Race 1 at Round 6 of the 1996 RAC British Touring Car Championship at Snetterton Circuit showcased one of the series’ most exciting and unpredictable races in its history.
At the last round at Oulton Park, Rickard Rydell achieved a victory for Volvo 850 Racing, putting the team in a position to potentially displace a consecutive win in what was to be a season dominated by the all-wheel drive Audis.
The team were on the back foot at Snetterton after his teammate Kelvin Burt was injured during a dramatic crash at Race One of that weekend.
Burt had sideswiped his Volvo against a tyre barrier on Lap 11, knocking him unconscious and had to be cut free from the car; he was admitted to Chester Hospital experiencing a severe concussion.
Understandably, Burt would not attend Snetterton and would be replaced by British Formula 3 star Jamie Davies.
Unfortunately, Davies also ended up in an incident, but at the first corner of the Snetterton Circuit, during the practice session.
A heavy crash led to him also being knocked unconscious but was nevertheless considered unharmed, although the same could not be said for his Volvo post-crash.
This meant that Rickard Rydell’s Volvo was the team’s only participating car, since the other car was not in any position to start the race.
Race 1 took place on June 16 1996 where bright and warm weather in Norfolk treated the generous attendance of spectators to 23 laps of racing.
1993 BTCC Champion Joachim Winkelhock found himself on pole position after asserting the agility of his rear-wheel drive BMW 320i in the Free Practice and Qualifying sessions.
He had won three times so far in the season, and alongside a former-champion status, it was no surprise to see him at the front in pursuit of a fourth victory.
As the lights went out, Winkelhock caught a strong start to lead the race after the first corner and was joined by his teammate Roberto Ravaglia who sprinted to P2.
BMW had begun strong to take advantage of Rydell’s weak getaway off the line, which was not the case for James Thompson of Vauxhall Racing as he went from P4 to fighting for space at the front.
Contact between his Vectra and Rydell’s 850 at Riches (turn one) sent him to slide sideways but managed to hold P7 afterwards.
Also in the same corner, James Kaye’s Honda Accord span at Riches, catching the inside line to momentarily disappear amongst a great deal of dirt and dust.
As of lap three, the top three were covered by a second in the order of Ravaglia ahead of Frank Biela (Audi Sport UK) and Rydell.
Murray Walker commentated exuberantly as onboard cameras showcased the advantage of Biela’s Quattro-propelled Audi A4, but the impact of his 30Kg weight penalty (Audi’s drivetrain raised concerns up and down the paddock since they were advantaged with all-wheel drive compared to their front and rear-wheel drive competitors).
The weight penalty had shown itself as the Ravaglia’s BMW pulled away on the Revett Straight.
Soon enough, Rydell makes a pass into Brundle corner and moves himself up to P2 in his Volvo.
The top six were Ravaglia, Rydell, Biela, Alain Menu (Williams Renault Dealer Racing), Winkelhock and 1995 BTCC champion John Cleland (Vauxhall Racing – his teammate James Thompson was in eighth).
Keen to climb back up to the front, Winkelhock makes a move straight-forward move on Menu in the Renault Laguna to take fourth position; of course they continue to race nose-to-tail in usual fashion.
Biela is desperate to make a pass up to P2 but is then taken by Winkelhock on the Senna Straight, yet again coming to terms with his weight penalty.
“Winkelhock is really charging to the front,” Murray exclaims and the top five continue to battle closely.
John Cleland is tapped by the David Leslie’s Honda but is pushed wide by his teammate Thompson at Russell corner, losing three places.
Although shortly gaining a place back, a matter of carrying and excess amount of speed by Thompson meant that the teammates clashed at the right-left complex (pictured below).
Position 1-2-3 is a BMW sandwich with Rydell’s Volvo as the filling and faces pressure to Winkelhock for his second place.
Jumping on-board with Winkelhock, we see Winkelhock work the sequential shifter as Murray indicates: “now watch him change gear; back to change up, forward to change down.”
The top four are wheel-to-wheel and nose-to-tail as they put on the usual exciting action expected from BTCC.
Winkelhock continues his climb to the top by passing Rydell on the shear power of his BMW for P2; BMW now lead a 1-2 in the race.
David Leslie in the Honda Accord then fails to stop, cutting across the grass and back onto the start/finish straight.
He ends up losing P6 to Thompson’s Vauxhall, P7 to Tim Harvey (Total Team Peugeot), and then P8 to Cleland.
To even the shock of Murray Walker, Winkelhock makes a move into P1 to establish an impressive climb back up a competitive field of touring cars. But only for a few seconds as he dramatically runs wide and drops down to P4, allowing Menu to get into P3.
“Joachim Winkelhock goes back to fourth place in the twinkling of an eye,” Murray says.
