March 1997

SAFARI RALLY:- Armin Schwarz held a three minute lead over Britons Richard Burns and Colin McRae at the end of an eventful opening day in Kenya. Burns had clutch problems with his Mitsubishi and McRae's progress was hampered by punctures. "The rally is going to get a lot more bumpy on Sunday. It is going to be a real test for our shock absorbers," said Burns. Carlos Sainz and Kenneth Eriksson were among the first day casualties.

Scotland's Colin McRae prepared himself for a trip into 'hell' after ending the opening day in third place. "Sunday could hold a lot of suprises for everyone. The first section, named Hell Road One by us all, could see a bit of a shake-up. It's going to be tough on the suspension and I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of positions changing," the Subaru driver said. "We have driven sensibly, taking no risks and looking after the car."

Positions after stage 4:
(end of day one)             mins:secs
 1 A Schwarz    Ger Ford       3:17.40
 2 R Burns      GB  Mitsubishi 3:20.16
 3 C McRae      GB  Subaru     3:20.23
 4 T Makinen    Fin Mitsubishi 3:20.27
 5 I Duncan     Ken Toyota     3:21.26
 6 J Toroitich  Ken Toyota     3:57.09
 7 R Stohl      Aut Audi       4:11.50
 8 I Duncan     Ken Toyota     4:13.53

MALCOLM WILSON RALLY:- Inverness driver Alistair Tough sealed victory by a slim five seconds over Bob Green. Earlier leader Nigel Worswick left the road in dramatic fashion on the infamous Wythop Forest 'big dipper', leaving his Sierra Cosworth damaged.

RESULT                     mins secs
1 Tough/Bland      M'bishi    52:37
2 Green/Capstick   Escort     52:42
3 Mann/Cook        Proton     53:06
4 Phil'kirk/Evans  MG Metro   53:11
5 Vassallo/Pulleyn Subaru     53:27

INDYCAR:- Michael Andretti's new Swift car lived up to its name as he won the first race since the series title was changed following a legal dispute. It was the 36th win of his career and the first for a US-manufactured chassis since 1983. Brazilian Gil de Ferran led early on before hitting the wall and Andretti was in front by half-way. He maintained his lead to the end of the 133 laps and was followed home by Paul Tracy and Jimmy Vasser.

Result after 133 laps:
1 M Andretti  US  Swift Ford
2 P Tracy     Can Penske Merc
3 J Vasser    US  Reyn'd Honda
4 G Moore     Can Reyn'd Merc
5 S Pruett    US  Reyn'd Ford
6 A Zanardi   It  Reyn'd Honda

SAFARI RALLY:- Colin McRae survived a sabotage attempt to take the lead at the end of a dramatic second day in Kenya. The Scotsman lost three minutes at a service point after the incident which damaged his steering rack and also caused a puncture. "There was a one foot high wall of stones and we hit it flat out," he said McRae eventually finished the day six minutes ahead of England's Richard Burns. World champion Tommi Makinen was forced out after three punctures.

Positions after stage 9:
(end of second day)         hr:mins:secs
1 C McRae      GB  Subaru     8:10:15
2 R Burns      GB  Mitsubishi 8:16:54
3 I Duncan     Ken Toyota     8:19:13
4 A Schwarz    Ger Ford       9:30:27
5 J Toroitich  Ken Toyota    10:04:42
6 F Dor        Fr  Subaru    11:01.09
7 E Katto      Uga Toyota    11:05.07
8 J Hellier    Ken Subaru    11:21.51

03.03.97 - SAFARI RALLY
Colin McRae claimed his first victory of the year and went top of the world championship table with a superb display in tricky conditions in Kenya. The Scot finished seven minutes ahead of Richard Burns, the first time in World Championship history two Britons have finished in the op two places. McRae was one of several drivers to suffer electrical problems on the final day of the race. But he overcame his problems to see off his rivals and clinch victory.

Colin McRae was delighted after leading Subaru to their first-ever win in Kenya and his first victory of the season. "To win an event like this feels fantastic," he said. "Nobody would have put me down to be the winner. But we have taken it sensibly and reaped the rewards. Driving here is like nothing in Europe where you go flat out all the time. Here it's all about going at a speed that isn't going to break the car. It's a very special win, for sure."

Richard Burns said he had achieved the "finest result of my career" after finishing runner-up to Colin McRae. "I'm absolutely ecstatic," he said. "It is fantastic to finish second and score six points on my first event this year. "The roads are absolutely amazing. Right from the start it was our philosophy to drive as neatly and as steadily as possible. We could have pushed Colin harder but it's dangerous to attack on these tracks. We wanted to finish the race."

Final positions:            hr:mins:secs
 1 C McRae      GB  Subaru    11:29:00
 2 R Burns      GB  Mit'bishi 11:36:04
 3 I Duncan     Ken Toyota    11:40:18
 4 A Schwarz    Ger Ford      13:07:23
 5 J Toroitich  Ken Toyota    13:49:32
 6 F Dor        Fr  Subaru    15:13:52
 7 E Katto      Uga Toyota    15:30:05
 8   Stohl          Audi      15:48:17
 9 J Hellier    Ken Subaru    15:48:44
10   Hirji          Toyota    16:31:17

1 C McRae     GB  Subaru      13 pts
2 C Sainz     Sp  Ford        12
3 P Liatti    It  Subaru      10
= K Eriksson  Swe Subaru      10
5 T Makinen   Fin Mitsubishi   8

1 Subaru       33 pts
2 Ford         19
3 Mitsubishi   16

Damon Hill opens the defence of his title at the start of what promises to be one of the most intriguing Formula One seasons for some time. Jacques Villeneuve is favourite to succeed Hill, but the step up from rookie to champion is no formality. He is sure to be pressed hard by German Michael Schumacher, provišing Ferrari can give him the package he needs. Their prospects and those of Hill's Arrows and the new Stewart team should keep fans enthralled over the weekend.

Britain's Damon Hill has no intention of being kept out of the limelight for long despite joining Arrows following his surprise release by Williams. He acknowledges that he is unlikely to be spraying champagne from the podium during the 1997 campaign. But he said: "I want to make progress with Arrows this season and there is room and potential to do so. Then I can start thinking about winning again. The will is still there to win."

Title favourite Jacques Villeneuve is intent on taking the fast track to success this season. "It's vital to get a good start and build up points as quickly as possible. These first few races are the most important," the Canadian said. "If you can put points in the bag, then you can have a race strategy and play on that lead," he added. Villeneuve led for 53 laps at Albert Park 12 months ago before oil problems handed victory to Damon Hill.

German Heinz Harald Frentzen is aware that the weight of expectation will be on him when he makes his competitive debut for Williams this weekend. He was head-hunted by the team after champion Damon Hill learnt that his services were no longer required. "This season will be the biggest challenge of my life. Everybody in the world will be looking at me and analysing any mistakes," said Frentzen. "The air at the top is very thin. It's going to be interesting for everyone."

