Six of the best... BMW's BTCC bahnstormers

11th May 2017
Henry Hope-Frost

Colin Turkington’s 43rd career win in the British Touring Car Championship in the third and final race at Thruxton last Sunday marked a significant milestone in the series for BMW, the marque with which the Northern Irishman has taken the majority of his series victories – and both of his drivers’ championship titles. 


At the Hampshire venue on Sunday, Turkington handed BMW its 100th BTCC race win, which leaves it behind only Ford, Honda and Vauxhall on the all-time list for the 59-year-old series, Britain’s biggest motorsport discipline. 

That sort of statistical signpost had us delving for the archive to trace BMW’s victory timeline, keen to refresh our memories over the races, dates, names and model numbers. And this is how it all shapes up…


3.0 CSL – 3 wins, 1973

The first of the 100 wins came in the second round of the RAC British Saloon Car Championship, as it was called then, at Silverstone in April 1973 when Australian Brian Muir took his Malcolm Gartlan-run CSL to victory after long-time leader Frank Gardner spun his Chevrolet Camaro.

That year’s RAC Tourist Trophy European Championship qualifier was also a BSCC round and Derek Bell and Harald Ertl took their Alpina CSL to a three-lap win over the Ford Cologne Capri RS2600 of Goodwood favourite Jochen Mass.

The CSL’s third and last BSCC win came in the final round at Brands Hatch in October ’73, again courtesy of Muir.  

530i, seen here on edge at Spa with Derek Bell at the wheel.

530i, seen here on edge at Spa with Derek Bell at the wheel.

530i – 1 win, 1978

Scot Tom Walkinshaw ended a five-year win drought for BMW by taking his 530i to victory at Oulton Park in the over-1600cc-class race at the final round of the 1978 series. The polesitting car fended off a quintet of 3-litre Ford Capris driven by Gordon Spice, Andy Rouse, Stuart Graham, Vince Woodman and Dave Brodie.

635 CSi – 4 wins, 1984-1987

The gorgeous 6-series coupé became a highly effective touring car on the domestic and international scene, winning plenty of races around the world, including the Spa and Nürburgring 24 Hour events. In Britain, the car won one race each season across a four-year spell between 1984 and ’87. James Weaver took the honours at Oulton Park in ’84, Frank Sytner at Silverstone in ’85, Mike Newman at Thruxton in ’86 and Newman winning again, in a two-driver race alongside Robert Speak, at Oulton in ’87. By then, though, one of the world’s most successful tin-tops of all-time, BMW’s E30 M3 homologation specials, had started its winning run, rendering the 635 obsolete.

M3 – 9 wins, 1987-1991 

The iconic M3, which began winning around the world before the ink on the homologation paperwork was fully dry, took its first win on British soil in 1987, courtesy of Frank Sytner. The experienced racer and motor trader took the four-pot screamer to victory at Donington Park in August 1987, a week before its predecessor, the venerable 635, racked up its final win. Numerous class victories followed in the multi-class BTCC over the next three years – Ford’s Sierra RS500 did all the outright race winning – and Sytner took the drivers’ title in 1988.

When the BTCC became a one-class series in 1991, the M3 pounced, taking eight wins, shared by Will Hoy, Steve Soper, Tim Sugden and Tim Harvey, while Hoy lifted the title in his Vic Lee-run machine M3.

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. 

125i – 29 wins, 2013-to date

And that new challenger came in 2013, in the shape of the 1-series. And better still Colin Turkington was back to pedal it. Armed with the 125i M-Sport, he delivered five wins for West Surrey Racing – a precursor to another title-winning performance in 2014, helped by another eight wins. BMW ended the year with a ninth win, courtesy of Rob Collard, and walked off with the Teams’ Championship.

Despite Turkington jumping to the BMR Volkswagen team for 2015, BMW’s winning continued, with Rob Collard, Andy Priaulx and Sam Tordoff securing seven wins between them. Dick Bennetts’ magic bullet Turkington was still absent in 2016, although it mattered less this time as youngster Tordoff had a superb year to come within two points of the drivers’ title.

Bringing BMW’s BTCC story right up to date, the West Surrey Racing team now comprises 2013 champion Andrew Jordan, a returning Turkington and long-time WSR man Collard.

Jordan won on his rear-wheel-drive debut at Brands Hatch to make it 97 wins, Turkington upped the score to 98 in the final race at Donington and Collard pushed it to a tantalising 99 in the second race at Thruxton.

Everything rested on Turkington converting his race-three pole position in Thruxton’s third encounter. Sure enough, BMW’s most successful BTCC pedaller got the job done, crossing the line to make sure of the magic 100. It couldn’t have been done more appropriately.

Photographs courtesy of LAT Images

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