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Fair share

The dust is settling in the MC. As it does so, our columnist finds himself holding a share of the championship lead

Sorry if this column sounds a bit snuffly I’ve got hayfever! It gets to me sometimes rather like Vauxhall Cavaliers!

I got a bit of a shock at Donington; I finally beat the Alfas in a straight fight, I build up a three-second lead. . . and then John Cleland comes right by me. It was a big disappointment; if you build up a lead like that you normally have to do something stupid to lose it, but he just hauled me in as if he had a line on me, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Practice had gone well and it finished with my first pole position of the year. We’ve struggled so far this season to get the best out of the Ford Mondeo in qualifying, but eventually it all clicked.

I made the most of this by making a good start and it was all looking good for my second win of the year. Then I hit an invisible barrier at around lap seven or eight. It was a very hot day, and although I had been trying to drive smoothly to save my Michelins and the brakes, I suddenly lost front-end grip and John was able to get by. He carried a lot more speed than me into Coppice and was able to push me wide. We touched very slightly and he lost his wing mirror, but it wasn’t too bad. I’d have never been able to hold him off anyway. I think maybe Dunlop had come up with a better tyre for the hot conditions, which, apparently, is all linked in with

this shiny, yellow thing in the sky. Thankfully, you don’t see it too often over here! I just wish it would go away and take the pollen with it!

John got the drop me at the start of the second race, but I was surprised how slowly he went on the first lap. In fact, I passed him on this lap when I went round the outside of him at Coppice. He was going so slowly that I was able to get by and still claim my normal line for the corner. But I think he knew the score in the grip stakes.

Once again I was able to pull out a sizeable lead. . .but here comes lap eight again, and there goes John’s line attaching itself to my rear bumper once more. As in the first race, I was powerless to stop him.

Still, two second places is not too bad, and I’m now tied with Alfa Romeo’s Gabriele Tarquini at the head of the series. Consistency is always important, but it is absolutely vital in this season with every race counting for maximum points. The doubleheaders are particularly difficult. You’ve got to think it out. You’ve got to be fast because the points are biased heavily towards the first three places, but you can’t afford to make a mistake in the first race; one stupid manoeuvre can bugger up your whole weekend. Consequently, the wholesale points changes over the last couple of weeks caused by the row over Alfa’s wings have played havoc with my state of mind. One minute I had a 30-point advantage and I’m thinking that I can take It easy, and the next I’m 24 points behind and thinking that I’ve got to win. I don’t feel sorry for Gabriele. That’s not malicious, it’s just honest. Motor racing is full of ups and downs, and we’ve all

experienced them. We’re all out there to win the championship and you have to take what’s coming. I know exactly what’s he’s gone through in the last few weeks, but I’ve had to just get on with it, and so has he.

I’m just glad the wrangling has all be sorted out now, whatever the outcome; it would’ve been awful if it had been allowed to rumble on right through the season. At least we all now know where we stand, and I feel that it has been given back to me, that my destiny is my own hands.

I’m quite happy to be in this position at this stage of the season. At the start of the year, when the Alfas were rushing off into the distance, we were all really worried that we might not catch them. But we have now shown ourselves to be on their pace, and when they have to push their splitters back on July I I expect them to lose maybe two tenths a lap. Despite this, I still anticipate Tarquini as being the man to beat. But you can’t discount anybody in this series; I was concentrating on Gabriele at the start of the first Donington race, and it was John’s Cavalier that came rushing by! He’s been a bit up and down at the start of the season, but I expect him to the other big threat to my title ambitions.

Perhaps Renault’s Alain Menu is also in with a chance of the championship. We had a very close look at each other at Oulton Park, where he took the lead away from me with a very optimistic move. Basically, he gave me a couple of taps from behind and was thus able to get by. I don’t think he did it on purpose, and he showed that he had the quicker car once he got by me but it was still an optimistic move!

The BMWs, with their new wings and reduced weight, will also come more to the fore in the second half of the season, although their chance of the championship looks to have gone.

Alfa and Ford at Silverstone, Renault at Oulton Park and Vauxhall at Donington Park its all very close, very fraught and very high pressure. To get away from it all I like to relax with the odd oval race and by racing a 300 bhp sportscar on slicks in the rain!

I was invited to do a couple of Eurocar (Europe’s planned answer to NASCAR) races at Mallory Park recently. This was a really good day out because I won both! These cars have Mondeo bodyshells which are bolted onto specially-made spaceframes and powered by a three-litre Vos. They have a lot of built-in stagger that makes them want to turn left all the time. They were good fun to drive, and in terms of speed didn’t feel far short of the BTCC Mondeo, although it was a case of building up the speed and keeping it on rather than accelerating from comer to corner.

The sportscar I drove was a ProSport 3000, which was intended as a form of single-seater practice. But I had very little testing in it and got caught out, because, for once in this country, it rained! I decided it wasn’t worth risking the car and called it a day. I’m just going to have to get into a F3000 car to get up to speed.

Get up to speed for what? A Benetton test next month, that’s what! Keep reading. . . P R

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