David Coulthard believes he has the car and the ability to give McLaren their first win since 1993 this season. "We are much better prepared for this season than we were for the last one," the Monaco-based Scot commented. "It's difficult to tell just how good the car is from testing, but it is it is looking a lot better for us. My target is to win a few races and finish as high up the championship as I can. I still believe I can win the title one day," he added.

Irishman Eddie Irvine believes Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher will be the man to beat in this season's battle for the drivers' title. They have a lot of ground to make up after Williams won 12 of the 16 races last season. "I would certainly tip Michael. If more teams win races then you do not need to win many to take the championship. The thing about Michael is that he does not make mistakes," said Irvine, who was third in Australia last year.

Jackie Stewart is on tenterhooks ahead of Sunday's race when the gap between his new F1 outfit and the leading teams will finally be revealed. "This is the single most important race of my life," said Stewart. "It is a bigger challenge than any I faced as a driver - sometimes I think winning those three competitions seemed very easy by comparison. It took Frank Williams about ten years to get to the top. I hope it will take us a few years less."


ARROWS: Tom Walkinshaw pulled off a major coup by persuading reigning F1 champion Damon Hill to join his team following his shock release by Williams. They have the know-how to make Arrows a force to be reckoned with but the big question is, how long will it take? Last year's engine will restrict their progress early in the season. But they should then begin to make strides towards realising the team's potential, although Hill could face a lengthy wait for his 22nd GP win.

WILLIAMS: Williams have been the pre-eminent F1 team for four of the last five seasons and again appear to have the best car. But events in Italy at the Ayrton Senna manslaughter trial must surely have an effect on the team's focus. Jacques Villeneuve is many people's idea of the next world champion after winning four races in his rookie year and finishing runner-up overall. But Heinz-Harald Frentzen faces a test of temperament as well as skill after taking over from champion Damon Hill. FERRARI: No Ferrari driver has won the world title since 1977, but double champion Michael Schumacher may be about to bring their wait to an end. The German mastered a troublesome car to record three victories last season. He remains cautious about his prospects but the technical expertise of Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne should result in a car to do justice to his talent. Teammate Eddie Irvine will also benefit from the former Benetton design duo's reunion at Maranello.

BENETTON: Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi join forces again as the most experienced driver combination in Formula One. But both have still to make the leap from regular podium finishers to regular winners. Alesi's record of one win 118 starts does not reflect his ability and the pressure on him to succeed grows with each successive year. Berger was quick at the end of last season and good winter testing results should see him in positive mood.

McLAREN: McLaren's famous red and white livery is gone and fans now look for success from the new 'silver dream machine'. The team has not won a race for three years but drivers David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen have immense potential. A major new sponsorship deal with West is in place and managing director Ron Dennis may be about to preside over a return to the winners' circle. McLaren were the dominant force in the sport from 1984-1991 and hope their new car can challenge Williams and Ferrari.

JORDAN: Eddie Jordan spent much of the winter trying to tempt world champion talent into joining his team. Reigning champion Damon Hill opted for Arrows and Nigel Mansell decided the time was wrong for a Formula One return after testing with the team. Jordan has instead pinned his faith on the raw ability of GP novices Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella. A first-ever win could be the result if Schumacher has the same sort of driving 'genes' as elder brother Michael.

PROST:- Alain Prost will be using this season as a learning experience prior to launching an all-French team in 1998. Peugeot are already on board to supply next year's engine, but their current Mugen Honda V10 unit is still capable of delivering points. The advice of four-times world champion Prost will surely be a big help to Olivier Panis, a surprise winner of the Monaco Grand Prix last season. He has a new teammate in Shinji Nakano, who steps up from F3 and F3000.

SAUBER: The Swiss-based Sauber team are hoping for a big advance this season after securing the use of Ferrari engines. Last season's Ford-powered car was plagued by unreliability, leaving British driver Johnny Herbert down among the also-rans. It was rough luck on Herbert, who twice tasted victory for Benetton in 1995. He is partnered this season by Nicola Larini, who opted out of Formula One after the 1994 season for a successful stint in Touring Cars.

TYRRELL: Ken Tyrrell has been involved in F1 for more years than he would probably care to remember and is overdue a change of luck after a dismal 1996 campaign. Finn Mika Salo finished in the points three times early in the year but found nothing but frustration from then on. A new Ford V8 engine should give Salo the opportunity to further improve his reputation this season. Partner Jos Verstappen promised much after his GP debut three years ago but is now on his fourth Grand Prix team.

MINARDI: Minardi are still waiting for a first podium finish 12 seasons after making their entry into Formula One. They have been taken over by an Italian consortium including Flavio Briatore and Alessandro Nannini but success is likely to remain elusive. It remains to be seen whether joining the mini-exodus to Bridgestone tyres is a good move. But the Ukyo Katayama-Jarno Trulli driver combination does not look good enough for a sizeable points haul.

STEWART:- Jackie Stewart was one of the greatest drivers in istory, but can he achieve success at the head of his own team? The Scot's pedigree played a big part in securing a five-year engine deal with Ford and financial support from several 'blue-chip' backers. He also leaned heavily on son Paul in recruiting top technical personnel. But results will ultimately determine how wise an investment Stewart has made and drivers Rubens Barrichello and Jan Magnussen must now deliver.

LOLA: Britain's Nigel Mansell was driving a Lola-powered car when he won America's IndyCar World Series in 1993. But Lola have never achieved anything like the same success when dipping their toes into the waters of Formula One chassis production over the years. Company chairman Eric Broadley is undaunted but has been racing against time to get their new car ready. Ricardo Rosset and Vincenzo Sospiri have the task of trying to keep the team away from the back of the grid.

Formula One champion Damon Hill lasted just seven laps in the first free practice session in his new TWR Arrows. His car had to be winched off the track after grinding to a halt with suspected transmission failure. He recovered in the second session as Hill completed 26 laps and was 13th quickest, with arch-rival Michael Schumacher's Ferrari leading the way. Hill used a replacement seat in his car after the original was lost in transit, contrary to early reports from Arrows.

Damon Hill was putting a brave face on things as he looked back on a tough first practice session with Arrows. The world champion said: "I think that was a success. We had some gearbox problems but I am pleased to be only two and a half seconds off the front. "If I can qualify two and a half seconds away from the front of the grid that will be a really good result for us right now. To muscle ourselves into the top 10 in qualifying would be really pleasing."

Damon Hill admitted to allowing his mind to wander back to the good old days in Friday's first practice. He said: "I had a relatively trouble free session. I was on my own so much I could fantasise I was out front again. When I was going round I saw a picture on the big screen of a Williams and naturally assumed it was me before realising it wasn't." Hill finished the afternoon session 13th fastest, with arch-rival Michael Schumacher setting the early pace.

Michael Schumacher was quick to dismiss the significance of him finishing fastest in friday's opening practice. Schumacher, who clocked one minute 32.496 seconds, said the real thing is still to come in Melbourne. "Maybe we had less fuel on board than the others so coming first today is a meaningless prize," Schumacher said. "I'm not here to win the practice Grand Prix, so nobody should jump to any conclusions," the Ferrari man added.

