Are you into Touring Cars? If you answered yes, chances are you hotfooted it to your local newsagents when you heard about last week’s edition of Autosport. It’s not something I’ve bothered with before but, when I found they were producing an issue dedicated to Super Touring, my eyes lit up.
If you don’t know what Super Touring is, allow to explain: it was a class of Touring Car introduced in 1991, designed to give Touring Cars a new injection of life. A British export we can be proud of, Super Touring conquered the international motor sport landscape, even spreading as far as Asia.
It was the era that brought us the now infamous Soper/Cleland clash in 1992 and the first and only estate-based Touring Car, in the shape of the Volvo 850. Super Touring is viewed by many as being the Golden Age of Touring Cars, and I’m inclined to agree with them. The combination of huge works team participation, screaming naturally aspirated engines and some of the greatest names in touring car racing coming together made for some truly exciting racing.
It was when the BTCC had the biggest TV audiences and the drivers were household names. Quite simply, Super Touring was the Rock ‘n’ Roll days for Touring Cars. Like all rock groups, though, it came to it’s eventual end. Super Touring in the UK had it’s farewell gig at Silverstone in 2000. Maybe, though, it was for the best.
Super Touring was expensive. Rob Austin, a privateer competing in the BTCC said: ‘Taking in to account inflation, I reckon if we had one year’s worth of a works budget from the late ’90s we could go racing for over 50 years…’
That was a big factor in why in why Super Touring had to die – the astronomical cost of competing in it. In a flood-lit finale, the last ever Super Touring era BTCC race was held at Silverstone, at night – ironically in the middle of a fuel crisis. From then on, the BTCC was never quite the same again. Don’t get me wrong, watching the BTCC is a great way to while away an otherwise slow, boring Sunday. Doughty Touring Car stalwarts and and ex-Super Touring men Matt Neal and Jason Plato provide some old school fun but, other than that, it’s lost so much of it’s excitement.
It’s just as fast, the cars are just as powerful and the talent is just as raw, but there’s that magic something which made Super Touring era BTCC so great, missing. You could even say that the BTCC itself has become a bit obscure these days – only enthusiasst seem to know about the series, now it has less exposure.
During the 1990s most manufacturers that took part in it would have pictures of their repmobiles, liveried up, going hell-for-leather on a racetrack displayed on their showroom walls. They’d use their Touring Car antics in magazine adverts, milking their involvement in Super Touring for all it was worth. Now no manufacturers are in it, bar Honda and MG Motor UK, the BTCC has very little media presence away from the TV coverage it gets. Although Tesco does some rather nice Jason Plato petrol station sandwiches.
Modern touring cars are great to watch, and watch them I do. There’s rear wheel drive BMWs, three-box saloons and hatchbacks going side by side. It generates nice, close racing eliciting grass cutting, bumper banging and paint trading. Live wires like Rob Austin give the sport some human interest and pit walkabout laughs, but it’s still not thrilling.
Maybe it’s because it feels too regulation-bound and restricted? The man holding the BTCC reigns since 1990, Series Director, Alan Gow has insisted that British Touring Cars will never adopt technology seen in F1, such as KERS-which is some comfort. But the racing doesn’t feel quite as gritty and ‘gloves off’ as it did in the 1990s. It could be as simple as the lack of yowling Ford V6s and howling Volvo five-cylinders, replaced by the generic rasp of today’s NGTC machines.
After putting down that copy of Autosport, I couldn’t help but feel I had read a funeral oration…