Wednesday, 14 August 2013

BTCC 20 Years Ago: When BMW rules the Roost...The 1993 BTCC Season.

Rewind the clock on the 2013 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship and you will find yourself watching the 1993 Autotrader RAC British Touring Car Championship...

And how different things were back then...

So I felt it was only natural to write a blogpost about the 1993 season of the BTCC on its 20th Anniversary.

By the way, you may want to go and put the kettle on now...This one may take a while to read....

The 1993 season was the championships 4th year of the FIA Class 2 regulations where all cars entered had 2 litre Normally Aspirated engines and were 4 door Saloon Production based versions of the road cars available to Joe Public.

Now, with the 1992 season propelling the BTCC into the World Motor sport spotlight and giving it the same legendary status as Formula 1, 1993 marked the beginning of Car Manufacturers and Works Touring Car Teams wanting to take part in the series.

With BMW GB withdrawing from the series, Prodrive concentrating on its WRC Subaru programme and Vic Lee Motor sport being liquidated, it looked like there would be no BMW presence in the series. However with rules disagreements in the DTM upsetting BMW, they sent their crack Schnitzer Team to the UK with Joachim Winkelhock and Steve Soper on driving duties.

Of the rest of the BTCC regulars, Vauxhall fielded John Cleland & Jeff Allam, Toyota fielded Will Hoy & ex F1 driver Julian Bailey. Nissan had Keith O'dor, Tiff Needell & Touring Car legend Win Percy whilst Peugeot had Robb Gravett, Eugene O'Brien & Ian Flux. Mazda ran Patrick Watts in the new Xedos 6.

Ford would return mid-season with the new Mondeo V6 piloted by Andy Rouse and New Zealander Paul Radisich. The cars would appear at Pembrey in Wales for the 2nd half of the season. Renault would join the series with the 19 model and its driver lineup would be 1992 Champion Tim Harvey & Swiss driver Alain Menu.

A cracking line up...

For the Privateers that were taking part in the series, TOCA decided to setup the TOCA Cup for Privateers, offering a prize to the best Privateer drivers taking part. Toyota fielded a junior team for James Kaye and Bobby Verdon-Roe whilst the Ecurie Ecosse team fielded Vauxhall's for David Leslie and Harry Nuttall. Team Dynamics ran BMW's for Matt Neal, Alex Portman and Ray Bellm. Ian Khan would run a Vauxhall Cavalier as would Chris Goodwin later during the season. Ian Cantwell would run the 1992 Mazda 323F whilst Ian Ashley would run another Vauxhall Cavalier and David Pinkney would race a BMW 318is Coupe.

Now something else that is different to the current layout of the BTCC is the race format. In 1992, the series introduced its double header race format where there were 2 races on the Sunday. This was something that was to be expanded on in 1993, but not every race weekend was a double header, only Brands Hatch Indy, Knockhill and Donington Park GP Circuit would have this setup. The final results of race one would be used as the starting grid for race two in the double header meetings with only 10 minutes between races. Otherwise there was one race per meeting.

What I will also make clear now is that in 1993 the top ten drivers scored points in the BTCC races, however to keep things simple and hopefully a bit more interesting, I will only say of the top five unless any of the championship contenders fell outside the top five for any reason.

It was clear from the first meeting of the season at Silverstone that the Schnitzer BMW drivers were going to be fighting for the title this year. Soper led Winkelhock to a crushing 1-2 finish, Soper overtaking his team mate during the race. Cleland, Hoy and Allam rounded out the top five for this race.

However something strange happened at the next BTCC round which was the support race for the 1993 European Grand Prix...

In fact, something amazing happened on that day...and it wasn't just Senna's first lap during the Grand Prix itself...

