Touring car drivers are some of the most versatile in all of motorsport. Stick them in almost anything and they’ll be quick, from GT cars to single-seaters, to rally cars and even historics, as we so often see at our Goodwood Revival and Members’ Meeting presented by Audrain Motorsport events. They’re precise and, famously, they aren’t afraid to race hard. Creating a list of the most successful touring car drivers is difficult. Do you count it by number of wins, their win ratio, or number of championships? We’d count a championship as the ultimate success that everyone’s gunning for, requiring a consistent high finishes and elite-tier race craft throughout a season of what is a highly unpredictable class of racing. So that’s how we’ll count them down, while noting some particularly compelling statistics along the way and giving some honourable mentions at the end. These are the most successful touring car drivers of all time.
The nine most successful BTCC drivers of all time
At this exact moment, Ashley Sutton by championship decree is the very best contemporary touring car driver in the world, given he is reigning champion, having put in an entirely consistent performance last year to secure the lead by spot by 51 points, with Colin Turkington, Josh Cook, Tom Ingram and Jake Hill trailing him. Three titles out of his first six seasons in the series isn’t bad going, and while a 12 per cent win rate isn’t top billing, his ability to finish up in the points is what gets him consistent results and could secure him a spot as an all-time great come the end of his career.
Gordon Shedden is a modern great, having been around for a decade and a half longer than Sutton, it says a lot of Shedden’s enduring talent that his first title came in 2012, 11 years after he started his first BTCC race. His third title, in 2016, came a full 15 years on from his first entry. In 2022 he’s still capable of race wins and fastest laps, with round two at Donington this year yielding both, adding to his position as the fifth most successful BTCC driver of all time in terms of race wins. Shedden has on a couple of occasions in the early 2010s flirted with extra championships, with runner-up positions in 2011 and 2013, the latter especially unfortunate given that even among his championship wins, it was his second-highest points haul for a season, trailing his 2012 championship win by just 18 points. Arguably, he should have more titles than he does.
Of course, Shedden was one of a two-driver dream team for Honda during that period, alongside none other than the incredible Matt Neal. Active since 1991, 2021 would have been his thirtieth year on the grid had a sponsorship shakeup not left him without a drive. He insisted this year off wasn’t a retirement and indeed in 2022, is back on the grid in a Civic Type R. One of Neal’s biggest moments before his three title wins was his first race win at Donington in 1999, for which he won a £250,000 cheque put up by Alan Gow, given he was the first independent to win a race that season. It was with Honda that his 2000s successes really grew, however, with titles in 2005, 2006 and 2011, and numerous contributions to manufacturer titles for the Japanese marque. 2006 was a particularly dominant season for Neal, winning eight of the thirty races that season. Given his tenure, it should come as no surprise that Neal is second on the list for most wins in his career, even if those wins come less than once in every ten races he’s entered.
Going back some years we get to the legendary Win Percy – Win by name, win by nature. He secured three championships on the trot in 1981, 1982 and 1983, driving a Mazda RX-7 for the first two and a Toyota Celica GT for the third. He came out the box fighting in his debut years too, winning his class and finishing second overall in the British Saloon Car Championship in both 1975 and 1976. As a three-time Spa 24 Hours winner and a two-time Bathurst 1000 winner, it’s no wonder he was considered by many at times to be the world’s number one touring car driver. As is often the case, it wasn’t a barrage of victories that secured him his British tin-top titles, but being a consistent high finisher. Sometimes, given the attrition and aggression in saloon car racing, getting across the line at the end is commendable in itself, with supreme race craft essential to getting on the top step come season’s end. An all-time great nationally and globally.
Going further back now we arrive at Bernard Unett and his three title wins in 1974, 1976 and 1977. Unett’s story is closely tied with Goodwood’s, with his attendance of a meeting at our Motor Circuit in the early 1960s leading him to purchase his first racing car. Before securing his saloon car titles, he raced one of the two Le Mans-spec Sunbeam Lister Tigers, showing blistering pace with eleven wins and nine second places from 20 starts. Remember what we said about versatility? Ventures in Formula 3, Formula 5000 and the London to Mexico Rally predated his championship outings in tin-tops too, with the latter coming after his first retirement. Taking to a Hillman Avenger in the 1974 season, he took his inaugural British Saloon Car Championship via victories at Brands Hatch, Snetterton, Mallory Park, Thruxton and Islington. His next title in 1976 was a walkover, with ten class victories out of ten races run and likewise in 1977, nine times, though confusion over a tie break with Tony Dron and points for fastest lap meant it took some time for Unett to be declared winner.