Friday's free practice times: mins secs
 1 M Schumacher   Ger Ferrari  1:32.496
 2 H Frentzen     Ger Williams 1:32.910
 3 J Alesi        Fr  Benetton 1:32.255
 4 J Villeneuve   Can Williams 1:33.371
 5 R Schumacher   Ger Jordan   1:33.437
 6 E Irvine       GB  Ferrari  1:34.157
 7 G Berger       Aut Benetton 1:34.271
 8 D Coulthard    GB  McLaren  1:34.432
 9 J Herbert      GB  Sauber   1:34.593
10 M Hakkinen     Fin McLaren  1:34.742
11 G Fisichella   It  Jordan   1:34.777
12 O Panis        Fr  Prost    1:34.927
13 D Hill         GB  Arrows   1:35.073
14 M Salo         Fin Tyrrell  1:36.142
15 N Larini       It  Sauber   1:36.223
16 J Trulli       It  Minardi  1:36.392
17 J Verstappen   Hol Tyrrell  1:36.716
18 J Magnussen    Den Stewart  1:37.023
19 P Diniz        Brz Arrows   1:38.092
20 S Nakano       Jpn Prost    1:39.652
21 R Barrichello  Brz Stewart  1:40.002
22 U Katayama     Jpn Minardi  1:40.947
23 R Rosset       Brz Lola     1:41.166
24 V Sospiri      It  Lola     1:42.590

Damon Hill qualified for the season- opener by the smallest of margins. The world champion, dumped by the Williams team last season, scraped through after gearbox problems hit his first outing with his new Arrows team. He will start his title defence on the back row unlike his former team-mate Jacques Villeneuve who took pole position with a qualifying lap record. The Canadian's new team-mate Heinz- Harald Frentzen joined him on the front row while Michael Schumacher was third.

Damon Hill was just six minutes away from becoming the first Formula One world champion to fail to qualify for the first race of a new season. "I thought for a moment I was going to have a Saturday night out in Melbourne," said Hill. "We were beset with problems with the race car, so I had to take the spare car and it wasn't really set up right." It was Hill's worst qualifying result since he failed to qualify for six races when he drove for Brabham in 1992.

Title favourite Jacques Villeneuve scorched to pole position for Sunday's race with a dominant display. Villeneuve claimed top spot on the grid with a huge 1.7 secs lead over Williams Renault team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen. But the French-Canadian, now odds-on to convert the fourth pole of his career into victory, had time to offer some sympathy to Damon Hill. "Damon was my teammate and he's the champion. It's hard to see him back there as he's worth more than that."

Saturday's qualifying times:  mins secs
 1 J Villeneuve   Can Williams 1:29.369
 2 H Frentzen     Ger Williams 1:31.123
 3 M Schumacher   Ger Ferrari  1:31.472
 4 D Coulthard    GB  McLaren  1:31.531
 5 E Irvine       GB  Ferrari  1:31.881
 6 M Hakkinen     Fin McLaren  1:31.971
 7 J Herbert      GB  Sauber   1:32.287
 8 J Alesi        Fr  Benetton 1:32.593
 9 O Panis        Fr  Prost    1:32.842
10 G Berger       Aut Benetton 1:32.870
11 R Barrichello  Brz Stewart  1:33.075
12 R Schumacher   Ger Jordan   1:33.130
13 N Larini       It  Sauber   1:33.327
14 G Fisichella   It  Jordan   1:33.552
15 U Katayama     Jpn Minardi  1:33.798
16 S Nakano       Jpn Prost    1:33.989
17 J Trulli       It  Minardi  1:34.120
18 M Salo         Fin Tyrrell  1:34.229
19 J Magnussen    Den Stewart  1:34:623
20 D Hill         GB  Arrows   1:34.806
21 J Verstappen   Hol Tyrrell  1:34.943
22 P Diniz *      Brz Arrows   1:35.972
* - Diniz allowed to qualify after being hit by gearbox problems

Failed to qualify
23 V Sospiri      It  Lola     1:40.972
24 R Rosset       Brz Lola     1:42.086

VALENTINE RALLY:- Scottish Championship leader Brian Lyall took his second flag-to-flag win of the season in the Valentine Rally. The Aberdonian was never headed as he cruised to a 48-second victory. Neale Dougan resolved a close-fought fight for second place when Jon Burn slid off the road on the final stage. Former champion Raymond Munro failed to overcome a slow start and finished in seventh place.

Scotland's David Coulthard produced a flawless performance to earn the second win of his Formula One career. The 25-year-old came home well clear of Michael Schumacher and teammate Mika Hakkinen to give McLaren their first victory for four years. Heinz Harald Frentzen, who twice led the race, spun off with three laps to go when poised to challenge Coulthard. Damon Hill failed to start after his car broke down on the parade lap and Jacques Villeneuve exited early on.

David Coulthard got his race tactics absolutely right as an immaculate drive gave him victory at Albert Park. McLaren's one-stop strategy paid off as Coulthard won for the first time since Portugal in 1995. He inherited the ead when Heinz Harald Frentzen went into the pits after lap 17 and stayed out until making his own stop 16 laps later. Coulthard regained the lead when the German pitted again with ten laps left and drove superbly for a deserved win.

Super Scot David Coulthard savoured the best moment of his F1 career following his tremendous win at Albert Park. "It's an absolutely fantastic start to the year. It's a better feeling than when I won my first Grand Prix for Williams in 1995. "I never thought I'd be that emotional, but I was crying in the car during the warm-down lap," he said afterwards. "When you see Michael Schumacher in your mirrors, you have to concentrate and he pushed me very hard."

Result after 58 laps:      hrs mins secs
 1 D Coulthard  GB  McLaren  1:30.28.71   (average speed 126.717 mph)
 2 M Schumacher Ger Ferrari  1:30.48.76
 3 M Hakkinen   Fin McLaren  1:30.50.89
 4 G Berger     Aut Benetton 1:30.51.55
 5 O Panis      Fr  Prost    1:31.29.02
 6 N Larini     It  Sauber   1:32.04.75
 7 S Nakano     Jpn Prost      56 laps
 8 HH Frentzen  Ger Williams   55 laps
 9 J Trulli     It  Minardi    55 laps
10 P Diniz      Brz Arrows     54 laps

World champion Damon Hill suffered a nightmare start to the new Formula One season when he went out of the race before it had even started. The luckless Briton, who qualified only 20th on the grid, failed to finish the parade lap in his Arrows Yamaha. He was hit by a throttle problem and had to park at the side of the circuit. Hill did not have time to get back to the pits for his spare car before the race, which was eventually won by David Coulthard, got under way.

Damon Hill was left shaking his head in disbelief after going out of the race on the warm-up lap. "I'm very disappointed. The team has got greater potential than we have seen this weekend. It's shame we didn't get to show that in the race. We'll have to go away and do a lot more testing," said Hill. "I didn't have any throttle. It's operated hydraulically, but I only had tick-over revs and didn't have any power to accelerate," he added.

