the Michelin Cup for Independents in his Team Dynamics Max Power Racing Nissan Primera, while James Kaye (Barwell Motorsport Honda Accord) won Class B in each race to take the lead in that division.
SPRINT RACE - Round 9
Ford's Alain Menu excelled on his favourite BTCC circuit to give the Blue Oval outfit an historic 500th BTCC win. The Swiss star shrugged off his 30kg success ballast penalty (earned at Knockhill a fortnight earlier) to lead from lights to flag. Despite a couple of hairy moments lapping Class B cars, he left all the action and incident to his championship rivals behind.
Menu's team-mate Rickard Rydell had arrived at Oulton Park level on points at the top of the table and Vauxhall's Yvan Muller was just seven points adrift in fourth. But it was those two drivers who were the biggest losers in a first lap smash at the Island hairpin, halfway round the circuit.
Muller's Vectra was hit from behind as the cars, still jostling for position after the start, bunched up to get round the tight uphill bend. The force of the rear-end collision catapulted him into Rydell's Mondeo which spun the Swedish star into early retirement. Muller managed to limp back to the pits but he was to play no further part in the race.
Jason Plato, in another Vauxhall Vectra, also suffered in the incident. He was forced to pit - while the Safety Car was on the track as Rydell's car was moved to a safe position - to change his front tyres which had been flat-spotted in the skirmish. He emerged from the pits in 12th position, a long way behind the leaders, and went on a charge, setting the fastest lap of the race and eventually finishing seventh.
When the Safety Car returned to the pits after one lap, Honda's Tom Kristensen, who had started second, attempted to pass Menu but the Ford man held him off brilliantly down the plunging 120mph Cascades bends. Menu's defensive move allowed Vauxhall's Vincent Radermecker - who had moved from eighth on the grid to third at the hairpin crash - to take his opportunity and pass Kristensen for second.
Radermecker attacked Menu for the remainder of the race, closing the gap to just half a second at one point. The Belgian star lost out, however, when rounding the Class B backmarkers on lap 11 and had to settle for second, equalling his best ever BTCC result.
Kristensen, in third, was chased home by team-mate James Thompson, the young Yorkshireman who had bravely jumped from sixth to fourth on lap six in the manoeuvre of the race. In one move - which started at the final corner of the lap, Lodge, and finished at Old Hall, the first corner - he overtook both Michelin Cup for Independents leader Matt Neal (Nissan Primera) and Ford's Anthony Reid on the outside of the track.
The race-long battle between Neal and Reid, whose car was also damaged in the first lap hairpin incident, was then joined by Honda's round eight winner Gabriele Tarquini. The Italian managed to find a way past Neal, but spun out of contention on lap nine which promoted the Nissan man back to sixth, a position he held to the end with Reid vigorously defending his fifth position.
In Class B, pole position man James Kaye was embroiled in a bumper-to-bumper early race battle with Alan Morrison's Touring Car VIP Club Peugeot 306. Kaye, driving Barwell Motorsport's Honda Accord, held off Morrison for four laps but the class leader dived past at Old Hall at the start of lap five. A lap later, however, Kaye found himself back in front when Morrison retired his car with clutch problems. Kaye went on to win with his team-mate Mark Lemmer second. The Bintcliffe Sport Racing pair of Robert Collard and Marc Nordon (both Primeras) came home third and fourth.
Menu: "I'm very happy. It's Ford's 500th win and one for the history books. It's also good for my championship position. Like in any form of motor racing if you are leading on the first lap it is very difficult for the others to get by and win the race. I had a bit of difficulty with the extra weight especially braking going into corners then trying to get drive coming out of them."
Radermecker: "I made an OK start and kept my position, then everything happened at the hairpin. I came out of the corner in third place and I was quite happy with that! Tom then tried to overtake Alain and I got a better run out of the hairpin and got in front of him by the chicane. The gap between Alain and myself kept going down and up and down - it was difficult to get to him. The car was good all through the race and I am very happy with this finish."
Kristensen: "When the Safety Car went in I thought it would be my only chance to get past Alain. He defended going into Old Hall and I got alongside through Cascades and I thought I could get past but he defended again which made me lose momentum and Vincent got by. Although I lost out, at least I had a go at taking the lead off Alain, which I'm happy about."
Neal: "After rapidly going from hero to zero in qualifying, I'm pretty happy with the result. After starting from the back I just tried to make up ground while avoiding any trouble if that happened up front. Obviously I made up places with the incident at the hairpin and I was right behind Anthony. I thought about having a go down the inside but I didn't and I regretted that for the rest of the race. He was totally focused on keeping me behind."
