Night Fever! Snetterton preview

This weekend, the BTCC will return to the Snetterton circuit in Norfolk, one year on from the series' first ever night race. This time around, the teams have a better idea of what to expect, but this will not detract in the slightest from the excitement the race is likely to generate

Night Fever! Snetterton preview

The historic inaugural night race meeting at the track near Norwich last year was a huge hit with fans and their families alike. A capacity mid-summer crowd enjoyed the headlights blazing and brake disks glowing, as well as live music, a fufair and barbecues last year, and the same is expected in 2000. The format of Le Mans style fairground distractions, as well as the typical BTCC brand of on track shenanigans is an intoxicating combination.

Ford are coming off the back of another dominant victory, this time at Croft. The Mondeos took five of the available six podium places, with Rickard Rydell's double win giving the team the top three placings in the drivers' title race at the season's halfway stage. However, the Ford trio of Rydell, Alain Menu and Anthony Reid will be the only team to carry success ballast at the Norfolk track.

With the ballast weighing down the Fords attaching more uncertainty to the proceedings, picking a likely winner is no easy task. Some point to Tom Kristensen, who recently won the Le Mans 24 Hours for a second time and thus has far more recent night racing experience than most.

However, the nature of the lighting at Snetterton will be rather different to what the Dane experienced in France. With huge lighting rigs illuminating some parts of the circuit to near-daylight levels and other parts of the track in total darkness, this will be a unique experience for all the drivers.

"I'm not sure if my Le Mans experience will make much difference in the dark - everybody in the series drives with their eyes closed anyway, including myself!" joked the Dane.

"At Le Mans you settle into a nice rhythm, but in the BTCC it's always a hell of a fight from the word go and the cars are all over the place - I'm really looking forward to it," he added.

Vauxhall's Yvan Muller was in the thick of the action in both the twighlight Sprint event and the full-darkness Feature race. The Frenchman triggered a multi-car shunt when a wheel failed, sending him into James Thomspon's Honda in the Sprint, but then had a solid run to third in the feature after battling with eventual winner Peter Kox.

Though it was an up and down weekend, the lead Vauxhall driver is keen to come back for more. "I'm looking forward to the night race, because compared to the last event we won't have any extra weight in the car, so that won't affect the performance," he says, before indicating that he still has an eye on the title. "If Ford can take 20 points off us in the first half of the season, we can take it back off them in the second half! We can reduce the gap back - at least we have to try," he insisted.

"It's something different for the teams, the drivers, and it's something different for the fans too. It's a new atmosphere," he enthused.

Independent champion Matt Neal added: "Night racing can be a bit fraught at times. Last year I didn't think I had a scratch on my car at the end of the race, but there wasn't one straight panel - there was a bit of skulduggery going on out there!"

Despite last year's excitement, Muller believes that racing at night is unlikely to throw up any surprises on its own. Regarding last year's feature race, Muller dismissed claims that Kox's night win was in any way to be regarded as an aberration, saying, "I think it will be the same as in the day. Peter Kox scored his first victory because it was his first victory, not because it was a night race."

Muller believes Honda could have the edge at the weekend, but due to inherent advantages and not Kristensen's night knowledge.

"Snetterton is a quick circuit, with a long straight, probably the longest in the championship, so for sure the Honda will be good there because they have good speed on the straight."

"And Ford will be not so slow, they will be not so far behind I think," added Muller, pointing out that with only one slow corner at the track, success ballast may not be such a disadvantage as at other circuits.

However, Vauxhall had a hard time at Croft with Jason Plato's and Vincent Radermecker's cars wrecked in high-speed accidents and Muller mysteriously off the pace all weekend. The team is facing a race against time to repair the two damaged Vectras and it is touch and go whether all three cars will appear at Snetterton. But if they do make the grid, Vauxhall will be hoping for a more competitive performance.

Snetterton was the site of the Vectra's first win four years ago - in a bizarre race characteristic of Snetterton - and therefore the Norfolk track would be an appropriate place for a Vauxhall turnaround.

Back in the fray this weekend will be Scotland's Colin Blair, the Independent runner who was forced out of the action at Croft following a heavy crash in testing. His PRO Motorsport Nissan Primera will be fully repaired and ready to race - the only problems Blair faces now are that he has never competed at Snetterton, or at night, before. Matt Neal, his only competition in the Independent class will carry success ballast for the first time after gaining a podium spot at Croft.

In addition, the Class B competitors could have a major influence on the outcome of Saturday's two races. In the dark it will be more difficult for the Super Touring drivers to judge the pace of the less-powerful Class B machines and this could lead to several of the front-runners being caught out during lapping manoeuvres.

The BTCC contenders are testing at Snetterton on Friday, July 7. Qualifying takes place on Saturday (July 8) afternoon, with Round 15 (Sprint Race, 17 laps, 33.18 miles) starting at 9.05pm and round 16 (Feature Race, 34 laps, 66.37 miles) scheduled to begin at midnight.

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