Title favourite Jacques Villeneuve went out of the race at the first corner in a dramatic start to the race. The Canadian was outpaced off the grid by Heinz-Harald Frentzen and eventual winner David Coulthard. He was then clipped from behind by Eddie Irvine's Ferrari at the opening left-hander and slid off, taking the Sauber of Johnny »erbert with him. Irvine did not get much further as a damaged front wheel forced him to call it a day.

Frustrated Jacques Villeneuve accused Eddie Irvine of attempting a "kamikaze pass" following his first corner exit. "It's enormously frustrating for me, especially after dominating qualifying by more than a second and a half. Approaching the turn, I was on the inside of (Johnny) Herbert and suddenly Irvine went on the dirt and tried a kamikaze pass," the Canadian said. "It's not the first time he's done something like that. It doesn't surprise me, coming from him."

Johnny Herbert slammed Irishman Eddie Irvine following his first lap exit from the season's opening race. Herbert made an excellent start in his Ferrari-powered Sauber but was taken off by Jacques Villeneuve after Irvine had clipped the rear of his car. "As we went into the corner I could see he (Villeneuve) wasn't turning. We just interlocked wheels and that was it. Eddie has got to think a little bit more about what he is doing at the start," Herbert commented.

Michael Schumacher launched his season with a typically polished dcrive to finish second behind David Coulthard. He looked set for third place after being forced to make a second pit-stop but Heinz-Harald Frentzen's exit gave him the runner-up position. "The podium was the best I was hoping for, so second is a good start to the season," the German said. "The good thing is Jacques (Villeneuve) didn't score but he will score many points this year, in my view."

Heinz-Harald Frentzen looked forward to future success with Williams despite seeing his hopes of victory ended by brake problems with three laps to go. "We knew this circuit was going to be hard on the breaks, but I think we didn't realise how hard it would be and in the end they went off. I pushed in the middle section of the race, but knew this would be hard on the brakes so I backed off," he said. "I'm looking ahead to the next race and we will be ready there."

Alain Prost celebrated his first points as a Formula One team owner as Olivier Panis took fifth place behind winner David Coulthard. It was an early reward for Prost, who took over the Ligier team after 51 wins and four world titles during his careerÜas a driver. "It was a nerve-wracking experience following the race as team boss from the pit wall. "Never did I find Grands Prix so tense as a driver," the Frenchman said.

1 D Coulthard   GB   McLaren   10 pts
2 M Schumacher  Ger  Ferrari    6
3 M Hakkinen    Fin  McLaren    4
4 G Berger      Aut  Benetton   3
5 O Panis       Fr   Prost      2
6 N Larini      It   Sauber     1

1 McLaren Mercedes      14 points
2 Ferrari                6
3 Benetton Renault       3
4 Prost Mugen-Honda      2
5 Sauber Ferrari         1

10.03.97 - F1
Eddie Irvine has escaped punishment over the incident which put Jacques Villeneuve and Johnny Herbert out of the Australian Grand Prix. Track marshals did not take any action against the Irishman following the collision at the opening corner. Villeneuve branded Irvine's move down the inside as "stupid", while Herbert later called him an "idiot". But Irvine insisted: "It was a simple racing accident, one of those things that happen."

Damon Hill has vowed to keep faith with the Arrows team despite his nightmare weekend at the Australian Grand Prix. The reigning world champion, who is on a £4.5m deal with Arrows, failed to start the race after his car broke down on the parade lap in Melbourne. But Hill said: "I knew the moment I did not have the opportunity of going with a top team, my life would be difficult. There will be a new champion this season, I know that. But I'm not one to walk away from a difficult situation."

Grand Prix racing is to be floated on the Stock Market later this year, it has been announced. F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone has hired US investment bankers to prepare the sport for stock market listings in London and New York by August. News of the move, which is expected to see F1 valued at around £2.5 billion, followed David Coulthard's win in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. It is likely to result in Ecclestone reaching billionaire status.

TOURING CARS:- Gabriele Tarquini took more than half a second off the lap record to grab the attention on the opening day of testing at Donington Park. The 35-year-old Italian did not compete in the event last year but was happy with the performance of his car. "I am very pleased because the car is fresh from the factory. I need some more miles to feel really comfortable," Tarquini commented. The Auto Trader Championship is on March 31, comprising twin 18-lap races.

Donington Park testing times: mins secs
 1 G Tarquini   It  Honda      1:36.577
 2 R Rydell     Swe Volvo      1:36.689
 3 K Burt       GB  Volvo      1:36.765
 4 J Plato      GB  Renault    1:36.792
 5 J Thompson   GB  Honda      1:36.835
 6 A Menu       Swi Renault    1:37.164
 7 T Harvey     GB  Peugeot    1:37.565
 8 F Biela      Ger Audi       1:37.612
 9 J Bintcliffe GB  Audi       1:38.378
10 J Cleland    GB  Vauxhall   1:39.551
11 P Watts      GB  Peugeot    1:39.845
12 L Brookes    GB  Peugeot    1:40.684

Championship Rounds:Rd no:
31 March  Donington Park GP    1/2
20 April  Silverstone Int'nal  3/4
 5 May    Thruxton             5/6
18 May    Brands Hatch Indy    7/8
26 May    Oulton Park Fosters  9/10
15 June   Donington Pk Short  11/12
29 June   Croft               13/14 *
 3 Aug    Knockhill           15/16
10 Aug    Snetterton          17/18
25 Aug    Thruxton            19/20
 7 Sep    Brands Hatch Indy   21/22
21 Sep    Silverstone Int'nal 23/24
* subject to final confirmation

BRITISH RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP:- Gwyndaf Evans will take command of the spectacular new Ford Escort Super Rally car for the first time when he begins the defence of his title this weekend. The new car boasts a wider track and aerodynamically tested rear wings to improve handling. More power comes from a Mountune 250bhp two litre engine. Evans tested the car in the Canaries last week and despite blowing an engine he was pleased with the performance. Leg one comprises 47 miles of forest in north Wales, leg two is over 96 miles.

Leading competitors:
G Evans       Ford Escort RS2000
M Higgins     Nissan Sunny
A McRae       Volkswagen Golf Gti
H Rovanpera   Seat Ibiza
R Head        Renault Megane
T Laukkannen  Volkswagen Golf Gti
S Blomqvist   Skoda Felicia
M Rowe        Renault Megane
J Dale        Peugeot 306
N Wearden     Honda Civic Vti
S Simmonite   Ford Escort RS2000
B Armstrong   Seat Ibiza

Vauxhall Rally of Wales
1300 Rally Start, South Wirral
1400 North Wales forest stages (Clocaenog, Penmachno, Brenig)
2015 Floodlit spectator stage, New Brighton seafront
2130 Overnight halt, South Wirral

0600 Rally restart, South Wirral
0915 Mid Wales forest stages (Myherin, Hafren, Pantperthog, Dyfi, Gartheiniog, Dyfnant)
1800 Rally finish, South Wirral


LEADERBOARD after 8 of 15 stages:
(interim)                      hr min sec
 1 McRae/Senior       Volkswagen 0:49:12
 2 Higgins/Mills      Nissan     0:49:19
 3 Evans/Davies       Ford       0:50:20
 4 Rovanpera/Silander SEAT       0:50:36
 5 Mann/Cook          Proton     0:50:45
 6 Kruse/Olsson       Renault    0:50:48
 7 Higgins/Simmons    Subaru     0:51:15
 8 Petch/Croft        Subaru     0:53:07
 9 Andersson/Johans'n Opel       0:53:54
10 Eriksson/Henriks'n Ford       0:54:05
Mark Higgins started his title bid in style, taking best time on the opening stage and swopping the lead with Alister McRae throughout the day. Gwyndaf Evans has had a hard day, losing time with punctures and damaged suspension, but is holding onto third. Swedish veteran Stig Blomqvist went off while lying fifth, his co-driver commented he had been going "too fast". Both Renaults are suffering, Robbie Head with engine problems, and Martin Rowe went off in stage three.

