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Menu the master in Brands Feature
28 August 2000
Alain Menu used his Ford's superior drivability on a damp Brands Hatch circuit to record a very impressive Feature Race success and pull six points clear of Anthony Reid in the points battle.
Alain Menu came from sixth on the grid to take a memorable victory for his West Surrey Racing Ford Mondeo outfit around a damp and treacherous Brands Hatch Indy track, completely demoralising the rest of the BTCC field in doing so.
The Swiss driver took advantage of the Ford's ability to generate heat into the tyres on a cold surface quickly and while others struggled to gain traction in the early going, Menu simply drove away from them and was more than three seconds ahead of fellow title protagonist and Ford teamster Rickard Rydell after 50 hard fought laps.
Rydell was able to fend off early race leader Jason Plato to the flag, virtually guaranteeing the Blue Oval the Manufacturers Championship while Anthony Reid in the third Mondeo recovered well from a lowly grid position to take fourth place and keep himself right in the thick of the title battle.
Menu capitalised on a first lap collision between pole man Tom Kristensen and Plato to move into the top four and then picked off the struggling Honda of James Thompson to move into the top three after just half a dozen tours. The Vectra of Plato continued to lead after his opening lap skirmish while Rydell and Menu gave chase, the Fords easily gaining the upper hand on the run up to Druids and on the long run out of Clearways. However Plato held firm forcing Rydell into an uncharacteristic mistake as the Swedish star strove to find a way through.
Menu was a different proposition altogether and as Plato crossed the line to start lap eleven he had the erstwhile points leader glued to his rear bumper. Half a lap later and Menu was through, the Swiss driver barging past the Englishman in a very robust fashion. Despite having some dented body panels Menu proceeded to pull away at a steady rate of knots over the remaining 40 laps to record yet another 2000 victory.
Rydell was hassled all the way to the flag by Plato after the Swedish driver got ahead of the Englishman thanks to a lightning quick stop. Rydell was left to rue the mistake that cost him a possible victory and has left him eleven points behind Menu in the standings.
Plato's determined drive to the podium, from fifth on the grid was enough to keep him within four points of team-mate Yvan Muller in the Championship table but it is almost certain that a Ford man will be crowned series Champion with just two rounds to go.
Muller meanwhile struggled in the early laps with a car that was not set up for wet weather running and the fiery Frenchman was left to fight it out with Reid and James Thompson for fourth place. Reid eventually got the nod ahead of Thompson who, despite having no grip in the opening laps, led for a short while from his front row starting slot before surrendering his place to Plato and then gradually dropping back. However in spite of his grip problems the English driver was able to keep Muller at bay for fifth position after a gripping three way scrap with Reid.
After being delayed badly in the Sprint Race Vincent Radermecker came good with a strong run to seventh place in the third string Vauxhall ahead of an irate Kristensen who was forced down to last as a result of his opening lap fracas with Plato.
Gabriele Tarquini was not only off the pace thanks to his ballast problem but also encountered several problems with Class B cars and was the last of the Super Touring runners home in tenth place behind Sprint winner Matt Neal. Sadly the Independent driver was unable to repeat his heroics of the morning and struggled on the wet track. From a lowly eighth on the grid, Matt made a crucial error at Paddock when the track was at its most treacherous and damaged the front splitter which left him little more than a walking wounded spectator, falling a lap behind in ninth.
The battle for Class B was once again intense and the smaller cars definitely added to the excitement and tension for as the track began to dry everyone was reluctant to move off line and let the faster men by. Thankfully there were no incidents during the race and the Super Touring boys were generally grateful for the help they received during the races.
As at Snetterton, Alan Morrison's Peugeot 306 suffered an electrical failure in the wet and he, along with teammate Toni Ruokonen were left with severely misted windows and very poor visibility. This left James Kaye leading from the Alfa of Tom Ferrier and the Nissan of Robert Collard with the Barwell Motorsports driver holding a two second lead to the flag.
Ferrier lost second place late in the race when he encountered braking difficulties but both he and the eventual runner-up Collard kept the pressure on the Honda driver right up to the flag.
Kaye has now closed Morrison's advantage at the top of the class to a manageable 17 points and with the Gary Ayles squad committing to the series for the rest of the year; the competition is going to be even more intense than ever.
Next stop is Oulton Park where Alain Menu will have a damage limitation exercise on his hands, the Swiss driver trying to cope with 40 kilos of success ballast on a track which favours much lighter machinery. The battle for the last ever BTCC run to Super Touring regulations is now a three way dance with Menu at the head of the line.
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