Ford's Alain Menu is celebrating today after capturing his second Auto Trader British Touring Car Championship title. But the Swiss ace had to fight to the very end to make sure of taking the crown, the last under Super Touring regulations.
Before Saturday's night-time Silverstone showdown, any of the three Ford Team Mondeo drivers - Menu, Anthony Reid and Rickard Rydell - had the chance to walk away with the coveted prize.
After round 23, when Menu finished in a gravel trap before the end of the first lap, it looked like Reid, who had arrived at Silverstone in the lead of the series, would claim the championship. But misfortune struck both Reid and Rydell in round 24 and Menu, who crossed the line third, did enough to win - by two points.
He said: "It has been a very hard season and I'm happy to have won it. I've raced against the two strongest team-mates I've every had and it's been really tough beating them. And it's been a pleasure working with them.
"I'm very happy to win the championship with Ford because when I left Renault at the end of 1998 the goal was to win the title and this year we've done it. It's great to have won the last Super Touring championship as well."
Reid, runner-up for the second time, said: "After the first race I was in better shape than I was before it - Alain was going to have to put in a fantastic performance to win the title and that's what he went out and did. I thought once I had got into fourth I had one hand on the trophy but then I was taken out. There's not much you can say about that. But this year has been my best season to date without a doubt."
Rydell, who finished third, said: "We've had the pace but not the luck this year. Some years it goes your way and some years it doesn't. It's been a good season, it's been fun to drive with Anthony and Alain and for all three of us to be so close up to the last race was fantastic."
The drivers' crown capped off a great year for Ford. The Blue Oval outfit had already claimed the manufacturer's championship but, with its performances at Silverstone, also clinched the teams' title and the Michelin Pit-Stop Challenge, awarded to the quickest pit-stoppers of the season.
The only other title to be decided at Silverstone was Class B and Alan Morrison (Touring Car VIP Club) wrapped that up in the first of the two races by taking the win in that division in his Peugeot 306 GTi. His only challenger for the award was James Kaye (Barwell Motorsport, Honda Accord) whose second place in round 23 wasn't enough to take the battle to the final race of the year.
SPRINT RACE - Round 23
Rickard Rydell was hoping to capitalise on his pole position to put pressure on his two Ford team-mates in the title race and he started well, leading the field from the off. Second-placed Tom Kristensen held station behind in his Honda Accord while Alain Menu suffered the worst start to the championship finale.
The Swiss ace got out of shape through Becketts while under pressure from Vauxhall's Jason Plato and his Mondeo slid off into retirement. Plato retired on the next lap. This promoted Anthony Reid to third and the fellow Mondeo man needed only to remain in that position to further strengthen his title lead.
Michelin Cup for Independents champion Matt Neal also lost out on the frenetic first lap. He dropped from fifth at the start to a battle-scarred seventh, having been passed by Honda's James Thompson and Gabriele Tarquini and Vauxhall's Yvan Muller.
By lap five, Reid's hold on third began to slip when he came under increasing pressure from Thompson. The two Britons battled it out for another lap until the Honda man slipped by to claim the place and take valuable championship points away from the Ford driver.
The Honda Accord of Kristensen was also proving to have the legs of the Mondeo of Rydell and the pair were nose to tail at the front for several laps before the Dane eventually overtook the Swede to take the lead on lap nine. After that, Kristensen pulled out a gap and was not challenged for the remainder of the race with Rydell concentrating on keeping Thompson at bay to prevent a further loss of points.
There was worse to come for Reid though when, on lap nine, Tarquini and he touched, sending him into a spin and Tarquini out of the race. Reid recovered to come home seventh but, with dropped scores coming into the equation, he did not gain any extra points.
That incident promoted Muller to fourth, Neal to fifth, Vauxhall's Vincent Radermecker to sixth and Independent David Leslie (PRO Motorsport, Nissan Primera) to seventh. Muller dropped out of the chase, and down to eighth, on the final lap with a puncture and Radermecker shot past Neal on the same lap to claim fourth at the chequered flag.
In Class B, the Touring Car VIP Club Peugeot 306 GTi of Dan Eaves was the car to beat. He had claimed pole position and led for most of the race. Behind was team-mate Alan Morrison, that division's points leader, and Barwell Motorsport's James Kaye in his Honda Accord.
Kaye, second in the table, had to beat Morrison to keep his title hopes alive, but could not find a way past. In the closing stages, Morrison was let into the lead by Eaves and Kaye also got by to take second. But the win was enough for Morrison to claim the 2000 Class B crown.
Eaves finished third, with Kaye's team-mate Mark Lemmer crossing the line fourth ahead of Nick James (Honda Integra Type R) and former BTCC racer Geoff Kimber-Smith (Toyota Carina) who was making his return to the championship after an absence of 11 years.
Kristensen: "The car was good and I am very pleased. It is nice to win especially at the end of the season as you can forget all the rest. It makes it worthwhile. In the second half of the year, Honda has been particularly strong and it's great to finish like this."
Rydell: "I was pleased with my qualifying performances and before the races I just thought I would have to win both races and see what Anthony and Alain do. I wasn't go to think about where they were. As it turned out, this result has helped me but I need to win the second race which will be tough. I couldn't hold off Tom, the Honda was just quicker."
Thompson: "It's a bit of shame I couldn't get past Rickard to get second as that would have been Honda's first 1-2 this year. It was a good race. I kept out of trouble at the start, managed to get past Anthony cleanly and then had a go at Rickard. But it's good to be on the podium during the final weekend."
