Williams attack second target

Derick Allsop on the opening of motor sport's most exciting series
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Williams' domination of the early stages in the Formula One world championship provides the promoters of "tin-top" racing with further evidence they have the most exciting sport on four wheels.

As the grand prix procession wings its way from Brazil to Argentina this weekend, the freedom fighters of the British Touring Car Championship gather at Donington Park for their first skirmishes of the season on Monday.

Here too, ironically, the Williams-run Renault is highly fancied, but on this track the Anglo-French organisation can anticipate a contest. It is the arena of genuine competition, of wheel-to-wheel, door-banging spectacle, in cars that actually resemble those on the road.

The appeal and potential of this racing are such that FIA, motor sport's governing body, have been moved to get in on the act. They have taken under their wing the International Touring Car Championship, which includes a round at Silverstone in August.

Some have suggested a hidden agenda, that the FIA's underlying motive is to stifle the growth of this precocious child lest it should upstage their number one son.

What is clear is that touring- car racing has become a booming business and entertainment industry, and the BBC, shunted off the Formula One circuit from next year by ITV, have made a long-term commitment which will double their coverage of the British Championship and include showing some races live.

Audi joined the entries this season with a formidable CV. They have won German, Italian and French titles, and their German driver, Frank Biela, won the World Cup at the end of last season. More importantly they have been hugely impressive in recent testing.

Another German manufacturer, BMW, have revamped their challenge after a modest showing last year and have a strong driver line-up in Jo Winkelhock, the 1993 champion, and Italy's Roberto Ravaglia. Ford also have a new look to their bid, entrusting the operation with West Surrey Racing, the team that provided Ayrton Senna with his Formula Three equipment in 1983. The established New Zealander, Paul Radisich, is joined by Britain's Steve Roberts.

Honda and Peugeot predict marked improvement in their form this year, while the title holder, John Cleland, accepts that momentum may be some time coming in the Vauxhall Vectra

Renault suspect their fiercest opposition will come from Volvo, who in turn play down any notion that they might be favourites. Renault's Swiss driver, Alain Menu, intent on adding the individual prize to last season's team award, said: "Lots of people are telling me I'm favourite, but Volvo looks pretty strong and I guess everybody is going to be strong."

The democracy of the BTCC is its strength, and one man who will miss it is the 1994 champion, Alfa Romeo's Gabriele Tarquini. The Italians have pulled out to concentrate on the international championship. Neil Warrior, a spokesman for Alfa said: "The BTCC is a great championship and has been great for us in Britain, but ITC gives the opportunity to exploit and develop the kind of technology you may not find even in Formula One.

"We feel the ITC, with FIA, will grow and grow. But there is no reason why that should interfere with a thriving British championship, and certainly does not overlap Formula One.

"Any manufacturer needs to concentrate on one or the other. It is very difficult to compete in two to the level required. The important point is that people who love motor racing have plenty of exciting touring-car racing to enjoy."

Tarquini says he hopes he and Alfa will be back in Britain when the new Giulietta is up and running. "For me, it's the best championship in Europe," he said. Which is what the men from the BTCC have been saying all along.

BRITISH TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP: 8 April Donington Park; 21 April Brands Hatch; 6 May Thruxton; 19 May Silverstone; 27 May Oulton Park; 16 June Snetterton; 30 June Brands Hatch GP; 14 July Silverstone GP; 28 July Knockhill; 11 Aug Oulton Park; 26 Aug Thruxton; 8 Sep Donington; 22 Sep Brands Hatch.

INTERNATIONAL TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP: 14 April Hockenheim (Ger); 12 May Nurburgring (Ger); 26 May Estoril (Por); 9 June Helsinki (Fin); 23 June Norisring (Ger); 7 July Diepholz (Ger); 21 July Interlagos (Bra); 4 Aug TI Aida (Japan); 18 Aug Silverstone (GB); 1 Sep Nurburgring (Ger); 15 Sep Magny Cours (Fr); 29 Sep Mugello (It); 13 Oct Hockenheim.