Win on Sunday, sell on Monday. That quote has been a part of motorsport culture since pretty much day one, and has seen many manufacturers get very hands-on in the race scene. But does it still stack up today?
This weekend saw the first victory in the British Touring Car Championship for the Infiniti Q50, but if you tried searching for one in an Infiniti showroom on Monday morning, you’d have been looking for quite a while, not only for the car, but for the showroon, given the brand no longer exists in Western Europe.
If you delve a little deeper, less than half of the current BTCC grid is currently available in showrooms across the country – albeit some only through virtue of a facelift. But in the grand scheme of things, does this really matter? Should the BTCC grid be a representation of the current road car market, or is it simply good enough to put on an exciting spectacle for the British motorsport faithful?
Driving cars not available to the fan at the track isn’t anything new. Tim Harvey’s first BTCC win came in 1987 behind the wheel of a Rover SD1 Vitesse, a model that’s production ended one year earlier. This was pushed even further in the 1960s, when Dan Gurney brought over a Chevrolet Impala to compete at Silverstone – which was likely the first time the vast majority of trackside punters had ever seen the big American brute.
Homologation regulations have changed somewhat over the years. When the British Saloon Car Championship (as it was back then) adopted Group 2 regulations in 1969, only 1,000 cars were required to have been produced over a 12-month period. This figure was upped to 2,500 in the 1980s with the adoption of Group A regulations and carried through to the early Super Touring years, before a huge jump to 25,000 units for the start of the 1995 season.
The 1995 jump saw the end of the homologation special – you still could walk into an Alfa Romeo showroom in 1994 and ask for the BTCC car you saw race that weekend, it’d just be very difficult to get your hands on (and it wouldn’t quite look the same because the rear wing was a kit in the boot…).
It was also very easy in the late ‘80s through to the late ‘90s to have these totally up-to-date road cars doing battle across the country thanks to the huge number of works teams that made up the BTCC at the time, and with these works teams came massive manufacturer budgets.
During a time of rising costs and manufacturer pride, you had to have a new car every year. If you didn’t you were outpaced and left wanting, and you certainly wouldn’t want to be beaten by something as vanilla as a Volvo or there went your image. And so the spending spree began, costs skyrocketed and the Super Touring scene completed its self-destruction at the turn of the century.
Today a works team is nothing more than a sponsorship deal, with Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Corolla programme being a prime example - the only real involvement from Gazoo Racing seems to be a sticker on the front quarter panel.
The 2,500 minimum returned with the S2000 regs in the early 2000s, continuing through to the current NGTC period, but there is nothing to say a car that was homologated when the regs were first implemented cannot compete now. Which is how you have a grid like today, where a lot of cars are hand-me-downs from previous seasons. It was only when Speedworks Motorsport brought the all-new Corolla to the party in 2019 that the last of the original 2011 shapes, the Avensis, bid the series farewell.
The simple fact of the matter is, though, none of this really matters. There will always be a small portion of fans who would love the series to be full of brand new models, and this writer does on occasion fall into that category, but if it was, there would be a much smaller grid than there is today. The nature of the current regulations allows the grids to get to the size they are, and keep to an incredibly competitive formula at that.
Qualifying for last weekend’s opening round at Donington saw the top 16 cars all separated by less than a second, and it wasn’t just new cars at the sharp end. The top ten was a fairly even split between the new and the not-so, even two entirely different shapes of the same model with Jake Hill’s Honda Civic FK2 out-qualifying Josh Cook and Matt Neal in the more modern FK8 edition.
Once the lights go out, aside from the odd commentary note from Tim Harvey or David Addison, the age of the car matters very little. And while it may seem quite harsh to generalise, there’s probably a large portion of the trackside fans who wouldn’t be able to tell you which cars on the grid were available in showrooms and which weren’t.
What makes the BTCC so great in its current guise is a perfect hybrid of on-track action and approachability of the drivers to the fans. Where the cars come from isn’t particularly high on the agenda. What you have is 30 cars battling door-to-door over three frenetic encounters and, while those cars may look very different on the outside, under the shells there are a lot of standard parts. It’s not fair to call it a silhouette series, or a stock car series like NASCAR, but it’s not far off.
The cars are much more recognisable than some other spec-series counterparts (NASCAR and DTM as prime examples), so you could pass almost every shape on the grid as you trundle down the motorway on the way home from a race weekend. And that, really, is all you need. The vast majority of the grid are cars of the normal people. You could never see yourself driving a Mercedes-AMG F1 W11 EQ Performance, and many would struggle to see themselves in a Porsche 911 Carrera, but you look up and down the BTCC grid and you’d probably find most of them in the nearest Tesco car park.
No, you can’t walk in to a dealership on Monday and buy much of last week’s BTCC front runners, but that doesn’t mean you can’t own one. You just have to do a bit of scrolling through AutoTrader first.