Touring Cars: Mansell's mayhem day

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NIGEL MANSELL'S touring car career took another dive yesterday as he made it four crashes in five races in front of a record crowd of 40,000 at Brands Hatch.

There was also echoes of Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix as the British Touring Car Championship title rivals, Rickard Rydell and Anthony Reid, almost came to blows in an angry post-race confrontation.

Mansell only made it to the exit of the second corner in the first of the day's two BTCC rounds, before coming out worst in a typical bout of first-lap fender-bending and crashing heavily. Then in the second race he went through a catalogue of disasters before a run-in with the Top Gear television presenter Tiff Needell preceded another less violent shunt at almost exactly the same spot. Mansell, however, still managed to put a brave face on it all, blaming both crashes on other drivers and saying: "It's actually been a good day. I made a great, great start in the first race and it's been a great learning experience."

The regulars did more than their best to entertain the crowd, too. Reid won the sprint race at a canter, leading from start to finish in the Nissan, chased by James Thompson in the Honda.

The second, feature, race was much more dramatic. Rydell led from the green lights, chased by Reid and a gang of Renaults and Nissans. From the start Reid harassed Rydell, dodging about and lunging towards the Volvo time and again. Eventually there was contact when Reid hit the back of Rydell's car at the Druids hairpin. This time Rydell came off best, staying ahead while Reid ran wide (he later accused Rydell of deliberately slowing him and forcing him off-line). Reid was immediately passed by Thompson, Alain Menu and Jason Plato in the second Renault.

Reid embarked on a great comeback drive into second place and closed to within half a second of Rydell. That is how it stayed until the closing stages, when Reid mounted an attack at Druids. This time it was Rydell who came off worst and Reid moved into a lead he held to the flag. After the race officials deemed Reid to have gained an unfair advantage, penalised him by two seconds and awarded the race to Rydell.

Before that happened, the normally-placid Rydell had leapt from his Volvo, marched over to Reid and grabbed him.

"I was not very happy. There's a lot of adrenaline flowing and I had to tell him what I thought," said the Swede, whose championship lead is looking vulnerable in the face of Reid's late-season push. Menu is still in touch in third place.