Leading the Ladies' title are the Simmonite sisters in their Ford Escort, while SEAT driver Barbara Armstrong is fighting back from a broken driveshaft The final part of today's action takes place at the New Brighton seafront under floodlights. The cars then return to Bromborough for the overnight halt before restarting the final 96 competitive miles on Saturday.


Final result after 15 stages:
(interim)                      hr min sec
 1 McRae/Senior       Volkswagen 2:28:48
 2 Evans/Davies       Ford       2:30:05
 3 M Higgins/Mills    Nissan     2:31:28
 4 Mann/Cook          Proton     2:34:13
 5 D Higgins/Simmons  Subaru     2:34:38
 6 Petch/Croft        Subaru     2:41:52
 7 Eriksson/Henriks'n Ford       2:42:45
 8 Andersson/Johans'n Opel       2:42:54
 9 Wearden/Agnew      Honda      2:43:50
10 Cox/Harris         Vauxhall   2:44:07
Alister McRae gave Volkswagen their first-ever British Championship victory with a commanding final day performance in the Vauxhall Rally of Wales. It made the 26-year-old from Lanark the first man to win the event three times, each one in a different car. He reached the finishing ramp more than a minute clear of Gwyndaf Evans, with Mark Higgins taking third place. "We didn't get much testing time before the really, so I'm sure we can go even quicker," said McRae.

Renault's Robbie Head and Martin Rowe battled back from a miserable start to claim top-20 places behind winner Alister McRae. "It was very frustrating, very disappointing," said Head. Rowe was relieved to get to the finish, with co-driver Nicky Beech having to hold his door shut. Swede Andreas Eriksson, on his first British rally finished an impressive seventh in the Escort despite losing time with a misted up windscreen.

Positions after 9 stages
(end of day 1)            hrs min secs
1 B Fowden      Escort       1:02:59
2 F O'Mahony    Subaru       1:03:50
3 J Price       Metro        1:04:15
4 D Cronin      BMW          1:04:27
5 T Davies      Metro        1:05:37
6 S Hendy       Escort       1:06:19

F1:- Ralf Schumacher set the best testing time after two days of practice on the Silverstone circuit. His time of one minute, 21.44 seconds compared with Jacques Villeneuve's best of 1:29.288 in last year's British Grand Prix. Copse Corner, the Priory, Brookfields, Luffield complex of corners have been rebuilt since then. Olivier Panis set the second fastest time of 1:22.74 with Giancarlo Fisichella third in 1:23.41.

SPORTSCARS:- Britain's Martin Brundle will lead the Nissan team at the Le Mans 24 hour race in June. Brundle, who lost his Grand Prix seat at Jordan this season, said: "I needed something to replace the adrenalin rush of Formula One. "I know how to win 24-hour races. I have won Le Mans and Daytona before, and this team has the basic ingredients right to do it again." Arrows' Tom Walkinshaw has designed and developed the Nissan car.

F3:- Sunday sees the start of the Autosport British Formula Three Championship with a race at Donington. Drivers from eight countries will be in action, among them the sport's leading lady Paula Cook who is now in her second season at formula three. Racing starts at 1.45pm, following morning qualifying runs.

PORTUGUESE RALLY:- British rivals Colin McRae and Richard Burns go into the 31-stage event buoyed by superb performances in the recent Safari Rally. They were first and second in Kenya but Burns hopes to reverse that result on the gravel roads of Figuera da Foz. He has tested his Mitsubishi Carisma GT in northern Portugal and is confident of going well. Burns said: "This is a very different event to the Safari, but the roads are quite rough, which should suit us."


F3:- Donington, Round One     mins:secs
1 J Kane     GB    Honda      29:57.893
2 G Smith    GB    Opel       30:06.602
3 E Bernoldi Brz   Renault    30:06.871
4 N Min'ian  Fra   Renault    30:07.173
5 P Dumbreck GB    Honda      30:19.059

1 J Wilson   GB                16:08.27
2 L Burti    Brz               16:10.62
3 W Ebrahim  Brz               16:11.16

PORTUGUESE RALLY:- Organizers declared all results from the first day void after race stewards unwittingly damaged the brakes of Tommi Makinen during a pre-race inspection. Makinen did not detect the damage, which was not specified, until after the start of the time trial, and finished back in 63rd spot. Officials have said the race will be restarted on Monday. Scot Colin McRae and Spaniard Carlos Sainz both recorded the fastest time in the special secion.


Positions after 12 stages:   mins secs
 1 K Eriksson  Swe Subaru      1:49.49
 2 T Makinen   Fin Mitsubishi  1:49.58
 3 F Loix      Bel Toyota      1:50.56
 4 R Burns     GB  Mitsubishi  1:51.26
 5 R Madeira   Por Subaru      1:51.47
 6 A Schwarz   Ger Ford        1:52.34
 7 G de Mevius Bel Ford        1:54.26 
 8 JP Richelmi Mon Ford        1:57.13
 9 G Trelles   Uru Mitsubishi  1:57.35
10   Lopes     Por Peugeot     1:57.52
World champion Tommi Makinen took advantage of his rivals' problems to lead after 10 eventful stages. Championship leader Colin McRae had been leading when his Subaru stopped near the finish of the sixth stage with engine problems. "It's more than a disappointment," the Scot said. "Everything felt good and we were pulling out a good lead." And Carlos Sainz had been in contention early on but encountered gearbox problems with his Ford on stage five.

25.03.97 - F1: THE BRAZILIAN GP
Formula One reaches South America with another intriguing contest in prospect for Sunday's 71-lap race. Jacques Villeneuve's qualifying display in Australia suggested Williams would again be the dominant force this year. But it was a different story in the race as both Villeneuve and teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen failed to finish. Williams expect to get it right at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, but Scot David Coulthard is hoping to make it two wins out of two for McLaren.

David Coulthard set the proverbial cat among the pigeons with his immaculate victory in Australia. It forced many people to revise their opinions about the likely outcome of the drivers' title for 1997. Jacques Villeneuve is still favourite but Coulthard proved he can hold his own with the likes of Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Michael Schumacher. He failed to finish in Brazil last year but is capable of a healthy points haul on Sunday if his car remains reliable.

