Touring car racing is often unfairly derided by motorsport purists, who view it as glorified banger racing; something to watch only if there aren’t any ‘real’ racing cars around. Every so often, though, a touring car formula comes along that fully embraces the latest technology, attracts top-class drivers, and strikes such a chord with the viewing public that even the most hardcore snobs can’t ignore it.
For 10glorious seasons, from 1991-2000, the British Touring Car Championship had just such a formula, in the shape of ‘Super Touring’. First introduced to the BTCC’s complex multi-class system in 1990, from 1991 onwards the championship was run exclusively for this new generation of 2-litre cars. It led to what is viewed by many as the heyday of touring car racing, not just in this country, but anywhere in the world.
With as many as 10 manufacturers running works efforts, the racing was close, the drivers (including F1 champions and Le Mans winners, as well as touring car specialists from around the world) became household names, crowds were huge, and the whole thing was broadcast live on the BBC. Although the cars looked more or less standard on the surface, underneath they deployed the very latest technology. When Renault struggled to make their car competitive, they employed Williams (at the time enjoying a period of unprecedented dominance in Formula 1) to develop and run it for them, which they did with great success, winning one drivers’ and two manufacturers’ championships.
In the end, it became a victim of its own success. Budgets were rumoured to be upwards of £10m per season by the end, and one by one the manufacturers dropped out – unable any longer to afford to compete at the front. By 2000 there were only three left, and the writing was on the wall. For 2001 a new, cheaper, but less spectacular formula was introduced, leaving behind nothing but memories of a time when touring car racing genuinely rivalled Formula 1 in popularity terms.
The 74th Members’ Meeting, on March 19-20, will rekindle those memories, with a dramatic high-speed demonstration of Super Tourers. As a taster, we brought a variety of the cars down to Goodwood for a test day, and invited Super Touring veteran Anthony Reid to show 2013 BTCC Champion Andrew Jordan what it was all about.
Photography by Tom Shaxson