With the conditions being appalling for the BTCC race, this worked in the favour of the Renault Drivers of Harvey and Menu. With both Renault 19's on Michelin Wet tyres, this proved to be decisive as the weather got worse during the race. Harvey and Menu took a 1-2 finish for Renault in only its 2nd meeting, however this was down to the Michelin advantage and the French manufacturer would return to fighting for the bottom half of the top ten positions as the season moved on. Soper managed to drag his BMW home in 3rd followed by Cleland in the Vauxhall and Keith O'Dor in the Nissan Primera took 5th.

Round 3 took place at Snetterton with more bizarre actions taking place. Patrick Watts put the Mazda Xedos 6 on pole position with Winkelhock joining him on the front row. However for the first start, whilst Watts, Winkelhock, Soper, Leslie, Cleland and Bailey made the start from the first 3 rows, but carnage ensued afterwards with cars hitting each other on the narrow start/finish straight. On the run to the second corner, Watts slid in front of Soper and went off into a field, ending his day. So the cars were reset for a second start but with Allam, O'dor, Neal, Bellm and Watts missing. Winkelhock led from the start, however later in the race he missed a gear and this allowed Soper to come through to take the lead. Bailey, Leslie and Hoy fought behind Soper for 2nd with the end result being Soper taking his 2nd win of the year from Bailey, Leslie, Hoy and Winkelhock.

Round 4 took place at Donington Park on the National circuit and it was also the venue of Winkelhock's 1st BTCC Pole. Allam would start alongside him in the Vauxhall and these two driver would finish in the same positions as they started in. Behind them would be Soper who chased down Allam during the race but wouldn't pass him, Watts in 4th and Bailey in 5th.

Oulton Park was the venue for round 5 of the season and Cleland took pole in the Vauxhall for the first time of the season. Winkelhock was alongside him on the front row. Before the race started, 1990 Champion Robb Gravett pulled off his Peugeot 405 with a broken driveshaft and Bailey retired with a misfiring engine. At the start Winkelhock led from Soper, Cleland, Hoy and Allam.

Now Cleland seemed to have some sort of good luck charm on raceday. Hoy went off on the first lap trying to pass the Scotsman. Cleland later passed Soper for 2nd and the BMW Driver would retire with a steering rack failure later on whilst trying to take the position back at Cascades. Winkelhock would take his 2nd win in a row from Cleland, Allam, O'dor in the Nissan and Eugene O'Brien in the 2nd Peugeot. The Renaults had a bad day with Harvey suffering Gearbox problems and Menu going of at the hairpin. With Winkelhock taking the win, he would also take the championship lead from Soper.

Rounds 6 and 7 were held on the Brands Hatch Indy Circuit with the seasons first Double Header meeting. David Leslie took his first Pole Position of the year from Hoy and the fight for the lead would be between Hoy, Leslie and Winkelhock. Hoy went off at Clearways losing places but rejoining whilst Winklelhock later bullied Leslie off the track and went on to win from O'dor, Hoy, Soper and touring car legend Win Percy in the 2nd Nissan. Clelnad went off at Druids and this would leave him starting 18th in race 2. For Race 2 Winkelhock was on Pole from O'dor, but it was a BMW 1-2 from the green light. However Winkelhock would go off at Clearways as well, leaving Soper to take the lead and fend off Hoy and O'dor for the rest of the race. O'dor passed Hoy for 2nd and Hoy went off again at Clearways to finish 14th. The top five would finish Soper from O'dor, Allam, Percy and Cleland taking 5th from starting 18th.

What was obvious was that Nissan, Toyota and Vauxhall were proving to be the closest competition to the Schnitzer BMW's but that would change as the championship moved to Round 8, taking place at the Welsh circuit of Pembrey. It was here that Andy Rouse and Ford made their return to the BTCC with the new Mondeo V6. Rouse also brought with him team-mate Paul Radisich from New Zealand. Whilst both Mondeo's would have a quiet debut with Rouse retiring and Radisich finishing 8th, it was situation normal at the front with Leslie taking his 2nd Pole Position of the year but with Winkelhock driving through to take the win from Hoy, Soper, Bailey and O'dor.

