A victory and a second place for Ford's Anthony Reid saw the Scot take over from his team-mate Alain Menu at the top of the 2000 Auto Trader British Touring Car Championship table. Menu had arrived at Oulton Park in front, but a bad day at the office saw him lose ground to Reid.
With two rounds remaining, it is now a clear fight for the coveted drivers' crown between Reid, Menu and fellow Ford driver Rickard Rydell. Reid holds the advantage with a nine-point lead over Menu (with two of each driver's four dropped scores taken into consideration). Rydell is a further 19 points behind Menu. The title battle takes place next Saturday (September 16) with two night races at Silverstone.
Gabriele Tarquini also scored a win and a second place to help Honda move into second place in the Manufacturers' Championship, already won by Ford.
The Class B battle is also going down to the wire. Points leader Alan Morrison and second-placed James Kaye both scored a win each, with Kaye coming from the back of the grid in round 22 to claim a stunning victory.
SPRINT RACE - Round 21
There were three Ford Mondeos filling the top three grid positions at the start, but only two got round the first corner. Pole position man Anthony Reid got away cleanly to lead into the first bend, but team-mates Rickard Rydell, from second, and Alain Menu clashed.
Swede Rydell, third in the title race, attempted to block his Swiss team-mate going by on the inside but the Mondeos touched and Rydell was sent into the pit-wall and immediate retirement. The dents in his car were nothing compared to the dent the incident made to his championship chances!
The crash allowed Italian Gabriele Tarquini's Honda Accord through to second, from fourth on the grid, while the damaged Mondeo of Menu settled in third. Behind, Tarquini's Honda team-mate Tom Kristensen passed Vauxhall's Vincent Radermecker to take sixth, and Michelin Cup for Independents champion Matt Neal got by Jason Plato's Vauxhall Vectra to put his Nissan Primera eighth.
The Safety Car emerged at the end of the first lap and stayed out for three laps, while Rydell's stranded Ford was removed, which bunched up the pack once again. At the re-start, Reid managed to hold off a challenge by Tarquini to maintain his lead while Menu had to watch his mirrors as Honda's James Thompson was lining up an overtaking move.
While Reid and Tarquini opened up a gap at the front - the pair were never caught and crossed the line in that order - the battle between Menu and Thompson raged for another three laps with the Swiss thwarting all of the Briton's passing moves. But, on lap eight, Thompson closed as the pair were entering the last corner.
The Accord nudged the rear of the Mondeo, sending Menu into a big sideways moment and allowing Thompson by into third. Vauxhall's Yvan Muller, who had been watching the battle unfold from the safety of his fifth-placed Vectra, also grabbed the opportunity and moved up to fourth.
On the next lap, Radermecker outbraked Kristensen into the final corner to gain a place, then Neal plunged the Honda man down another place by flying past on the start-finish straight.
Muller, meanwhile, put the pressure on Thompson with the Briton eventually giving way four laps from the finish. The Frenchman took advantage of Thompson being slowed by two battling Class B cars at the first corner to take the final podium place.
Two laps from the end, Menu looked in danger of dropping further back when he led a train of five cars over the line. But Radermecker, Neal, Kristensen and Plato were all fighting each other and the Swiss ace held on to his fifth place.
Class B was just as frantic with pole man Dan Eaves, on his BTCC debut, being passed by his Touring Car VIP Club Peugeot 306 team-mate Alan Morrison on the first lap. Alfa Romeo 156 driver Tom Ferrier was caught out by Rydell's crash, which sent him head on into an advertising hoarding. To add to his woes, he was then tapped from behind by the Ford Focus of Gareth Howell which sent him into a spin.
Barwell Motorsport's James Kaye, second in that division's points standings, had moved from the back of the grid to sixth in Class B by the end of the first lap. At the Safety Car re-start he muscled his way to third, behind the second Alfa of Gavin Pyper.
Pyper, in only his third BTCC race, attempted to hang on to the bumper of points-leader Morrison but could not match the pace of the Peugeot. He then fell back into the clutches of Kaye and the pair clashed three laps from the end. The side-by-side pair made contact round the first corner and the impact broke Pyper's steering arm sending him into a frightening roll down the plunging Cascades corner. Fortunately he emerged unscathed.
Kaye then lost second place to Eaves and had to settle for third, but that was enough to keep him in sight of Class B race winner Morrison at the top of the table.
Reid: "It was a crucial victory. It's a tough one for Rickard, but this championship is more than just winning races, keeping out of trouble is half the battle. This is what I had hoped for when I first joined Ford, to be in this position and to be able to have a shot at the title. I'm now looking for another win today. I will be carrying 40kg at Silverstone so I have to maximise my opportunity today."
Tarquini: "I made a really good start and I had a look at the right, and I think Rickard closed the line on Alain. From my point of view it was Rickard's own mistake because he closed too late. The level of competitiveness of my car was very close to Anthony's but on this track you need to be three of four tenths of a second a lap quicker to overtake and I wasn't. But I'm very optimistic for the second race."
Muller: "That was the only chance I had of getting a podium finish so I made sure I used the opportunity as soon as I had it. I was quite happy with the balance of my car in that race. The only problem is my speed on the straights, I am losing too much ground."
Neal: "After my qualifying performances I thought I was going to have a pretty quiet race, but it turned out to be the opposite. We had engine woes, which put me at the back of the grid in qualifying, and I'm having to use an old engine which is worn out, but it's the only one we've got left. But it worked well and I was able to push Vincent all the way. I'm happy, I'm trying to avoid weight penalties for Silverstone."
