Alain Menu shook off his ballast problem to record a famous lights to flag win in the sprint race at Oulton Park.
Despite being 30 kilos overweight, (by virtue of success ballast) Alain Menu wrung the neck of his Ford Mondeo to take sole posession of the British Touring Car Championship lead, dominating round nine of the series at the picturesque Cheshire circuit.
Menu led the field away from the start and led the 16 car field out into the countryside for the first time. As the tightly bunched pack arrived at the Island Hairpin for the first time Menu led from fellow front row man Tom Kristensen in the Honda. Behind these two Yvan Muller's Vauxhall Vectra, hugging the inside of the turn as Ford's Rickard Rydell held the outside, was rammed from behind, possibly by the closely following Anthony Reid. The Vectra driver was pitched into the Mondeo which promptly rotated in the middle of the track, chaos ensued as drivers went in all directions trying to avoid the stricken car. Most succeeded and although there were a couple of bumps and scrapes only Rydell was left at the scene, his car stranded in the centre of the track.
The safety car was deployed accordingly to retrieve the Ford and while Muller limped back to the pits to retire, the other fourteen runners gathered up to await the re-start. The order had by now changed somewhat and although Menu and Kristensen occupied the top two places, third now belonged to Vincent Radermecker's Vauxhall Vectra up from eighth on the grid while fourth was held by the remaining Ford of Anthony Reid. Matt Neal
gained ten places on the opening lap and was up to fifth heading James Thomson and Gabriele Tarquini in the other Honda Accords. Jason Plato, forced to pit for tyres after flat-spotting them trying to avoid Rydell, was back in twelfth.
After only a single lap of slow running, the field were unleashed once again with Kristensen getting alongside Menu as the two hammered through Cascades. Menu defended superbly , blocking the Danish driver's line at the most crucial moments to maintain his lead. Kristensen was forced to lift and a closely following Radermecker capitalised on the run down to the Island hairpin, taking second and chasing after Menu.
Behind the top three, Reid was holding off Neal and Thompson but was struggling with damage sustained in the opening lap scuffle. As a result Neal was trying every way he knew to get by but in his efforts to attack he forgot to defend and coming out of Lodge to complete lap five Thompson went to the outside and swept by as the two crossed the line. James wasn't finished however and completed the move by holding the Accord around the outside of Old Hall to take fourth. Neal then came under pressure from Tarquini who succeeded in hustling his ballast laden Accord passed the Nissan three laps after his team-mate only to spin out and give sixth place back to the Team Dynamics driver.
Up at the sharp end of the field, Menu was maintaining half a second over Radermecker who was a similar distance clear of Kristensen. The Belgian driver tried desperately hard to get on terms with his Swiss counterpart but eventually his lack of experience in traffic kept him in second as Menu calmly guided his Mondeo home to score Ford's 500th class win in the BTCC.
“I'm very happy. It's Ford's 500th win and one for the history books,” said Menu who pulls clear of Rydell in the championship. “I had a bit of difficulty with the extra weight especially braking going into the corners then trying to get drive going out of them.”
Radermecker was nonetheless contented with his second place as was Kristensen who both benefited greatly in the championship. Thompson came home in a worthy fourth place just two and a half seconds behind the winner while Reid defended his fifth position stoutly from Neal throughout the latter part of the race. Jason Plato
simply flew through the field after his early pit stop and recorded the fastest lap of the race, a 1 minute 24.159 second effort, on his way to seventh place.
In Class B the action was as fast and furious as ever with Honda driver James Kaye coming out on top after Alan Morrison's Peugeot expired with a clutch failure. Ex- Super Touring man Kaye led initially only be passed by the Peugeot which promptly stopped. Kaye was chased home by his team-mate Mark Lemmer and the Nissan's of Robert Collard and Marc Nordon.