Bill McGovern happens to be the first driver ever to reach three titles won in British tin tops, winning them on the trot. Beating Frank Gardner to the punch, he took consecutive championships in 1970, 1971 and 1972, before the Gardner secured his third in 1973. While Gardner was hammering monster muscle cars around, they weren’t overly favoured as Class D machines in championship standings. Capitalising on how the points fell, McGovern stormed his scrappy little 1.0-litre imp to his three consecutive championship victories as a class A competitor.
Our final three-time winner is mentioned above, the one and only Frank Gardner, who is also the only non-British driver to secure three or more British tin-top titles. His came in 1967, 1968 and 1973. Like Unett, he had a go in sportscars, at Le Mans, F5000 and even Formula 1, though he found the most success in British saloon car racing. With BSCC entries three years previously yielding steadily improving results, Gardner found himself in a winning car for a winning team in 1967 with Alan Mann Racing and the Ford Falcon Sprint. He won seven of the ten rounds he contested and came second twice. He did the business again in 1968, scoring two wins in a season where his worst finish was fourth. Taking to the big-banger American beasts from 1970, Gardner secured his final championship in a Camaro Z28 in 1973, winning six of the nine races he entered. Though he won overall three times, he had a healthy six class wins to his name for the 1967-1973 period, including his championships, and a whopping 75 per cent win rate for the 1970 season. The breadth of his performance is perhaps best exemplified in his win ratio, being the only driver in history to on average win more than one in every three races he entered. Only Andy Rouse gets anywhere close, but we’ll get to that. The kicker? The one year he didn’t podium in 1971, he won the European Formula 5000 Championship overall. We’ll say it again. Versatility.
And now, we enter the rarefied (two-member) club of four-time BTCC Drivers’ Championship winners with a modern great. Colin Turkington has secured titles in 2009, 2014, 2018 and 2019, with his debut in the BTCC having come in 2002 with the very era-appropriate Team Atomic Kitten. In 2009 he was Mr Consistency, putting his 320si less than sixth in the finishing order only three times in the thirty rounds run that season, finishing the majority of the time in the top five. A three-year sabbatical in 2010, 2011 and 2012 did nothing to slow him down, putting in a stellar performance for his return in 2013, on a run up to his second championship in 2014, born of a largely podium-finishing performance that year and taking eight wins from the thirty races. It’s that consistency that pushed through in his 2018 and 2019 title wins with West Surrey Racing and what makes him the fourth-winningest driver in BTCC history.
It’s Andy Rouse however that is arguably the all-time great of the BTCC (and BSCC), for a combination of reasons. Being the only driver other than Turkington to take four titles does wonders. Having the second highest win to start rate, of 25 per cent, isn’t bad going either, with one third the number of race starts of Matt Neal, whose numbers are bumped by the three-round BTCC format. He’s also the second-winningest driver in BTCC history, topped only by Jason Plato. Following his first championship in 1975, during which he secured with eleven podiums and six wins out of fifteen rounds, he went on to score a further three on the trot in 1983, 1984 and 1985, in three different cars, the Alfa Romeo GTV6, the Rover SD1 and the Ford Sierra XR4Ti. Of his 60 wins in the BTCC, the first and the last span 18 years and three different classes of touring car. He was as much an engineer and a team owner as he was a driver, with that Rover win coming via his Andy Rouse Engineering privateer outfit besting the efforts of the Rover factory team. Of course, his exploits with the Ford Sierra RS500 are legend, if not championship-winning. By the numbers, he is immortalised in his place among the greats.
We can’t close out a list of great touring car drivers without a mention for Alain Menu, who in his first championship-winning 1997 season, won 12 of the 24 races to secure the title. That puts him at the top of the list of the most dominant drivers for a single season, besting Yvan Muller, Laurent Aiello and Fabrizio Giovanardi’s 10 wins and Andy Rouse’s, Tommy Sopwith’s and Jason Plato’s nine wins for their respective winning seasons. Of course, we have to mention Jason too, who tops the list of the winningest drivers with a whopping 97 over the course of his 25-year two-time championship-winning career. Plato can also count himself as the most successful BTCC driver at no less than five circuits, though he is tied with Gordon Shedden at Rockingham.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.
Join our motorsport community
Get closer to motorsport at Goodwood! Join the GRRC Fellowship to be first in the queue for event tickets, to attend the GRRC-only Members' Meeting and to enjoy year-round, exclusive benefits.
Sign up for Motorsport news
Stay in the know with our newsletters that contain all the latest news, stories and event information.