Neal: "I thought I'd got all my smashing out of the way during testing yesterday! I'd watched a rugby league game before the race and there was more contact in the first ten minutes of that race than in the whole of that game! I'm glad I got to the finish line."
Morrison: "It's great to get the title. It hasn't sunk in yet, I'm sure that'll happen tomorrow. I'm just delighted for everyone in the team. It's our first year in Class B and to take the title is fantastic. Everyone has done a great job throughout the year. We had a car advantage during the start of the season, but the Honda caught up in the middle of the year and it went down to the wire which is good for the spectators and the championship."
FEATURE RACE - Round 24
All three Ford men were still in with a chance of winning the BTCC title after the Sprint Race but Rickard Rydell's dreams of a second championship crown were ended before the start of the Feature.
As he lined up second on the grid to pole-man Tom Kristensen's Honda, his Mondeo began to leak water and he had to be pushed into the pit-lane.
Unfortunately for the Swede, who won the title with Volvo in 1998, that was the end of his 2000 championship hopes as the leak, caused after his team had changed the car's engine in between the two races, proved terminal.
This allowed Kristensen breathing space at the front of the grid and when the green lights came on to signal the start of the last round of the year, he disappeared into the darkness and cruised to a comfortable second win of the day.
The title battle was left to Alain Menu and Anthony Reid, third and sixth on the grid respectively. With Reid leading the series, Menu had to finish as high as possible to take the title and he set off in determined fashion, overtaking Honda's James Thompson on the second lap to move into second.
Thompson was also passed by Michelin Cup for Independents ace Matt Neal who moved his Nissan Primera into third by the end of the second lap after starting fifth on the grid. Reid, meanwhile, was in fifth, a position not good enough to win the championship if Menu remained second.
Reid set about attacking Thompson but was caught out by Vauxhall's Yvan Muller who took advantage of the Scot's preoccupation with the Honda man to slide past on the fifth lap into fifth. Thompson then saw an opportunity to overtake Neal and moved into third.
Then the mandatory pit-stops came into effect and when Kristensen pulled in for his stop on lap seven, Menu took the lead and gained a valuable extra championship point. He pitted a lap later which moved Thompson to the front, ahead of Reid who had moved up a place when Muller stopped for his tyre-change.
Reid also earned a bonus point for leading when Thompson came into the pits on lap 11. But when the Scot came in to change tyres on lap 13, he dropped back down to fifth with Kristensen back in front and Menu second, putting the Swiss ace back in pole position for the championship.
The biggest winner in the pit-stop shuffle was Vauxhall's Jason Plato. He had started tenth on the grid but, along with Honda's Gabriele Tarquini, stopped first. The pair emerged from the pit-lane almost together with Tarquini in front. But Plato, who has been quick throughout the year in the latter stages of the Feature races, soon passed the Italian and, after a succession of fast laps in his Vectra to make up ground, found himself fourth by the time all the pit-stops had been taken.
He then set about attacking Thompson and, after nine laps of hard charging, eventually caught and passed the Honda Accord with just five laps remaining. Thompson then hit trouble when he suffered a puncture and was forced into the pits.
The biggest drama came just three laps from the finish when Reid, who had been caught by the Vectra of Vauxhall's Vincent Radermecker, speared off the track and into a gravel trap. The pair had clashed at Becketts and the incident proved to be the end of Reid's title dreams.
This gave Menu breathing space as all he had to do was finish no lower than fourth to win. He backed off, allowing Plato through to finish a remarkable second, and crossed the line nearly six seconds behind winner Kristensen but as the new Auto Trader British Touring Car Champion.
Muller, who lost time in the pits when he changed all four tyres instead of the mandatory two, finished fifth behind Radermecker and ahead of Tarquini and Neal, the Independent struggling to stay in touch after his power steering failed.
In Class B, new champion Alan Morrison's final fling ended quietly under the Silverstone floodlights. He retired midway through the race when his Touring Car VIP Club Peugeot 306 GTi developed gear selector problems. His team-mate Dan Eaves, however, celebrated the end of the season in fine style, taking his first win in the BTCC.
Class B runner-up James Kaye crossed the line second in his Barwell Motorsport Honda Accord while Bryce Wilson finished third in the RJN Motorsport Nissan Primera. Bintcliffe Sport Racing's Marc Nordon finished fourth in his Primera and Geoff Kimber-Smith claimed fifth in the Toyota Carina.
Kristensen: "It's a fantastic way to end the year, to win the last Super Touring race in England. I've had a frustrating season but to finish on such a note is great. You're never better than your last race and I won that one! I had all the luck today that I've not had in other races and when you get it you've just got to take it."
Plato: "I had a great race, I just wish it could have gone on for another hour. I was having a fantastic time. It just proved that yet again the Vauxhall Vectra's a great race car, we just struggled in qualifying. I think if we'd not had those problems, we would have been in a position to fight for the championship. It was a fantastic day and I'm glad the championship was kept alive to the end, that shows what a great series the BTCC is."
Neal: "The power steering failed on the first of the warm-up laps, but it was intermittent so it would go through a corner but then free up again. Then it decided to pack up altogether and I got used to it, but it was like trying to manhandle a lazy old elephant through the corners. It was very difficult to drive. I just had to bring it home really. It's been a great year for us though. To come away with another race win (round 19, Brands Hatch) and the Michelin Cup is a great feeling."
Eaves: "It's a great feeling to win. It was nice to help Alan to the championship in the first race. And in the second race we were simply in it to win it. Unfortunately Alan didn't finish the race and then James gave me a bit of a fight to the line but I'm very, very pleased to take the win."