Williams will start the season anew this weekend, having written the Australian GP off to experience. Jacques Villeneuve, in particular, has a point to prove after his first corner exit in Melbourne. "It was annoying and frustrating to throw all our good work away, but I think we showed everybody we have a great car," the Canadian said. Teammate Heinz Harald Frentzen began his F1 career in Brazil in 1994 and is intent on recording a maiden GP win.

Benetton Renault expect a much improved performance after solving the problems which hampered them in Australia. They have made an aerodynamic change to the B197 following successful testing at Silverstone. "It's very hard to decide the right set-up because Interlagos is bumpy and has a lot of different speed corners. Therefore we are all bound to make compromises in terms of aerodynamic settings," said technical director Pat Symonds.

Reigning world champion Damon Hill will have modest ambitions this weekend as he seeks to put a disastrous start to the season behind him. No-one was expecting miracles following his switch to Arrows for 1997, but his failure to complete the parade lap in Melbourne was a shock to all F1 fans. He is under no illusions about the work needed to make his car competitive. But Hill needs race laps under his belt to get a proper picture and finishing Sunday's race would be a major boost.

Scotland's David Coulthard is the talk of Formula One following his tremendous victory in the Australian Grand Prix. His ice-cool performance under pressure gave McLaren their first win for four years and Coulthard aims to continue their revival in Brazil on March 30. Coulthard looks certain to be Britain's main world title challenger this year but how good are his chances?

Q: The Australian GP seemed to go like clockwork from your point of view. Did everything go as smoothly as it looked?

A: Yes, we had a strategy for the race which we stuck to throughout.

Q: You have said you believe Williams still have the quickest car in F1. Are McLaren now a clear second best?

A: We will only know later in the season. We must continue to improve on developments we have made, but we were much happier with the performance of the car during the race.

Q: Recent F1 history shows the winner of the first race of the season often goes on to take the drivers' title. Do you see that as a good omen?

A: Yes, of course, but it is only the beginning of the season and we have another 16 races to go. It is important that we do not get complacent and stay focused on trying to maximise on our success.

Q: Ron Dennis of Frank Williams - who is the tougher boss to drive for?

A: Both of them are tough in their own way. They are completely different men and have completely different styles of management.

Q: You left Williams after the 1995 season. How did you feel as they dominated the following year? You don't have time to think about anything other than your own team and what you need to do. You have to concentrate on what you are doing.

Q: You were Damon Hill's teammate at Williams. What do you think of his troubled start to the season?

A: I think it's a great shame he didn't make the start of the race in Australia and I know he and his team will be working very hard for Brazil.

Q: Who do you regard as the best Formula One driver you have seen?

A: I have a great admiration for Ayrton Senna, he was good at each individual discipline. But for style, I have always admired Alain Prost.

Q: How old were you when you first got the motor racing 'bug'?

A: I was very young when the 'bug' first hit. I started off with karting and my father helped me a great deal.

Q: You are still very young in motor racing terms. How many years do you see yourself competing in Formula One?

A: I never think of the end. I always hope to go on and on.

Q: Jackie Stewart was Scotland's last world champion. How does it feel to have him back in the pit lane?

A: It's great to have Jackie in the pit lane again after so long. I was with Paul Stewart Racing for three years and so I feel very much part of the family.

Q: Nigel Mansell went across the Atlantic and won the IndyCar title. Does oval racing hold any attractions for you?

A: Yes, I love all motorsport and would love to try IndyCar at some time.

Q: You were supposed to be having your hair dyed silver after winning in Australia. Have you had it done yet?

A: Yes...I have just had it done. I had two wagers ongoing for the Grand Prix, one with Ron (Dennis) which means I must now pay £25,000 to Tommys, the charity which Ron and McLaren support, and which I am more than happy to do. The other was with Mario Illien of Ilmor, which results in me having to dye my hair. I'm sure the team will have a great time making fun of me.

RALLY OF PORTUGAL:- Reigning world champion Tommi Makinen of Finland looked set for his first victory of the season after day three. The Mitsubishi driver's only real rival for the win, Kenneth Eriksson, dropped out with mechanical problems near the end of the second leg. Makinen had been locked in a thrilling battle with the Swedish driver for most of the day, and pulled out a 32-second lead by the end of the 21st stage. Erikkson's car broke down on the 22nd and final stage of the day.

English pair Richard Burns and Robert Reid were forced out of the rally after gearbox failure on the 16th stage. The duo were well set in fourth place when the problems began. "It's very disappointing as another podium finish was well within distance," Burns said. "The gearbox started making worrying noises on stage 15 and by 16 I started losing gears altogether. With servicing not allowed we had to accept defeat." Burns' Mitsubishi team is not entering his car in the next two rounds.

Positions after 22 stages:
(end of day three) mins secs
1 T Makinen   Fin Mitsubishi  3:22.43
2 F Loix      Bel Toyota      3:25.58
3 A Schwarz   Ger Ford        3:27.58
4 G de Mevius Bel Ford        3:31.43
5 JP Richelmi Mon Ford        3:36.38

F1:- Lola's future in Formula One has been cast into doubt after they pulled their two cars out of this weekend's race. Drivers Ricardo Rosset and Vincenzo Sospiri failed to qualify for the season-opener in Australia and now they will not compete in Brazil either. The team are based in Cambridge, and the cars will now be flown back to the factory. A spokesman said: "The team are returning here because a few operation problems both technical and financial."

PORTUGUESE RALLY:- Reigning World Champion Tommi Makinen of Finland, driving a Mitsubishi recorded a comfortable victory. The Finn finished the three-day event more than four minutes ahead of Belgium's Freddy Loix in a Toyota. The win puts Makinen on top of the championship standings with 18 points from four events, five ahead of Colin McRae of Britain. German Armin Shwarz came third, 6mins 33 secs off the pace with Belgian Gregoire de Mevius in fourth place.

Britain's Alistair McRae snatched the 2-litre class victory for Volkswagen in the fourth round of the championship. The win, which comes hot on the heels of McRae's triumph in the British Championship, gives Volkswagen a narrow lead in the World 2-litre Cup. McRae, brother of former World Champion Colin McRae, fought off the challenge of Portugal's Adruzilo Lopes. The Scot, co-driven by David Senior, finished in ninth place behind overall winner, Tommi Makinen of Finland.