This led to the next round of the BTCC which was Round 9 at Silverstone for the BTCC Support race of the British Grand Prix. Yes, up until 2004 the BTCC had a race on the support bill of the Grand Prix, something else that is different 20 years on and no longer takes place.

O'dor took Pole Position in the Nissan with Hoy again on the front row. At the start Hoy took the lead from O'dor, Bailey, a fast starting Soper, Radisich in the Mondeo, Leslie and Watts in pusuit. Several laps later and Bailey would pass O'dor for 2nd. He would then attack Hoy for the lead at the complex and I mean literally attack Hoy as he speared into the side of his team-mate and rolled him over with both Toyota's out on the spot. O'dor continued on into the lead with Soper, Radisich and Winkelhock following, the German driver having started 11th on the grid. Win Percy would make good progress through the field to make sure that Nissan scored a 1-2 finsih at the end. Soper would hit the barrier at Abbey, retiring out on the spot. This left the top five finishing order as O'dor, Percy, Radisich, Winkelhock and Leslie 5th.

Rounds 10 and 11 took place at the Scottish Knockhill circuit with the BTCC returning to take its 2nd visit to the track after it was introduced in 1992. This was also the 2nd weekend of the double header races. For race one Ex Grand Prix Driver Julian Bailey took his first BTCC Pole position from the Mazda of Patrick Watts. However race one demanded two starts. TOCA Privateer Ian Khan hit Win Percy just before the John R. Weir chicane, stranding the Nissan on the spot. The 2nd race start saw Watts lead but not before Bailey passed him and then Cleland passing Bailey in a race long tight battle for the lead. Cleland would go on to win from Bailey, Winkelhock, Watts and Radisich, the young New Zealander making good strides in the new Mondeo.

Soper was not a happy man after an incident with Radisich in race one left him down the order and out of the points in 12th. Race 2 saw Cleland on Pole, but Bailey again would fight with him for the lead and the Toyota man took his first win of the season and what would turn out to be Toyota's only win of the 1993 season. Cleland came 2nd from Hoys, Watts and Radisich. Winkelhock never made the start of race two due to a broken clutch and Soper only managed to finish 8th, the Englishman now on a mission to try and catch his Germnan team mate in the overall title chase.

Round 12 took place at Oulton Park, but this second visit was also the secne of the Oulton Park Gold Cup meeting with the winner's name being added to a very prestigious list. As before in the BTCC's last visit to Cheshire, BMW were to the front again with Winkelhock on pole from Cleland in the Vauxhall. Winkelhock would go into a lead that he would never lose from Soper who passed Cleland at the first turn. However it was the Renault 19 of Alain Menu that proved to be the talking point of the race. Renault had been improving the car all year and it finally showed at Oulton with Menu starting 8th and making his way to finish 4th. Winkelhock would win the race from Soper, giving Schnitzer BMW another 1-2 finish from Cleland, Menu and Bailey, who took another top five finish in the Toyota.

Round 13 was back at Brands Hatch for the series 2nd visit to the Indy circuit with David Lelsie again putting the Ecurie Ecosse Vauxhall Cavalier on Pole Position. He would do this 4 times during the 1993 season and often would be faster than the works Vauxhalls of John Cleland and Jeff Allam. Now if you take Ecurie Ecosse and exchnage for the name the team is better known by, RML, this would make things clear and it would be RML who would go on to run the works Vauxhall team in 1995 to give Cleland his 2nd BTCC Title that year.

Leslie however would have another run in with Winkelhock at Druids hairpin and would only go on to finish 13th, whilst Winkelhock would finish 20th. Radisich duly took the lead and would be pursued all through the race by Gravett in the Peugeot 405 and Soper. The BMW man would make a last lasp lunge for 2nd however the stewards would reverse the positions, stating that Soper's move was too aggreasive into Clearways. Radisich would take his first BTCC in but also the 200th win for Ford in Touring Car Racing, followed home by Gravett, Soper, Hoy in 4th and O'dor in 5th, both showing good form at Brands Hatch again.

