Tin-tops are a staple of British motorsport, starting way back in 1958. It used to be the simple case of a driver sitting in his everyday car with a crash helmet on, but over the next 50 years it developed into a series that not only gave regulations for the whole world to use, but has also attracted some big names in racing too.
It’s everyday cars on a race track. The beauty of the BTCC is that it’s the cars that you own on track duking it out. Success can lead to spikes in sales across the United Kingdom, so manufacturers used to queue up to compete. There’s something special about a racing series where a fan can say, “My Dad had one of those”.
Nigel Mansell had a go in 1993. It didn’t go well, as showcased in the BBC series How Do They Do That?…
Age is but number. MG driver Jason Plato might be better recognised as one of the faces of Fifth Gear, but he’s been a touring car racer for well over 10 years. At the start of the last season, he surpassed the record for series wins and is not only the oldest man out on the track at the age of 44, but now the most successful.
It has a reputation for contact racing. We all know that in F1, if you make contact your race is pretty much over and done with. In the BTCC, is you don’t scrape bumpers with at least one other car you haven’t been competitive. In fact, if you lose your bumper entirely it’s probably going to be deemed as an aerodynamic advantage! All joking aside, if your racing up close and personal, this is the series for you. And it’s partial to a bit of team-mate scrapping too.
It attracted several former Grand Prix names. During the boom years of the late 1990’s, several former Formula One drivers cut their teeth in the series. Derek Warwick drove a Vectra between ’97-’98 in a team he co-owned, winning a single race in the wet at Knockhill. Gianni Morbedelli, who drove over 70 GP’s, raced a Volvo the same season, but with little success. Gabriele Tarquini, who never really broke free of the backmarkers in F1, fared better in a car with a roof – not only did he win the BTCC in 1994 on his first attempt, but also went on to win the European and World Championships in 2003 and 2009 respectively.
Also, Jim Clark not only won the F1 titles in ’63 and ’65, but also sandwiched a BTCC crown in between driving a Lotus Cortina.
Even F1 constructors got involved. The 1997 championship was dominated by Swiss star Alain Menu, who’s Renault Laguna was run by Williams F1 throughout the season. The British team had been involved in the series since 1995 – winning the contructors on their first attempt – and they used the old headquarters in Didcot before selling up in 1999.
It’s rules were so popular, it was adopted by every major continent. The “Super Touring” class of cars, first introduced in Britain in 1990, proved so popular with teams and drivers that the FIA actually sanctioned them in 1993. As the years went by, many championships across the globe starting to use them; France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, South Africa and Australia all adopted the regulations. Championships became continental, such as North America and South America series as well as Asia. At one point, all touring cars ran by the rules of the BTCC.
It was quite a simple premise – four doors, two wheels driven and steered, no more than 2-litre engines and more than 2500 production cars of that model had to be made.
But, as the competition and numbers of manufacturers increased, so did the cost. When the regulations first started in 1990 it cost £60,000 to run a Vauxhaul Cavalier. By the time the ’90’s finished, it had risen to a massive £250,000 to run a top end car, mainly due to telemetry, aerodynamics and electronics. With teams, and then manufacturers, not willing to pay those costs, the series dwindled as a newer, cheaper set of rules was put in place.
Nigel Mansell had another go in 1998. It went a little bit better than last time. This is one of my favourite races of all time;
Epic as that was, he only finished 4th in the end. But what a battle!
The coverage on ITV4 is pretty extensive. The channel provides a whole six hours of coverage per race meeting, with recorded highlights of all the support races also televised. Starting at 11am, you’re treated to such delights as Ginetta Junior, Ginetta GT, Clio Cup, Porsche Carrera Cup. That’s more than enough motorsport to shake a stick at.
Why not check it out this Sunday?