Final positions after 31 stages:hr:min.sec
 1 T Makinen   Fin Mitsubishi  4:53.01
 2 F Loix      Bel Toyota      4:57.06
 3 A Schwarz   Ger Ford        4:59.34
 4 G de Mevius Bel Ford        5:05.29
 5 JP Richelmi Mon Ford        5:10.17
 6 M Kamioka   Jpn Subaru      5:10.40
 7 G Trelles   Urg Mitsubishi  5:10.54
 8 M Stohl     Aut Mitsubishi  5:11.04
 9 A McRae     GB  Volkswagen  5:12.54
10 A Lopes     Por Peugeot     5:13.42

1 T Makinen   Fin Mitsubishi  18 pts
2 C McRae     GB  Subaru      13
3 C Sainz     Sp  Ford        12
4 A Schwarz   Ger Ford        11
5 P Liatti    It  Subaru      10
= K Eriksson  Swe Subaru
7 R Burns     GB  Mitsubishi
= F Loix      Bel Toyota

1 Subaru       33 pts
2 Mitsubishi   26
3 Ford         23

Friday's free practice times: mins secs
 1 H Frentzen     Ger Williams 1:17.506
 2 J Villeneuve   Can Williams 1:17.829
 3 J Alesi        Fr  Benetton 1:18.000
 4 J Herbert      GB  Sauber   1:18.261
 5 G Berger       Aut Benetton 1:18.437
 6 R Schumacher   Ger Jordan   1:18.479
 7 M Schumacher   Ger Ferrari  1:18.488
 8 D Coulthard    GB  McLaren  1:18.918
 9 D Hill         GB  Arrows   1:18.978
10 M Hakkinen     Fin McLaren  1:19.271
11 G Fisichella   Ita Jordan   1:19.326
12 O Panis        Fra Prost    1:19.408
13 M Salo         Fin Tyrrell  1:19.546
14 P Diniz        Bra Arrows   1:19.573
15 R Barrichello  Bra Stewart  1:19.613
16 U Katayama     Jpn Minardi  1:19.963
17 J Verstappen   Hol Tyrrell  1:20.076
18 S Nakano       Jpn Prost    1:20.520
19 J Trulli       Ita Mindardi 1:20.521
20 E Irvine       GB  Ferrari  1:20.787
21 N Larini       Ita Sauber   1:21.120
22 J Magnussen    Den Stewart  1:21.864

GTs:- Mercedes are returning to international sportscar racing for the first time in six years. The three-car team will be headed by German driver Bernd Schneider and Italian Alessandro NaÓnini. Their cars are bas on the C-Class Coupe road model and powered by a production V12 engine. Mercedes will compete against the likes of Porsche, BMW, McLaren and Lotus in the world championship series, which starts at Hockenheim on April 13.

Title favourite Jacques Villeneuve dominated Saturday's qualifying session to claim pole position for the second successive race. The Canadian clocked 1 min 16.004 secs early in the one-hour session and it proved too quick for his rivals. Michael Schumacher was just half a second slower to secure a place on the front row for Ferrari. World Champion Damon Hill bounced back from his disappointment in Australia by taking ninth place on the grid.

Damon Hill was delighted with a grid position of ninth after an intriguing qualifying session for Sunday's race. Hill said: "I feel 500 per cent better than I did in Melbourne. Apart from one small problem we have had three days where everything has run beautifully. I consider this a major achievement and a truly impressive one. Now I am starting this high I have a chance of finishing high up in the points. We can't think about a win - unless, of course, it rains."

Qualifying times:             mins secs
 1 J Villeneuve   Can Williams 1:16.004
 2 M Schumacher   Ger Ferrari  1:16.594
 3 G Berger       Aut Benetton 1:16.644
 4 M Hakkinen     Fin McLaren  1:16.692
 5 O Panis        Fr  Prost    1:16.756
 6 J Alesi        Fr  Benetton 1:16.757
 7 G Fisichella   Ita Jordan   1:16.912
 8 H Frentzen     Ger Williams 1:16.924
 9 D Hill         GB  Arrows   1:17.090
10 R Schumacher   Ger Jordan   1:17.175
11 R Barrichello  Brz Stewart  1:17.259
12 D Coulthard    GB  McLaren  1:17.262
13 J Herbert      GB  Sauber   1:17.409
14 E Irvine       GB  Ferrari  1:17.527
15 S Nakano       Jpn Prost    1:17.999
16 P Diniz        Brz Arrows   1:18.095
17 J Trulli       It  Minardi  1:18.336
18 U Katayama     Jpn Minardi  1:18.557
19 N Larini       It  Sauber   1:18.644
20 J Magnussen    Den Stewart  1:18.773
21 J Verstappen   Hol Tyrrell  1:18.885
22 M Salo         Fin Tyrrell  1:19.274

TOURING CARS:- Frank Biela begins the defence of his British title at Donington on Monday in the opening rounds of this year's Auto Trader RAC Touring Car Championship. The German ace, backed up by British number two John Bintcliffe, took the Audi A4 to eight wins last year and are favourites to triumph again. Biela said: "It always looks easy if you win races but you have to work hard to be competitive. It was difficult towards the end of last year. This time it may be harder."

Honda look the team most likely to upset the Audi form book in this year's British Touring Car Championship. They have 1994 champion Gabriele Tarquini - one of five former winners in action - heading their challenge. Volvo are another team on the pace and they will be racing their all-new S40 with Rickard Rydell and Kelvin Burt in the hot-seat. Renault have last season's runner-up and RAC Tourist Trophy winner Alain Menu heading their campaign.

Former Grand Prix star Derek Warwick lines up with John Cleland as the Vauxhall Vectra challenge gathers pace. Paul Radisich is long overdue success in the Ford Mondeo. Will Hoy joins him. Radisich said: "It is very important to get back to winning ways. We have been out of the limelight for two years." Peugeot have a pair of 406s for Patrick Watts and Tim Harvey while Nissan are back as a full manufacturer entry, giving Anthony Reid a first full season in British touring car action.

Saturday's practice times for Monday's two
opening races at Donington Park:
(morning/afternoon sessions combined)
                             mins secs
 1 R Rydell     Swe Volvo     1:35.992
 2 A Menu       Swi Renault   1:36.046
 3 J Plato      GB  Renault   1:36.189
 4 G Tarquini   It  Honda     1:36.622
 5 J Thompson   GB  Honda     1:36.751
 6 D Leslie     GB  Nissan    1:36.876
 7 F Biela      Ger Audi      1:36.936
 8 K Burt       GB  Volvo     1:36.994
 9 W Hoy        GB  Ford      1:37.552
10 T Harvey     GB  Peugeot   1:37.611


Result after 72 laps:       hrs mins secs
 1 J Villeneuve Can Williams 1:36:06.99
 2 G Berger     Aut Benetton @     4.19
 3 O Panis      Fr  Prost    @    15.87
 4 M Hakkinen   Fin McLaren  @    33.03
 5 M Schumacher Ger Ferrari  @     3.73
 6 J Alesi      Fr  Benetton @    34.02
 7 J Herbert    GB  Sauber   @    50.91
 8 G Fisichella It  Jordan   @  1:00.63
 9 H Frentzen   Ger Williams @  1:15.40
10 D Coulthard  GB  McLaren     71 laps
11 N Larini     It  Sauber      71 laps
12 J Trulli     It  Minardi     71 laps
13 M Salo       Fin Tyrrell     71 laps
14 S Nakano     Jpn Prost       71 laps

1 D Coulthard   GB   McLaren   10 pts
= J Villeneuve  Can  Williams  10
3 G Berger      Aut  Benetton   9
4 M Schumacher  Ger  Ferrari    8
5 M Hakkinen    Fin  McLaren    7
6 O Panis       Fr   Prost      6
7 J Alesi       Fr   Benetton   1
= N Larini      It   Sauber     1

1 McLaren Mercedes      17 points
2 Benetton Renault      10
= Williams Renault      10
4 Ferrari                8
5 Prost Honda            6
6 Sauber Ferrari         1

Jacques Villeneuve shrugged off the disappointment of his first lap exit in Australia to register an impressive victory in the Williams Renault. He was outpaced at the start by Michael Schumacher but took the lead at the end of the opening lap. Gerhard Berger was the only serious threat and was within five seconds of Villeneuve with six laps to go. But the Canadian had enough in hand to finish in front, with Berger's Benetton second ahead of Olivier Panis.