Round 14 took place at Thruxton and was the scene for Leslie's 4th Pole Position of the year. Radisich joined the Scotsman on the front row, again showing that the Mondeo was no slouch for straightline speed. Winkelhock had a torrid time at Thruxton on his first visit to the Circuit and would start 14th whilst Soper would start 4th. Radisich led off the line but by the complex, Leslie was back ahead of both the Ford Mondeo Men. The Peugeots showed good speed again with Gravett and O'Brien chasing Soper for most of the race for 4th position. They would both pass the BMW to drop Soper to 6th at the Finish. Leslie stayed in front to take the win from the Ford's of Radisich and Rouse with Gravett 4th and O'Brien taking 5th. Winkelhock would finish 14th and out of the points, allowing Soper to gain on him in the Title chase.

The final double header weekend of the BTCC would take place on the Donington Park Grand Prix Circuit but in very damp conditions. Rounds 15 and 16 would present Winkelhock with a chance to win the title if he outscored Soper majorly, but Schnitzer had made it clear that their drivers were to fight to the finish with no team orders in play. Pole Position went to Radisich. He would hold the lead through the first few turns as the conditions got wetter and wetter. Radisich led from Menu, Leslie, Cleland and Rouse. Soper would make contact with Hoy and end up pitting with a puncture, whilst the Renaults showed thier wet weather pace yet again. Menu and Harvey would make thier way through the field to take a 2-3 finish for the French Manufacturer with Leslie 4th and Winkelhock 5th. Cleland would retire from the race as would Soper.

Race two showed more hectic action with Menu and Radisich contesting the lead of the race. However several laps in, after a lurid moment for Radisich coming out of the Old Hairpin, Menu made his move and would take the lead he would never lose. Radisich gave chase however apart from a last lap lunge at the Swiss driver, we wouldnt get past. Menu would go on to take Renault's first BTCC win of the season and the first of many to come. Rounding out the top five were Winkelhock, Rouse and Soper with the BMW men making strides back through the field on the drying track to score good points and assure BMW of the BTCC Manufacturers Title for 1993.

Radisich would admit later that he felt his lunge on Menu at the Melbourne Loop was unfair and let Menu re-take the lead...

Well, you wouldn't see that happening in todays BTCC now, would you?

Come on...Be honest...

Silverstone was the venue for Round 17 of the 1993 BTCC season and also the scene of the Final round of the year, taking place on the National Circuit.

Whats that??? "Only 17 rounds!!!" I hear you say? Well it does go to show how much things have changed in 20 years. Nowadays you have 3 BTCC races in one day...

The situation for the title was simple. Soper needed to outscore Winkelhock and also needed Winkelhock top score badly or not at all. It was a lot to ask for and an almost impossible task, but Soper went all out for the best pionts possible on race day. Pole Position was taken by Radisich, again showing that the Mondeo was good on power circuits, with Will Hoy beside him on the front row. the race would need two starts with the first one being red flagged after a big accident taking place just before the complex involving Gravets Peugeot. After the damage he suffered both of his front wheels were pointing in opposite directions leaving him stranded on the track.

At the re-start, Hoy led off the line from Radisich only for the Ford Driver to re-pass the Toyota driver. Behind them were Rouse, Leslie, Soper in 5th and Bailey in 6th. Winkelhock had made a good getaway and was in 9th poistion but that was all he needed to win the title. Alas the BMW's were no match for the Mondeo's and Toyota's during the race. Leslie, Rouse and Hoy would dispute 2nd place as Radisich disappeared off into the lead and the distance. Radisich would go on to take the win from Rouse, giving Ford its only 1-2 finish of the season from Hoy, Leslie and Soper.

