TOURING CARS: Dominant Aiello in sight of title glory

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The Independent Online
THE NISSAN driver Laurent Aiello moved another step closer to winning the British Touring Car Championship drivers' title with a win and a second place here yesterday.

With four rounds left to run, the only driver who can now beat Aiello is his Scottish team-mate David Leslie, staying within sniping distance of the French driver with a fourth and a second at the Kent track.

Volvo's Rickard Rydell and Honda's James Thompson both scored well in their quest to be best of the rest behind the Nissan pair. Rydell took an excellent win in the sprint race and was all set to match that with second in the feature race, but a slow pit stop lost him three places. Two third places kept Thompson ahead of his Swedish rival in the points chase.

Aiello's win was a lights-to-flag affair. He out-dragged poleman Rydell then, after a safety car period as the cars of Alain Menu, Gabriele Tarquini and Yvan Muller were moved out of the way after being involved in a series of first-lap skirmishes, he resisted the Swede's pressure over the opening laps.

Aiello then took a large, and enduring, advantage when the Volvo crew faltered in the pits. "It was only a couple of seconds," rued Rydell, "but it cost me three places."

"I got the start that Rickard did in the first race and I was able to get ahead this time," said Aiello. "We went for an early pit stop and it paid off tactically. I had a comfortable lead after the stops and was able to cruise home."

Leslie emerged from the mandatory pit stop period in second place, just ahead of Thompson. "From then on, he was glued to my boot lid," said Leslie later. Thompson, though, could not find a way past, despite stepping up the intensity of his efforts over the closing laps. Peter Kox's Honda was fourth and Rydell fifth.

Rydell earlier withstood persistent, but ineffective, pressure from Aiello to win a processional sprint race. Both drivers agreed that the race was won and lost at the start. "I missed it," admitted Aiello, who was then unable to make a serious passing move without risk. With the drivers' title moving ever more securely into his grasp, risks were not on the Frenchman's agenda.

Leslie was fourth after the independent Nissan driver, Matt Neal, politely moved to one side on the last lap, apparently at the request of Nissan, which is determined to bring its drivers home first and second in the points.

Aiello's lead should be enough to secure him the title, but Leslie has not given up yet. "It will be hard work to pull back his advantage," said the 45-year-old, "but I'm working on it. All it takes is a couple of non- finishes."

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