Motor racing: Touring car title secured by Menu

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The Independent Online
Alain Menu claimed the Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship drivers' title for the first time this afternoon in virtuoso style, the Swiss Williams- Renault team leader claiming his 11th race victory of the season in the Snetterton sunshine to celebrate his 34th birthday weekend in the best possible way.

Menu's Renault Laguna led the 17th round of the Auto Trader Championship from pole position to chequered flag, setting fastest lap on his way to victory by two seconds over Honda's James Thompson. In the second race of the afternoon, Menu finished a close second to his Renault team-mate, Jason Plato, who claimed his first victory in the championship.

"It's marvellous. This is the result of five years of hard work from Renault," Menu said. "I am sure Frank Williams will be very happy, and he'll be even happier when we win the manufacturers' title also.

"To be honest I am surprised how easy this year has been. I expected the competition to be stronger. Honda has been the biggest disappointment and TWR Volvo always seem to finish third."

Menu's Snetterton win - ironically his first at the Norfolk track in five seasons on the championship - was the culmination of a dominant season for the Renault team, an offshoot of the Williams-Renault Grand Prix squad. Menu won the first four races of the year, at Donington and Silverstone, and followed that up with single victories at Brands Hatch and again at Donington, as well as doubles at Oulton Park and Croft.

The 17th round of the championship was settled at the first corner, when Menu raced into an early lead from Nissan's Anthony Reid and Thompson. Reid's challenge was short-lived, clutch problems dropping him from the top 10 before the end of the first lap, and into retirement. Thompson chased the Renault valiantly, reducing Menu's advantage from two seconds to just a car's length by mid-distance but, as the Honda driver admitted, he "pushed too hard, too early" and couldn't stay with Menu.

The 18th round proved a thriller, Plato, second on the grid, outgunning the pole-sitting Menu off the start to lead into the first corner, with the Hondas of Gabriele Tarquini and Thompson in line astern. Menu, who had earlier said he would not gift any victories to his team-mate "because he was not yet ready to win", harried Plato all the way to the chequered flag, never more than a car's length behind at any stage.