Morrison: "It's good to get another win and my team-mate did well getting into second in the last couple of laps and taking points away from James. It's still wide open yet, but we're keeping our fingers crossed."
FEATURE RACE - Round 22
A blistering start by Anthony Reid nearly paid dividends for the Ford Mondeo man as he entered the first corner side-by-side with pole-sitter Gabriele Tarquini. But the Italian Honda Accord ace just had the edge and held off the determined challenge of the Scot.
Tarquini then simply disappeared into the distance and was never really troubled, even when the Safety Car came out while the track marshals were clearing away his team-mate Tom Kristensen's crashed Accord. Tarquini did drop back into the clutches of Reid behind the Safety Car, but again just pulled away when the race re-started, eventually taking the chequered flag with an advantage of nearly four seconds over the new championship leader.
Fellow Honda driver James Thompson also made a great getaway from the grid, shooting to third by the end of the first lap from a starting position of fifth. He was helped by Vauxhall's Vincent Radermecker, whose Vectra bogged down at the start, dropping the Belgian from third to seventh.
Ford's Alain Menu also capitalised on Radermecker's misfortune, moving his Mondeo to fourth, passing team-mate Rickard Rydell in the process. Rydell had dropped back from fourth to sixth by the end of the first lap after French ace Yvan Muller squeezed by in his Vauxhall Vectra to take fifth.
The places remained the same until the mandatory pit-stops came into play, with Muller and Thompson the first to dive into the pits on lap six. A lap later, Rydell came in alongside Vauxhall's Jason Plato, who was in eighth.
The Vauxhall team put in the day's best pit-stop - winning £500 in the Michelin Pit-Stop Challenge in the process - and Plato actually got by Rydell in the pit-lane, despite the Swede doing his best to exit before the Vectra man. Rydell was later penalised for breaking the pit-lane speed limit in that incident and was given a drive-through penalty, effectively ending his challenge.
Tarquini pitted on lap nine, putting Reid into the lead. But the Scot's advantage was short-lived as he stopped to change tyres a lap later. Michelin Cup for Independents champion Matt Neal found himself at the head of the pack for three laps until he then brought in his Team Dynamics Nissan Primera for his pit-stop.
When Neal stopped, Tarquini regained the lead and had a huge eight second advantage over Reid. Behind Menu had moved into third, followed by Plato, Muller, Radermecker and Thompson, who was the biggest loser in the pit-stop period. Kristensen was one place further back with Neal now at the back of the pack.
Then, on lap 18, Kristensen suffered a hairy moment when a brake disk on his Accord exploded, sending him into a 130mph spin and into the tyre barriers. The Dane was unhurt, but the Safety Car was deployed for five laps while his wrecked Honda was removed.
At the re-start, Muller made his move, passing team-mate Plato at the first corner and then taking third from Menu half way round the lap. Menu looked to be safe in fourth until he suddenly slowed seven laps from the finish allowing Plato and Thompson to get past.
Menu continued and crossed the line sixth, despite the late attention of Neal. The Independent was lining up the Swiss driver to overtake when oil was dropped on the track by Class B runner Tom Ferrier (Alfa Romeo 156) and he was forced to drop back.
Class B saw one of its closest fights of the year. James Kaye, who had started last in his Barwell Motorsport Honda Accord, eventually took the win to keep his title chances alive, crossing the line a whisker ahead of Dan Eaves' Touring Car VIP Club Peugeot 306 GTi and Gareth Howell's Ford Focus.
Eaves, who was on the Class B pole position, lost out at the start when he had a coming together with Simon Harrison's Ford Focus. He dropped to the back, but a great recovery drive saw him claw his way back to second then swap the lead with Kaye on several occasions.
Points leader and Eaves' team-mate Alan Morrison suffered with his 306. He took the lead at the start but was forced to pit with brake troubles early on. His team managed to fix the problem but he had dropped too far back to challenge for the win. He eventually came home fifth but still heads the Class B title fight.
Tarquini: "I didn't make as good a start as I did in the first race but once I got out in front I think that my car was the fastest on the track. I changed the set-up a little bit for this race and it was a lot better. After the Safety Car period I was able to pull out a three-second gap over Anthony and then I had things under control. I am very happy with a first and a second today. I think if the championship had started today Honda would be very strong."
Reid: "At the start I pulled alongside Gabriele but I changed into second gear a bit too early and bogged down a bit. So I thought then that prudence would the best thing. We went into the corner side-by-side but I let him go ahead because I didn't want to put myself at risk. I think that was my best chance of winning the race, but I've got the next best thing which is a win and a second place. I'm very pleased with the afternoon's work. I'm now looking forward to Silverstone and the title showdown. It'll be very exciting."
Muller: "This time I didn't need to be opportunistic because the car was good and I had the ability to overtake people. That race was good fun. It was definitely exciting in the car, I hope it was just as exciting for the spectators."
Neal: "I got jumped at the start by Tom and then just sat at the back. After the Safety Car went in, the car felt really strong. I got Rickard with about four laps to go and I thought I could do the same to Alain, but then the oil came out and I ran out of laps. I think with another couple of laps I could have had a crack at him. The best thing is I've got no success ballast for the final two races so I can really have a go at Silverstone."
Kaye: "I have no idea what happened there. It was a fantastic race, I started last and finished first - what could be better? It was an excellent race for me, the car was just fantastic. It was the best race I've had this year. Now we can go into the final races still in the fight for the title. There's a lot to play for."