Title favourite Jacques Villeneuve was left breathing a sigh of relief when officials waved the red flag after a chaotic start to the race. He slid off on the first corner after being forced wide and several other cars, including Damon Hill's Arrows, ended up on the grass. But the red flag reprieved them and Villeneuve made sure he did not make the same mistake twice. He got away safely at the re-start and went on to win from Gerhard Berger.

Canadian Jacques Villeneuve admitted to having a few anxious moments in the closing stages following the fifth win of his Grand Prix career. "The car was very strong until the second pit stop and then the tyres lost grip, but I was quick enough to hold on," he said. "I was aware of Gerhard. He was going a little too fast near the end. He was catching up pretty fast and it was tough to keep the gap," added Villeneuve, who won by 4.19 seconds.

Veteran Gerhard Berger underlined the promise shown by the new Benetton in winter testing with an excellent second place behind Jacques Villeneuve. The team has not won a Grand Prix since 1995 but Berger raised their spirits by gradually cutting the Canadian's lead over the final laps. "There was a stage when I thought I could get to him, although I knew it would be hard to pass him. Unfortunately it was difficult to lap some back-markers," he said.

Olivier Panis gave former F1 champion Alain Prost his first podium finish as a team owner as their one-stop strategy earned a third place finish. Last year's Monaco GP winner inherited the lead when Jacques Villeneuve and Gerhard Berger came into the pits. Panis dropped to seventh when he pitted after 32 laps, but picked up places as his rivals made their second stop. His Bridgestone tyres lasted well and he was under no pressure as he came home behind Villeneuve and Berger.

Reigning world champion Damon Hill was out of luck again as his race ended in the pit lane with his Arrows in flames three laps from the finish. Hill drove a superb race after failing to complete the parade lap in Australia and finishing in the points looked a real possibility at one stage. He reached fourth place as the leading cars made their pit-stops, but was back in 11th when his engine caught fire. Australian GP winner David Coulthard was off the pace and finished 10th.

Damon Hill drew some encouragement from the improved performance of his Arrows car despite being forced out by an engine fire near the end of the race. "It's disappointing to get so close to the finish and not quite make it. "We were quite well up at one stage and it's a lot better than Melbourne," the 36-year-old Briton commented. "But I had ow oil pressure and as I was coming up the hill I saw flames coming out of the back of the car and I lost drive. It was something terminal."

Eddie Irvine was again the target of complaints after a collision put Dane Jan Magnussen out of the race. "There was chaos at the start. I saw a yellow car, I missed it and it was not a problem," said Magnussen. "But then Irvine was going slowly in front of me. I tried to go round the outside, but he must have been looking in the other mirror and did not see me. He started coming out and I was on the kerb. He ended up driving over my front wheel. That was it for me."

TOURING CARS:- Williams rookie Jason Plato claimed two pole positions at Donington Park on his debut in the Renault Laguna. It is the first time in modern BTTC history that a newcomer has started his career from the front. The points given for pole means Plato leads the series. "It's a dream come true. It'd have been cocky of me to expect this," he said. Team-mate Alain Menu lines up alonsgide him in both races. Reigning champion Frank Biela finds his Audi down in eighth and fifth places.

Qualifying times for first of Monday's
two Donington Park races:    mins secs
 1 J Plato      GB  Renault   1:36.327
 2 A Menu       Swi Renault   1:36.423
 3 R Rydell     Swe Volvo     1:36.517
 4 J Thompson   GB  Honda     1:36.930
 5 K Burt       GB  Volvo     1:37.122
 6 D Leslie     GB  Nissan    1:37.176
 7 A Reid       GB  Nissan    1:37.239
 8 F Biela      Ger Audi      1:37.355
 9 W Hoy        GB  Ford      1:37.730
10 P Watts      GB  Peugeot   1:37.757

Qualifying times for second of Monday's
two Donington Park races:    mins secs
 1 J Plato      GB  Renault   1:36.293
 2 A Menu       Swi Renault   1:36.420
 3 J Thompson   GB  Honda     1:36.440
 4 R Rydell     Swe Volvo     1:36.602
 5 F Biela      Ger Audi      1:37.115
 6 K Burt       GB  Volvo     1:37.249
 7 G Tarquini   It  Honda     1:37.300
 8 A Reid       GB  Nissan    1:37.447
 9 T Harvey     GB  Peugeot   1:37.458
10 D Leslie     GB  Nissan    1:37.565

TOURING CARS:- Renault staged a near-perfect start to the season with Alain Menu winning the two opening races and rookie teammate Jason Plato taking second in race one. But Plato, who started on pole in both rounds, was forced out of runner-up spot in the second race with engine problems six laps from the end. "It's a great start but we all know how competitive the BTTC is and Volvo are still in there," said Menu. "I always knew Jason would be quick but now I must consider him a title rival."

Round one result from Donington Park:
                             mins secs
 1 A Menu       Swi Renault  29:36.777
 2 J Plato      GB  Renault  29:39.919
 3 K Burt       GB  Volvo    30:01.018
 4 D Leslie     GB  Nissan   30:01.297
 5 J Bintcliffe GB  Audi     30:07.318
 6 P Radisich   NZ  Ford     30:12.451
 7 G Tarquini   It  Honda    30:15.615
 8 P Watts      GB  Peugeot  30:15.959
 9 D Warwick    GB  Vauxhall 30:16.127
10 T Harvey     GB  Peugeot  30:21.563

Round two result from Donington Park:
                             mins secs
 1 A Menu       Swi Renault  29:49.841
 2 R Rydell     Swe Volvo    29:52.207
 3 F Biela      Ger Audi     29:54.110
 4 G Tarquini   It  Honda    29:55.348
 5 J Bintcliffe GB  Audi     30:01.530
 6 J Thompson   GB  Honda    30:04.288
 7 P Radisich   NZ  Ford     30:10.089
 8 D Warwick    GB  Vauxhall 30:12.124
 9 K Burt       GB  Volvo    30:13.473
10 C Gallie     GB  BMW      31:10.630

FORMULA RENAULT:- Swan National have become the new title sponsor of this year's Formula Renault Sport Championship in the largest deal in the event's history.

Marc Hynes set a new lap record of one minute, 34.617 seconds as he won round one of the Swan National Formula Renault Sport Championship.

                            mins secs
1 M Hynes      GB  Tatuus   15:55.444
2 D Malkin     GB  Tatuus   16:02.230
3 T Sria'non   Cz  Tatuus   16:07.364
4 E vd Linde   SA  V Diemen 16:10.322
5 A Yoong      Mal          16:11.218
6 T Spouge     GB  Tatuus   16:11.621