Thursday, 6 June 2013

The FIA Touring Car Challenge... A marvel we may never see again...

Before the European Touring Car Cup and its successor the World Touring Car Championship returned in 2005, in the early 1990's the FIA decided to bring together the best of the Touring Car World in a sort of "World Cup" meeting...

Better put the kettle on, this one is a biggie...

After the demise of the European Touring Car Cup in 1988, Domestic Touring Car Championships continued on with the Group A/Multi Class rules until the early 1990's. The BTCC followed its own route with a single class structure with only 2 litre normally aspirated production cars allowed. The DTM followed a single car structure with 2.5 litre normally aspirated production cars with electronic aids from 1993 onwards.

The FIA decided to clarify the two different sets of regulations, calling the DTM set "FIA Class 1" and the more universally adopted BTCC regulations "FIA Class 2." With the majority of the different Touring Car Series in Europe and other parts of the world taking the Class 2 route, pretty soon the best Touring Car drivers in the world were racing in equal machinery.

And so it came to pass that the best drivers and manufacturers met at Monza in October 1993 and 2 races were held. There was a points system for individual drivers and also a Nations Cup.

Names such as Radisich, Cleland, Winkelhock, Larini, Giovanardi, Longhurst, Pirro, Biela, Stuck, Rouse, Soper and many others in the 45 car field drove in such iconic Touring Car Machinery provided by Ford, BMW, Vauxhall, Alfa Romeo, Audi, Peugeot, Mazda, Toyota and Nissan.

It became obvious that the end of season form shown in the BTCC by Ford from their drivers Andy Rouse and Paul Radisich that they would be the ones to watch. Radisich proved this theory correct by putting his Ford Mondeo on Pole Position for both races. However it would be the massed ranks of Peugeot, Alfa Romeo and BMW who would provide the Kiwi driver with the fiercest competition on both races.

But that didn't stop him running away into the distance and taking two wins from two Pole Positions. In race one, Larini got the better start and led the field around in the greasy, slippery conditions. As the field poured through the Lesmo's Rouse, Soper and Aiello would make contact, putting Rouse and Soper out on the spot. Radisich would catch Larini and pass him, taking french driver Alain Cudini in the Opel Vectra (or Vauxhall Cavalier to the rest of us) with him. Radisich won from Cudini and Larini with John Cleland taking 4th in his Cavalier and ex Grand Prix driver Alessandro Nannini 5th in a second Alfa Romeo 155.

In Race Two, Radisich would lead the field away in a better start to a lead he wouldn't lose. Larini would valiantly try to stay with the Ford Mondeo but had to settle for 2nd place again. However the top five for Race 2 would have a different look with Phillippe Gache in the Alfa Romeo in 3rd, Alex Burgstaller in the BMW 318i in 4th and Eric Van de Poele in the Nissan Primera in 5th. Soper would fail to finish again whilst Rouse fought his way up to 19th from the back. Cleland would spin in the greasy conditions and finish in 17th place.

Radisich won the Drivers Title whilst Italy would win the Nations Cup. The event took place again in 1994 at Donington Park where the worlds best would fight it out on the Grand Prix Circuit over just one race this time. At the first attempted standing start Cleland led away from 4th on the grid in his Vauxhall Cavalier followed by Steve Soper in his BMW and Radisich in the Mondeo. However the race was red flagged when Shaun Van De Linde, Phillippe Gache, Keith O'dor, Jan Lammers and David Leslie were all involved in a crash and later in the lap Alain Menu in the Renault Laguna would retire after hitting Frank Biela's Audi.

Radisich led from the restart with Soper, Cleland and Tarquini in pursuit, however Tarquini would outbrake himself at Goddards leading to Cleland and Pirro retiring from contact behind the italian. At one stage the three german drivers Biela, Ravaglia and Winkelhock would fight for 3rd as Soper pursued Radisich, however Ravaglia would fall back into the clutches of Tarquini and Muller in the BMW whilst Winkelhock would take 3rd from Audi driver Biela after contact at the Melbourne hairpin.

Radisich would win the race with Soper, Winkelhock, Tarquini and Han Joachim-Stuck in the top five. This second win would confirm Radisich as the first double world touring car champion whilst Germany won the Nations Cup thanks to Winkelhock, Stuck and Markus Oestrich.

In 1995 the event took place in France at Paul Ricard. The new Audi A4 Quattro's dominated both races and Frank Biela would be Champion as the Audi's and rear wheel drive BMW's dominated the races. In Race One Biela would win from Soper and Yvan Muller whilst in Race Two Biela's team mate Pirro won from Steve Soper and Biela. Audi would win the first Manufacturers title from BMW and Honda.

There was an attempt to run the race at the Austrian A1-Ring but only 10 entries were made leading to the event being cancelled.

Now the sad thing is that such an event may never take place for quite sometime due the fact that the major touring car series all run to different regulations and have done for the past few seasons. But the idea of seeing the worlds best racing in equal machinery is something rare and wonderful and something I hope will happen again in my lifetime.

I suppose that S2000 regulation cars would be the most popular set of cars to try and resurrect the Touring Car Challenge with but you would have 2 classes of car with S2000 1.6 litre turbo's racing with S2000 2.0 litre non turbo cars. Its an idea but with a fully fledged World Championship in operation and a European Cup in operation, this makes logistics and timing difficult. Add to the fact that budgets are tight in touring car racing and getting tighter each day and the revival idea becomes nigh on impossible which is a shame.

Anyway, its another memory I wanted to share with you and you've earned that cup of tea...

Now I've some posts to write about the tintop action from the weekend with the WTCC's first visit to Russia and the BTCC's action from Oulton Park...

See you soon!


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