Wednesday, 11 June 2014

HSCC Super-Touring Car Championship Brings Back The Nineties

The British Touring Car Championship has long been the ultimate tin-top racing series, with exciting drivers in modified production cars going balls-out lap after lap to muscle their way to the top and win the UK's premier racing series and what's arguably the best touring car series in the world (DTM with their silhouette racers don't really count). The series peaked financially during the 1990s, and the "Super Touring" formula. While at first replacing fire-spitting Sierra Cosworths with 2.0-litre repmobiles wasn't a popular choice at first, the formula attracted as many as 13 manufacturers* all entering serious factory-backed teams with highly-paid drivers and increasingly aerodynamic and bespoke cars, such as the Prodrive Ford Mondeo with its decidedly non-production-spec 2.0 V6 engine. Season budgets even went into eight figures by the late 1990s, and the racing was intense, fierce and extremely exciting and entertaining to watch.

Once costs had soared out of control and manufacturers had started pulling out, the rules were changed in 2001 and before too long you could count the number of factory teams on one hand. Fast forward to 2014 and there are just two, Honda and MG. But, to be fair, independent teams that buy production cars and have them modified to the current "NGTC" specifications by specialist engineering companies bring the number of brands represented up to 11, so in a way it's returning to the '90s in style, with a varied 30-car grid and some exciting wheel-to-wheel racing, but on a significantly lower budget and without much manufacturer involvement.

Recently, however, the Historic Sports Car Club has gone to great lengths to put together the Super Touring Car Championship, which brings cars from "Pre-1980" to 2000 back to the track in the hands of their new owners. This isn't an easy series to enter even if you do track down a retired BTCC car (or other European touring car built to similar regulations) as particularly the later cars run quite a lot of bespoke parts that aren't made any more, with minimal supplies still around, but if you can keep it out of trouble then you can experience touring cars at their finest. The video above shows the second race of the Oulton Park round this past weekend, where it was a support race for the real BTCC. The racing wasn't quite as hectic as it was "in period," but it's close with enough overtaking to capture some of the magic of the Super Touring era. Front-wheel-drive haters will also notice that the only car doing any understeering is a rear-wheel-drive car, a 1980s Mk.II Escort. So there.

But if seeing E30 M3s, Nissan Primeras, a V6-powered Mazda 323F that never got to race in period and 1989 & '95 champion John Cleland - now 61 years old - in his actual 1998 Vauxhall Vectra at the sharp end of the grid somehow isn't watchable enough, then here's the most exciting race of all time to make up for it:

*The 13 manufacturers who entered the BTCC in the 1990s were:

Alfa Romeo

1 comment:

  1. It sure was an interesting race, I thought it was actually more interesting than the regular BTCC races that weekend. Would love to see more classic BTCC on the TV.