Sixth sense

After watching Alfa Romeo rack up five straight wins, Paul Radisich finally broke Italy’s winning streak at Silverstone . . .

Well, now I know what it feels like to lead an Alfa Romeo! We’ve had problems with the Mondeo this year. We were struggling to get temperature into the tyres quickly which was making it difficult to qualify, because to get the best out of the tyres is to push them hard when they’re new; you don’t get many chances at your fastest lap in the BTCC as you’re only allowed six slicks.

We were also struggling for traction and the car was a little bit insensitive over the kerbs, which threw me off quite a lot. But at Snetterton the car felt much better and I now believe we’re on the Alfas’ pace if not a little bit quicker. There has been a lot of controversy over their wings and splitters, but we’ve got to forget about that stuff and get on with it because I know we now have the car to give them a run for their money.

I qualified on the front row at Snetterton and Gabriele Tarquin’ was on the third, but the first time I looked in my mirrors he was right there. He’d had a little luck in this respect the station wagon didn’t start, Andy (Rouse) retired on the first lap when his Mondeo lapsed on to five cylinders and Alain Menu’s Renault also retired on the first lap so he didn’t have to fight off anybody to get through.

Then he took my rear bumper off when he gave me a little tap at the Esses. This unsettled my car for a lap, and that was the lap he was able to get up alongside exiting Coram. I was unable to keep the car in tight: I went in at my normal speed but the car went Into an oversteer, and by the time I got myself out of this he was halfway alongside me and there wasn’t anything I could do.

I was able to sort out the handling, I altered the roll bars but this took a few laps, by which time he’d got a bit of gap. I started slowly working on him and he made a couple of mistakes, which allowed me to close within a second by the finish.

It was a reasonable result for me, but there’s only one position I’m really interested in . . . I get wrapped up in my own little world during the race weekends, so I’ve not really taken much notice of the paddock wrangling about the wings and stuff.

It would be nice if everybody kept within the spirit of the regulations, but there’s always somebody that comes along and makes changes, extending the regulations within the law. You’ve got to hand it to Alfa Romeo, they’ve done their homework. The whole point of the championship was not to go down the route of homologation specials, but now that somebody has, and has got away with it, If we have to go down that route I’m sure we will.

Let’s face it, we’re all out there to win. In an effort to keep within the spirit of the two-litre regulations I took the rear spoiler off my Ford Escort Cosworth! On the road it doesn t make any difference except that it stops me getting tickets!

Seriously, the organisers have got rid of the Alfa’s big rear wing, which is good, but it’s the front splitter that’s more important on a front-wheel drive car, and they are still discussing if they can run with that or not. This is the set-up they had at Monza last year, so they are used to running like this.

When we ran that ‘over the top’ wing and splitter at Snetterton recently, even though It was a bit of a rush job, it generated a considerable amount of downforce. We didn’t have time to dial it into the car, and, in fact, we had too much downforce. You don’t need a helluva lot, because you’re only looking for a tenth or so. For sure, Alfa’s wings do help them, but it doesn’t provide them with half a second’s advantage they have a good overall package.

As does Volvo. If people thought it would take Volvo and TWR half a season to be on the pace, they were wrong. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve been looking out for them all the time. I never underestimate anybody, especially Tom Walkinshaw because he’s proved to be competitive at anything he takes on, However. I was a little bit surprised to see Rickard Rydell qualify third at Snetterton.

I followed one of the Volvos in practice and it was very quick in a straightline, but I was very surprised by its handling. in contrast, I followed one at Thruxton at the start of the year and it was hopping and skipping all over the place, but now the car looks reasonably good in the corners, especially the fast ones. They have made a huge leap.

Renault also has a good package if the Lagunas tyres can be kept together during the race, and Vauxhall’s John Cleland is there and thereabouts. He got the car just right for Thruxton to finish second, but it was not so good at Snetterton, and he got mixed up in a dice and finished up in the Armco.

I haven’t seen the TV coverage of this race but I’ve been told it looked pretty hectic. The racing is so close that there’s always going to be a certain amount of contact, but I don’t know where you draw the line. When you get incidents like between me and Simoni at Thruxton, where you turn in on your normal line and get hit in the back, it’s always going to be a touchy point. But, from what I’ve seen so far, the organisers have been very fair about it.

After each meeting this year I’ve been involved in the post-race discussions about incidents that have not been my fault. I think everybody’s doing their best to stay out of trouble, but when accidents occur I think it’s good that all the available video footage is looked at, and that the drivers are asked to give their explanations.

Maybe some of the incidents are a little petty and sometimes every angle on the video gives a different answer, but I think It’s beginning to work. I think it’s starting to play a little bit on everybody’s mind; Simoni chased me hard at Snetterton, but after two incidents together in three races, I think he had learned his lesson.

Hopefully, this will make for better and closer ‘acing. I know Steve Soper has said that we should just be allowed to race, and in some he’s probabfy right, but there’s got to be a balance.

I want to win this championship, but I want to win fairly and squarely, and I still can. Sure, Tarquini made a dream start to the season with five straight wins, but there are still lots of races to go and my win in round six, at Silverstone, broke Alfa Romeo’s string of successes.

In the first race at Silverstone, I have to say I was a little lucky to finish second. I’d dropped back to fourth place, behind the two Renaults, and had worked my way back up to second when Matthew Neal had a big accident at I3ecketts. His car rolled and I picked up some debris, which punctured a tyre and sent me off the track further round the lap. Effectively I was a retirement, but they brought out the red flag and took the result at the end of the previous lap, so I kept my place.

That also gave me the inside front row grid position for the second race,. and I knew I had to make a good start to keep Tarquini back. I did, and I managed to open a cushion on the first lap as Gabriele became involved with Andy Rouse and Alain Menu behind. During the opening lap, Tarquin’ was tipped into a half-spin and Kieth Odor couldn’t avoid running into him. It was the first time this year that Gabriele has been under real pressure, and that’s the sort of thing that can happen when you’re in that situation.

The race was restarted, and I got away well again. I was under heavy pressure from Alain Menu’s Renault. The car started to get a bit understeery after a few laps, though I guess he was in the same situation, and we managed to hold on.

The first win of the year always seems to be the hardest to achieve. Now that I’ve got this one under my belt, I hope a few more will come my way. We’ve still got some work to do, though. The car’s good, but there’s always scope for making It even better. As I said before, it’s still possible to win the title, and we’ll be working flat out to do just that. — P R