Kaye: "It's great to win again and get the points in the bag, but we've still got a long way to go to catch the Peugeot. I had one worrying moment - I could smell oil in the car so I radioed to the pits to ask the team to look at the car next time I went past but they assured me it was from Alan's car, so I smiled about that."
FEATURE RACE - Round 10
Honda's Tom Kristensen showed the Oulton Park crowd why he was crowned Denmark's Driver of the Century last year by dominating round ten. The Accord ace was on pole position, charged away from the pack at the start and crossed the line with a 10 second advantage over Vauxhall's Jason Plato, despite suffering from brake problems and a big oil leak late in the race.
The Dane was forced to fend off a late charge by Plato who had moved up two places from fourth courtesy of fast pit work by the Vauxhall team. But the Briton was caught out by oil dropped on the circuit by Rickard Rydell's Ford Mondeo that had retired five laps from the finish. He fell back and then concentrated on protecting his second place from Ford's Anthony Reid.
At the start, Reid had capitalised on a bad getaway from Independent star Matt Neal, who was second on the grid, to claim second but there was nothing he could do about Kristensen who simply extended his lead with every lap. Reid then lost the place to Plato after the pit-stops, but his team did get some consolation by winning the £500 award in the Michelin Pit-Stop Challenge for the fastest stop of the day.
Neal was involved in the battle of the race, heading a five-car bunch all challenging for fourth place. Neal, Honda's James Thompson, Vauxhall's Yvan Muller, Ford's Alain Menu and Vauxhall's Vincent Radermecker were separated by less than two seconds eight laps from the finish. But the Neal's defence ended when he was caught out by Rydell's oil, overshot the hairpin and dropped back to ninth.
Thompson claimed fourth ahead of Muller, Menu and Radermecker and Honda's Gabriele Tarquini, the round eight winner carrying 40kg of success ballast and never challenging the leaders.
Another casualty of the challenging Oulton Park circuit was Independent runner Colin Blair. He lost control of his Nissan Primera at Cascades and crashed out on lap 18. It had been a tough race for the Scot up to that point as he was forced to pit twice and was then handed a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit-lane.
Class B again provided good, close action with Barwell Motorsport's James Kaye (Honda Accord) and the Touring Car VIP Club's Alan Morrison fighting it out at the front at the start. Morrison's challenge ended on lap two, however, when his Peugeot suffered gearbox problems, but the attack was taken up by Bintcliffe Sport Racing's Robert Collard (Nissan Primera). After fending off Kaye's team-mate Mark Lemmer, he chased the Accord hard for the remainder of the race.
Collard's best opportunity came on lap 21 when Kaye was knocked wide while being lapped by one of the Super Touring cars. The Honda man's solid five-second lead evaporated in one corner and he was forced into defensive action to keep Collard at bay. The Nissan driver could not get past though and Kaye eventually crossed the line two seconds in front.
Kristensen: "I had a bad time at the end. The last four laps were certainly the most terrifying laps I've done! I started to have brake problems and I was losing a lot under braking so I knew the last laps were going to be close anyway, then I hit a stone or something which caused the oil leak. Fortunately the oil warning alarm only came on round the corners, on the straights the car was fine. Apart from that the race went perfectly. This is a very strong championship, there's a lot of specialist guys out there doing a very good job, that's why I came here in the first place. It's fantastic to win, hopefully now I'll be at the front more."
Plato: "It was a good combination of tactics and speed today. I stopped early because I knew our car would be strong towards the end of the race. It was a case of keeping the gap even between Tom and myself and then push hard at the end of the race to catch him. But then I lost sight of the oil going over a crest and got caught out. That lost me a bit of time so I decided to just back off, look after the oil and concentrate on not throwing it off."
Reid: "I was carrying 40kg of ballast so it was fairly hard work. I wasn't really happy with the balance of my car before the pit-stop. I was suffering a bit from understeer but that seemed to be cured after the pit-stop and I was actually catching Jason slightly. Then the oil went on the track, some from Rickard and some from Tom, and every lap it seemed to get worse and worse and I couldn't make up any more ground."
Neal: "I had a pretty crummy start with too much wheelspin. Then the car was going well in the early stages. I felt I was quicker than the cars behind me and I thought we could have sneaked on to the back end of the podium here. But then just after the pit-stop I lost the front brakes. Then I locked up on Rickard's oil and overshot the hairpin. The race was pretty much all over for me then."
Kaye: "It's been an extremely good weekend. We lost Alan earlier on so I thought it wouldn't be such a good race but the Nissan suddenly found tremendous speed and he was catching me. Then I got tapped by someone and ended up going down that barrier. That lost me a lot of time and made it a more interesting race."