He shortly loses out to championship leader Frank Biela (Audi) for fifth position.
Half a lap of nose-to-tail racing follows when suddenly, Menu gets himself past Rydell into P2 at Russell.
“That was a superb move!” Murray declares.
Once again on the pursuit to climb back to the front, Winkelhock makes a move past the Audi at Riches for P4.
The 21 year-old youngster (the youngest on the grid in fact) then makes a quick and simple pass on the Audi, to sit in P5.
The battle at the front tenses up entering Lap 20 of 23 as Menu is side-by-side with Ravaglia, but Menu then cuts him off at the inside line and Rydell turns around Ravaglia.
This sends up a plethora of dirt and dust at Turn One, and Ravaglia is sent spinning around and makes minor contact with Thompson.
A series of corners later, Winkelhock makes a mistake; unlike his teammate, he could rejoin the track to continue despite going offline having undone the work he had spent the race doing.
“(There was) just a bit too many cars into the first corner really,” Rydell said afterwards.
“We tried to go three-abreast into the first corner and somehow Menu and Ravaglia attached first, then they went into me.
“There was just not enough room for three cars,” he concluded.
Roberto Ravaglia, who was leading before contact with Menu, gave a more personal response: “It was very clear that Alain Menu was doing something that normally a professional driver cannot do.”
“I mean I don’t know what he wants to do in this moment (on the approach to turn one) he crashed with my car..he was (on the) outside…”
Alain Menu recalled the turn of circumstances: “I had a better exit out of the (final) corner; I was a bit quicker for the first half of the straight.
“He caught me back and I thought – you know – okay I’m going to try and go round the outside and if I go off, I go off and we touched.”
Reaching close to the end of Race One, we suddenly see Menu slow down after what was initially thought to be a tyre problem, but turned out to be mechanical.
“I think Rydell pushed him (Ravaglia) off and I had a big lead, and then the engine – everything just cut,” Menu said.
“I mean I had no ignition anymore,” he reflected as he got so close to victory.
On the last lap, Biela’s Audi could not catch up and thus James Thompson claimed victory at Race One of the Snetterton BTCC weekend.
The new Vauxhall Vectra model he drove replaced the much-loved but ageing Cavalier for the 1996 season, and faced a difficult birth and development throughout the season. The car was simply not as mechanically suited for touring car racing as its predecessor, illustrated by the fact that Thompson’s win at Snetterton was the team’s only win in that season.
Nevertheless, Thompson tasted victory and Vauxhall claimed a double-podium finish (P1 and P3)by taking advantage of a clash amongst rivals further up the championship standings fiercely battling each other.
|Finishing Position – Round 8 of 1996 RAC BTCC||Driver||Team (Car)|
|P1||James Thompson||Vauxhall Sport (Vauxhall Vectra)|
|P2||Frank Biela||Audi Sport UK (Audi A4 Quattro)|
|P3||John Cleland||Vauxhall Sport (Vauxhall Vectra)|
|P4||Tim Harvey||Total Team Peugeot (Peugeot 406)|
|P5||Joachim Winkelhock||BMW Team Schnitzer (BMW 320i)|
|P6||John Bintcliffe||Audi Sport UK (Audi A4 Quattro)|
|P7||Will Hoy||Williams Renault Dealer Racing (Renault Laguna)|
|P8||Richard Kaye||Mint Motorsport – Independents – (Vauxhall Cavalier)|
|P9||David Leslie||Honda Team MSD (Honda Accord)|
|P10||Gary Ayles||Rouse Sport – Semi Works – (Nissan Primmer eGT)|
|P11||Owen McAuley||Rouse Sport – Semi Works – (Nissan Primmer eGT)|
|P12||Lee Brookes||TOM’s Team Brookes – Independents – (Toyota Carina E)|
|P13||Steve Robertson||Valvoline Team Mondeo with Reynard (Ford Mondeo)|
|P14 (DNF) *in order of final BTCC season championship standings||Alain Menu||Williams Renault Dealer Racing (Renault Laguna)|
|P15 (DNF)||Richard Rydell||Volvo 850 Racing (Volvo 850 20v)|
|P16 (DNF)||Roberto Ravaglia||BMW Team Schnitzer (BMW 320i)|
|P17 (DNS)||Kelvin Burt||Williams Renault Dealer Racing (Renault Laguna)|
|P18 (DNF)||James Kaye||Honda Team MSD (Honda Accord)|
|P19 (DNF)||Paul Radisich||Valvoline Team Mondeo with Reynard (Ford Mondeo)|
|P20 (DNF)||Patrick Watts||Total Team Peugeot (Peugeot 406)|
|P21 (DNF)||Matt Neal||Team Dynamics (Ford Mondeo Si)|