As we ready ourselves to celebrate 60 years of touring car racing in Britain at the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard, we've been counting down the greatest touring car machines of all time. Last time out we brought you the best of the first three decades of BSCC and BTCC action, now we move into the modern era to complete the countdown.
The 10 best modern BTCC cars
An icon in the tin-top world, the M3 made its debut on the British scene midway through the 1987 season in the hands of Frank Sytner and a rally team by the name of Prodrive making its first steps into circuit racing. With a semi-works package, Sytner and Prodrive stormed to outright honours in the 1988 season. The M3 paved the way for the dawn of a new era of the British Touring Car Championship. In 1990, BMW reworked its M3 from Group A regulations into the new 2-litre ruleset with a view to a single class formula in 1991, the first time in the championship’s history. And thus, SuperTouring was born…
The 318is picked up exactly where the M3 left off. The decision to run a brand-new shape car was a risk, and the early stages of the 1992 season suggested that there had been a big mistake in Bavaria. A strong run of form in the latter half of the year, mixed in with one of the most infamous moments in BTCC history, saw Tim Harvey take the 318is to glory in its debut year. With Vic Lee, who ran the title-winning teams in ’91 and ’92, convicted for drug trafficking and BMW GB pulling out as a result, things looked bleak for BMW in 1993. Enter Schnitzer Motorsport, their works operation from the DTM paddock and driver Joachim Winkelhock. It did not take long for Smokin’ Jo to acclimatise himself to the British championship, winning no fewer than five times en route to championship honours.
Alfa Romeo 155
The Alfa Romeo 155 was a game changer in touring cars. Alfa created the “Silverstone” version of the 155, which came with a kit to extend both the front spoiler and rear wing from a supplied kit in the boot, specifically for the 1994 BTCC season. The alterations made little difference on the road but made the car utterly dominant on the track. Protests were quick to appear and resulted in major changes to the SuperTouring regulations. Gabriele Tarquini won the first five races of the year and dominated the points, despite Alfa Romeo withdrawing from the Oulton Park round in protest to the proposed rule changes.
Volvo 850 Estate
While the Alfa Romeo took all of the headlines in 1994 for stretching the regulations as far as they would go, Volvo was doing the same – only stretching them in the opposite direction. Run by the returning Tom Walkinshaw Racing, who took the Mazda RX-7 and Rover SD1 to the top of the standings, the 850 Estate was nothing more than a publicity stunt while the genuine competitor, the 850 Saloon, was being prepped for the 1995 season. The Estate was not uncompetitive, however, with Rickard Rydell taking a top 5 at Oulton Park alongside numerous top ten results.
Audi A4 Quattro
Run by the late Richard Lloyd’s outfit, the Quattro was Audi’s response to the successes of rivals BMW and Alfa Romeo in previous years. With 1991 DTM champion, and perennial Audi driver Frank Biela leading the team, the Quattro was utterly dominant, helped not lightly by its four-wheel-drive nature. Such was the success of the A4 that organisers were forced to impose a weight penalty in order to try and bring them back into the grasps of their competitors. It didn’t work. Biela won the title with four races still to run. The A4’s success was not limited to just within Britain, winning no fewer than 7 titles worldwide, including the top three – BTCC, German STW and Italian Superturismo.
The last of the Supertouring champions, Prodrive reportedly spent a mammoth £12m on the Mondeo project, making it one of the most expensive touring cars in racing history. With manufacturers dropping out and numbers dwindling as costs rocketed, only three works entries (Ford, Vauxhall and Honda) were present for the 2000 season. Expanding the traditional two-car teams to three, Alain Menu, Anthony Reid and Rickard Rydell took the wheels of the three Mondeos, and would finish first, second and third in the championship respectively. Ford also firmly had the last laugh over their works-team rivals.
Vauxhall Astra Coupe
While regarded as one of the least desirable eras of the BTCC, it is impossible to understate just how impressive the Astra Coupe was. With development starting halfway through the 2000 season, Vauxhall had a huge jump on the competition – which came from Peugeot and, latterly, MG. The advantage was enough for Vauxhall to utterly dominate the BTC-T regulation era, winning every championship from 2001-2004. Retired in favour of the Astra Sport Hatch in 2005, the Astra Coupe has the honour of holding a 100% success record in both Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles.
Honda Integra Type-R
In 1999 Matt Neal made BTCC history by becoming the first Independent driver to win a race outright in the BTCC. In 2005 the Honda Integra made BTCC history by becoming the first Independent car to win the overall Drivers’ Championship and once again, Matt Neal was behind the wheel. Taking 26 wins out of 60 over two championship-winning seasons, the Integra was also the first car to take three wins in a day, with Dan Eaves visiting the top step of the podium thrice at Thruxton in 2005.
The Honda Civic has been the most successful car of the 2010s, winning five out of eight manufacturers’ titles since the turn of the decade. The successes were not exclusive to the works outfits, either. Andrew Jordan took his family-run Eurotech Racing Civic to championship glory in 2013, while the works team rounded out four consecutive Teams and Manufacturers’ doubles that same year. Having taken the bold step to run the Civic Tourer in 2014 to some success, boasting four wins, Honda returned in 2015 with the all-new Honda Civic Type-R. The new car was quick out of the box, with Shedden winning in the opening race meeting en route to his second BTCC crown, followed up by this third just one year later.
When it was announced that Subaru were to enter the BTCC ahead of the 2016, no-one expected that the car in question was going to be the Levorg. After a turbulent start, which included fireballs and withdrawals, the team returned to the championship at Oulton Park and Colin Turkington subsequently took the win in the opening race. Despite 9 rounds of being uncompetitive or absent, Turkington was still able to finish 4th come the end of the season. The Levorg continued its strong run of form in 2017 and, despite a less-than-ideal opening weekend, Ash Sutton wrung everything out of the car and ended up as the youngest champion in BTCC history.
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Photography courtesy of LAT Images
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