Frenchman Laurent Aiello, desperate to win the Auto Trader British Touring Car Championship in his first season, appeared to want to hand the title to his Nissan team-mate, Dumfries driver David Leslie, after a series of infringements in yesterday's main feature race at Thruxton.

After winning the opening sprint race to extend his 12-point advantage over 45-year-old Leslie, Aiello then found himself being served two penalties for incidents that happened in the pitlane during the longer 32-lap encounter.

First the Frenchman, who had been leading, pulled right out into the path of the Volvo driven by Vincent Radermecker after his compulsory stop for new tyres. The Belgian was forced to lock his brakes to avoid a collision as the Nissan sped off to rejoin the race. Immediately officials handed out a drive-through penalty forcing Aiello to again enter the pits.

Having then rejoined the race in second place behind Leslie, he was then penalised for driving through the pits too quickly and was forced to serve the penalty again. When he exited for a third time, he had dropped to fourth before eventually finishing fourth.

''God that was fun,'' Leslie beamed at the end of the race. ''I said before the races that we had the fastest car in the championship and that's the way it proving to be. This championship is going to go all the way to the final race.''

The day, though, was notable for all the wrong reasons for another Scot. After crawling in twelfth in the opening race in his Vauxhall Vectra, John Cleland did not start the feature race when his engine caught fire in the pitlane.

That proved to be the final straw for the Galashiels racer, who immediately announced his retirement after 11 years in touring cars. ''I've had enough,'' the 46-year-old veteran said. ''This has been the most disappointing season of my career. The car just isn't handling the way I want it too and there's no enjoyment left. It's all too much of a struggle. There's better things to do in life.''

Auto Trader British Touring Car Championship. Rounds 17&18 at Thruxton, Hampshire. Qualifying: Round 17: 1, Laurent Aiello (France) Nissan Primera 20min 47.191sec; 2, Rickard Rydell (Sweden) Volvo S40 20:50.296; 3, Vincent Radermecker (Belgium) Volvo S40 20:58.611; 4, David Leslie (Scotland) Nissan Primera 20:59.260; 5, Jason Plato (England) Renault Laguna 21:09.796; 6, Matt Neal (England) Nissan Primera 21:10.388; 7, James Thompson (England) Honda Accord 21:11.638; 8, Yvan Muller (France) Vauxhall Vectra 21:13.096; 9, Peter Kox (Netherlands) Honda Accord 21:14.549; 10, Will Hoy (England) Renault Laguna 21;19.872. Others: 12, John Cleland (Scotland) Vauxhall Vectra 21:21.302. DNF Anthony Reid (Scotland) Ford Mondeo lap 10 (engine).

Round 18: 1, Leslie 46:05.796; 2, Radermecker 46:21.853; 3, Alain Menu (Switzerland) Ford Mondeo 46:25.399; 4, Plato 46:25.604; 5, Aiello 46:31.955; 6, Muller 46:36.657; 7, Reid 46:44.225; 8, Hoy 46:44.949; 9, Kox 46:46.798; 10, Mark Blair (England) Vauxhall Vectra 1-lap. Championship positions: 1, Aiello 169pts; 2, Leslie 159; 3, Thompson 124; 4, Plato 109; 5. Rydell 107.