Motor racing: Biela plays safe with title in sight

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The Independent Online
Frank Biela virtually assured himself of the 1996 British Touring Car Championship title with a win and a second place in rounds 19 and 20 of the series at Oulton Park. His main rival, Rickard Rydell, dropped out of the day's second race with suspension failure on his Volvo, moving Biela within 16 points of the title.

The German used his Audi Quattro's four-wheel drive to its best at the start, firing away from fifth on the grid for round 19 to follow Alain Menu's Renault into the first corner. As Menu pulled clear, Biela settled into second with David Leslie's Honda on his tail.

Leslie had been on pole position but a poor start dropped him to third place, a position he held to the finish. Biela, who ran wide early in the race and spent a couple of laps nursing his car, gradually closed in on Menu, and halfway round the last lap made a dive for the lead.

"The only way I could pass was if he made a mistake. That's what happened, but, with my eyes on the championship, I didn't want to risk an accident," said Biela, who backed off to finish second. Menu was delighted to win, especially as recent engine problems have blighted his Renault team's championship challenge.

Biela stamped his authority on the second race right from the green light, pulling ahead of Leslie, Menu and BMW's Jo Winkelhock. The quartet ran nose to tail for the duration of the 27 lap event and although Leslie made a couple of attempts to take the lead, Biela held on for his seventh win of the year. Afterwards, for the first time, he admitted that the title was now his for the taking.

"With six races to go, I would be very unlucky to lose it from here," the reigning world champion said.

As Menu won the 19th round of the series, his team-mate Will Hoy stole fourth place, passing Rydell late in the race. It was the start of an unrewarding day for Rydell, who clashed with the reigning champion, John Cleland, in the second race, breaking his Volvo's front suspension and forcing him out. The incident enabled Menu to close within one point of Rydell for second in the title race, but, more importantly, almost handed Biela the championship crown.

Winkelhock completed the top six in round 19, a race marred by accidents on the first lap. A final lap move by Roberto Revaglia on James Thompson gave him fifth in round 20 after a close but processional race.