Touring Cars: Biffs and bangs fail to stop Menu

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The Independent Online
ALAIN MENU revived his hopes of retaining the British Touring Car Championship with a win and a second place in two exciting rounds held at Thruxton in Hampshire yesterday. The win came in a gripping, and bruising, feature race.

Honda's James Thompson made a superb start to take the lead from the pole position man Anthony Reid in the Nissan, but the Honda clearly lacked the pace of its pursuers. Thompson's sound defensive driving meant the first half of the race featured a crazy six-car nose-to-tail train at the front. Despite numerous biffs and bangs the status quo was maintained until the compulsory mid-race pit-stops.

Then Thompson's Honda crew did a superb job to keep him well ahead, while Menu who had been fourth in the Renault emerged second, despite a potentially disastrous pit lane clash with Yvan Muller's Audi. The championship leader, Rickard Rydell, in the Volvo and Reid fared less well and dropped back.

Menu soon caught Thompson and pulled off a brilliant passing move at one of the fastest parts of the Hampshire track to take the lead. Thompson looked set to hold onto second place, but a gearbox problem slowed him drastically over the later stages. David Leslie in the other Nissan moved up to take an excellent second place, with Rydell's third slightly increasing his championship lead as the pursuing group again reshuffled.

The former Grand Prix driver Gianni Morbidelli grabbed fourth place from Thompson on the last corner for his best result of the season in the Volvo, with Reid coming in sixth.

Reid earlier took his third win of the year in the sprint race, out-dragging Rydell at the start and pulling away to a comfortable victory. Rydell lost another place to Menu on the first lap, who held second to the end. Rydell did likewise with third keeping an eye on a great fight for fourth in his mirrors. Thompson held the place throughout, but it was never easy with Muller and then Leslie nibbling at his bumper.

With eight rounds to run Rydell leads by 45 points, but series rules mean a driver must drop his worst four scores at the end of the season, which will work for his opponents and he is certainly not complacent: "Effectively it's just a 34-point lead. We need to pick up the pace," explained the Swede.