But it wasn't enough. Winkelhock finished in 8th position and this was enough to secure him the 1993 BTCC Title. Soper would finish second behind him in the title race, 13 points adrift by the end of the season. Due to his race wins at Silverstone, Donington and Brands Hatch, Radisich took 3rd place in the drivers Title, beating Vauxhall driver John Cleland into 4th. By Clelansd's standards it was a poor season and he as hoping for better things in 1994. Julian Bailey finished 5th in the Drivers Title, capping off a good season that involved a win at Knockhill in his first season of Touring Car racing. O'dor, Hoy, Leslie, Allam and Menu would complete the top ten over final drivers points table.

Behind the Overall drivers title was the TOCA Cup for Privateers and this was a closely fought affair between Matt Neal, Ian Khan, Ian Ashley and Alex Portman through the season. Others drivers would make appearances too in the form of Chris Goodwin driving a Cavalier and Ray Bellm driving a 3rd Team Dynamics Entry. Dave Pinkney would take part in a BMW 318is also. Neal would win the Title at the Silverstone Finale by 2 points from Khan although he would finsh behind the Vauxhall Cavalier driver in the race. Neal won the title driving the 1992 BTCC winning BMW 318is Coupe that was driven by Tim Harvey, whilst Khan and Ahskley were using the 1992 Ex-Works Cavaliers. Portman took 4th on the TOCA Cup in the 2nd Team Dynamics BMW. But as always the racing was as close and exciting for the Privateers as it was for the works drivers.

After the season's end, the TOCA Shoot Out took place at Donington Park. This was an idea that began in 1992 where BTCC drivers and guests were invited to take part in this one off race that raised money for charity. The Idea was simple. The drivers went through qualifying and after wards the grid would be reversed for the race with the fastest man starting at the back and the slowest driver starting on Pole Position. Then as the race went on the last placed driver on each lap would be black flagged until there were only 5 laps left, leaving a dash for the line and the victory. David Leslie won in his Ecurie Ecosse Vauxhall Cavalier from Paul Radisich in the Ford Mondeo and Steve Soper in the BMW 318i whilst Guest drivers who took part were Nigel Mansell, Dererk Warwick, Chris Rea and Klaus Zwaart to name a few. The race is still remembered for the massive accident that Mansell had under the bridge just after the Old Hairpin...

Another event that took part during the end of the 1993 Touring Car season was the first edition of the FIA Touring Car Challenge which took place at Monza. Again, it was a simple idea. The FIA invited all the countries that ran Class 2 FIA Touring Car regulations to take part in two races to see who was the best drivers but also award hounours for the country with the most points scored in both races. Over 40 of the worlds best Touring Car drivers descended on the Italian Autodrome and the two races were spectacles to behold with such great Touring Car talents and so many manufacturers fighting it out for points, positions and wins. Paul Radisich took both race wins in the Mondeo to be crowned FIA World Drivers Champion whilst Italy won the Nations Cup, scoring more points than Germany. It was an event that would take place agin in 1994 in the UK at Donington Park and again in 1995 at Paul Ricard in France.

So the 1993 Autotrader RAC British Touring Car Championship showcased all the good points about what makes the BTCC so great. There was close exciting racing, with plenty of wheel to wheel stuff, plenty of panel bashing, mirrors flying off and bumpers being knocked loose. With highly talented drivers fighting it out for the title and race wins, Work Manufacturers sending their best teams to take part in what was fast becoming recognised as the "Best Touring Car Championship" in the world at that time.

It makes me proud to say that I am a fan of Touring Car Racing and of the BTCC.

Besides, it makes that other series look boring at times... what's it's name?

Oh yes. Formula One...

Anyway, whilst it's taken me a while to research this and get this one written up, we've had the awesome BTCC Meeting take place at Snetterton and we've also had the WTCC meeting take place in Argentina. I'd better get a move on!

Take care and Enjoy the good weather.



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