318is, 318i, 320i – 54 wins, 1992-2012
For the 1992 season, BMW introduced its most successful production model, the 3-series, as the donor car for its British Touring Car aspirations. And, over the course of the next 20 years, it would uphold its production-car reputation by becoming the marque’s most successful BTCC racer. The two-door 318is won six races in that first year thanks to Tim Harvey, who clinched the title for Vic Lee’s squad in a controversial finale at Silverstone once team-mate Steve Soper and Vauxhall’s John Cleland had taken each other off at the Complex.
For 1993 the crack Schnitzer team picked up BMW’s winning baton, guiding Soper and Joachim Winkelhock to eight wins in the four-door 318i, the German also landing the title with his dominant five victories.
The Soper/Winkelhock partnership continued its winning ways in 1994, taking five wins, before marketing clout saw to it that they would both race in the German Supertourenwagen Cup in 1995. Winkelhock duly won the title and returned to Britain for ’96, scoring four wins in the 320i model. His new team-mate, 635 and M3 hero Roberto Ravaglia, only managed one victory.
For the next decade, BMW played no part in the BTCC, preferring instead to focus on sportscar racing with the McLaren F1 programme and, from 2001, Formula 1 with Williams.
When it did return, in 2007, it was immediately a frontrunner, with the lean, efficient and experienced West Surrey Racing squad running two cars. Four wins came courtesy of Colin Turkington and Tom Onslow-Cole in the RAC-liveried 320i machines, while BMW notched up two more wins via Mat Jackson’s family-run car.
Over the course of the next two seasons, the 320 scored 19 more wins, with Turkington, Jackson, Rob Collard and Stephen Jelley topping the podium. But it was loyal servant Turkington who did most of the winning, finally securing the title in 2009 after a six-victory season.
With Turkington out of the picture at BMW for 2010, purely on financial grounds, the strike rate suffered. The 320i racers would notch up just five wins over the next three years and it quickly became apparent that a new challenger was needed.