Touring Cars: Night owl Leslie closes in

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NISSAN DRIVER David Leslie celebrated a win and a second place in the British Touring Car Championship's innovative night races at Snetterton, as his title rivals James Thompson and Laurent Aiello collected only a handful of points between them.

Leslie and his Nissan team-mate Aiello were faster than their rivals, but had their problems and that keeps the fight for the championship alive.

The new night race concept was the other big winner as a record crowd packed the Norfolk track's spectator enclosures and the touring car stars put on a brilliant show of combative and intense racing.

As the dusk gathered, points leader Aiello led the sprint race from the start, with Leslie second. But on only the second lap the clutch on Aiello's Primera started to slip and he retired. That left Leslie with a comfortable win.

In the second feature race, which finished just before midnight, Leslie and Aiello were again ahead of their peers. Leslie led almost all the way, though Aiello briefly gained the upper hand before a flapping bonnet forced a second pit stop. In the closing laps Leslie's car faltered and as he nursed it to the finish he was overhauled by Honda's Peter Kox - en route to his first BTCC win. Aiello recovered to join a fierce battle for fourth place, but could only finish seventh.

Leslie is now just 12 points behind Aiello and could not suppress a gleeful grin at the prospect of a tussle with his team-mate for the title. Thompson is still only 27 points down despite a terrible evening. He had to start the first race from the back after a driveshaft failed on the way to the grid, but moved through the field in fine style until he joined the cars battling for fourth.

Then he became the innocent victim of an on-going war between Vauxhall's Yvan Muller and Renault's Jason Plato. Plato had grabbed the upper hand leaving Muller vulnerable to Thompson and Jean-Christophe Boullion in the second Renault. As they headed three abreast into the Esses, Muller, on the outside, lost control and slammed head-first into the side of Thompson's car. Muller was out and Thompson struggled round to finish ninth.

A despairing "just look at the car" from Thompson preceded some quick and effective work from the Honda team to get the banana-shaped Accord more or less straight for the feature race in which Thompson was right on leader Leslie's tail before the pit stops. Shortly after, though, he spun as the left rear wheel fell off. The wheel was replaced, but 15th place and no points brought no joy when a win had been on the cards.

The minor places were keenly contested with Muller, both Volvos and both Renaults in the thick of it. Rickard Rydell and Vincent Radermecker were second and third in the sprint for Volvo, while Muller took third in the feature after a controversial move on Ford's Alain Menu, another star of the show to leave Norfolk with little reward. Plato and his Renault team-mate Boullion secured a fourth place each. Expect to see a repeat night fixture on the calendar next year and beyond.

AUTO TRADER BRITISH TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP (Snetterton): Round 15 (37.088 miles) 1 D Leslie Nissan Primera) 23min 44.201sec 93.74mph; 2 R Rydell (Volvo S40) +1.584sec; 3 Vincent Radermecker (Volvo S40) +1.968; 4 J Plato (Renault Laguna) +2.229; 5 J-C Boullion (Fr) Renault Laguna+2.749s 6 Peter Kox (Honda Accord) +3.461. Fastest lap: Leslie 1:09.011 (101.83mph). Round 16: 1 P Kox (Honda Accord) 40:45.358 (97.70mph); 2 D Leslie (Nissan Primera)+3.829; 3 Y Muller (Vauxhall Vectra)+7.146; 4 J-C Boullion (Renault Laguna)+21.179; 5 Vincent Radermecker (Volvo S40)+21.557; 6 Jason Plato (Renault Laguna)+23.202. s 7. Laurent AielloFRANissan Primera+23. Fastest lap: L Aiello (Nissan Primera) 1:09.560 (101.02mph).

Drivers' Championship: (after 16 rounds): 1 L Aiello 147pts; 2 D Leslie 135; 3 J Thompson 120; 4 Jason Plato 95; 5 R Rydell 92; 6= M Neal and Y Muller 82; 8 P Kox 76; 9 V Radermecker 67; 10 J-C Boullion 63.

Michelin Cup for Independents: 1 M Neal (Nissan) 234pts; 2 M Blair (Vauxhall)110; 3 L Brookes (Honda) 72. Manufacturers: 1 Nissan 312pts; 2 Honda 198; 3 Renault162. Teams: 1 Vodafone Nissan Racing, 130pts; 2 Team Honda Sport 95; 3 Williams 83.