Alain Menu has hailed a ‘positive’ start to his Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship pre-season testing preparations with Chrome Edition Restart Racing, as the two-time champion made his track debut in the team’s Volkswagen CC at Croft in North Yorkshire.
Menu clinched the BTCC drivers’ crown with Williams-Renault in 1997 and then again with Ford in 2000, before leaving British shores for the DTM and subsequently a prolonged stint in the FIA World Touring Car Championship, in which he claimed no fewer than 23 race victories for Chevrolet.
Now, however, the man esteemed as one of the finest tin-top racers of all time is back in the BTCC, after signing an agreement to campaign a Volkswagen CC for Team BMR in what is arguably shaping up to be the series’ most fiercely-disputed season in history. There will be no fewer than seven former title-winners and a cluster of up-and-coming young guns all vying for the same piece of track and the top step of the podium.
The 50-year-old got behind the wheel of his new car for the first time at Croft this week, and professed himself satisfied with early progress – even if he concedes that being with such a young team, he will inevitably be on a learning curve and on the back foot to begin with.
“It’s been a good test,” Menu asserted. “The weather has been great, which was exactly what I needed for my first time in the car as it enabled us to get plenty of running in. As a team, we know we are not completely up-to-speed yet, so we have been focussing on learning how to work together and trying to improve the car. The Team BMR guys seem like a really good bunch.
“It will take a little while before we are where we want to be performance-wise, but for our first test, it has been promising – so far, so good. It has been a positive start and everything is going according to plan. The CC handles well and I’m feeling optimistic.
“I’m excited to be back in the BTCC again – racing is my life and what I love doing. It will be a challenge and out on the track, there are a lot of young drivers who I know will be quick and who will give me a run for my money, but the ambition is to fight at the front and win races.
“The goal is clearly to attain the same level as the likes of Triple Eight, Team Dynamics and WSR. It would be foolish to think we are there yet, but there’s no reason at all why we can’t reach it in the fullness of time.”
Menu triumphed twice at Croft en route to lifting the 1997 BTCC laurels, and the Swiss ace clearly retains a great deal of affection for the popular north-east venue, which will host the UK’s premier motor sport series over the weekend of 28/29 June.
“I’ve always enjoyed racing at Croft and have good memories of the circuit,” he continued. “Prior to this week, I hadn’t been here since 2000, but I was able to pick it up again fairly quickly. It’s an interesting track to drive, with a fun blend of different types of corners and it’s a little bit bumpy in places.
“Croft always drew strong crowds when I was there before in the BTCC – and those crowds look like being even bigger this year now the championship is really booming again. I’m looking forward to coming back for the race meeting in June.”
“Like countless fans up-and-down the country I’m sure, I am absolutely delighted to see Alain back racing in the UK again,” added Croft circuit manager, Mike Cantelo. “All of us here are honoured to have been able to host his first test in Team BMR’s Volkswagen CC.
“It has been thrilling to watch Alain lap the circuit and witness the master at work – and boy, does he look quick! He clearly doesn’t appear to have lost any of his legendary speed or commitment from his previous stint in the BTCC, and spectators who come to Croft at the end of June to see him and the rest of Britain’s touring car heroes in action are sure to enjoy a real treat.”
ITV's live coverage of the 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship begins with qualifying for the first round on Saturday March 29th.