Touring Cars: Plato off but Menu stays the course

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The Independent Online
NISSAN DRIVERS Laurent Aiello and David Leslie pulled well clear of their British Touring Car Championship challengers in two controversial rounds at the tight, twisty Knockhill circuit in Scotland yesterday.

Aiello had the dream start to his day when he won the sprint race, while Ford's Alain Menu took an unexpected, but dominant win in the feature race.

Aiello's joy was compromised by an acrimonious run-in with Renault's Jason Plato in the feature, which ended with Plato off the track and Aiello up before the series' disciplinary officials.

Menu's win was founded on an excellent qualifying performance in wet conditions that gave him pole position. Plato, too, had bucked the form trend in that session to line up second on the grid. In the race it soon became plain that Plato could not match Menu's pace, but he was determined to hang on to second place. He mounted a dogged defence and held on until Aiello's Nissan made contact late in a long race.

"A tap I could accept," said Plato, "but he just sent me off the circuit. I will now take any opportunity to make sure Leslie wins the championship."

Aiello was disqualified, but promptly lodged an appeal, which he lost. Aiello had anyway lost places after the Plato affair, leaving Honda's Peter Kox second and Leslie third.

James Thompson, the only man with any real hope of overhauling the Nissan men, crashed out on the first lap. "It's over now," he said.

The earlier sprint race had been settled, in Aiello's favour, at the start. An excellent launch from pole position put him into an immediate lead and a comparatively slow getaway by the second qualifier, Anthony Reid's Ford Mondeo, sealed the race's destiny.

While Reid squabbled over second at the first corner with Honda import Gabriele Tarquini, and lost, behind them all hell broke loose. Leslie was tipped into a spin by persons unknown and shortly afterwards Volvo's Rickard Rydell clashed with Kox.

The Dutchman's Accord slewed sideways and, in a Honda nightmare, was collected by Thompson. Plato was also involved. Thompson went into the pits for repairs, rejoined and proved he had the pace by setting the second fastest lap, but it was all too late.

Tarquini tried hard to stay with Aiello and got close to him in the early laps, but as the race wore on so Aiello pulled away. "He was uncatchable today," said Tarquini.

Reid lost third place to his team-mate Menu to make it a great day for the Swiss driver.

Results, Digest, page 11