The FIA Touring Car Challenge… A sight we might see again…

This is a post I originally wrote in 2013, but with the introduction of the TCR International Series and the FIA adopting the BTCC’s NGTC regs for other national series, this post now has a different ending…

(Note… I’ve now updated it for the 2017 TCR Trophy as this is the closest chane we have of seeing something similar to the original FIA Touring Car Challenge).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Following a break in 1996, the SuperTouring fraternity had another  two chances in 1997 and 1998 with the 2 litre version of the Bathurst 1000kms taking place. Both editions of the race featured Iconic names such as Radisich, Cleland, Brock, Warwick, Morris, Longhurst, Biela, Richards, Rydell, Neal, Plato, Menu, Harvey, Jones, McConville & many more, eith teams often combining the Australian and European tintop talents in both cars.

The 1997 AMP Bathurst 1000 was the 38th running of the annual Bathurst 1000 touring race. It was also the first Bathurst 1000 race held after the controversial split between race organisers, the Australian Racing Drivers Club, and V8 Supercar.

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The 1997 race featured teams from Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. It was won by brothers Geoff and David Brabham, driving a BMW 320i for BMW Motorsport Australia. The car of teammates Paul Morris and Craig Baird had initially been declared the winner of the race but were later disqualified as Baird had breached the race regulation which limited any one driver to a maximum of three hours continuous driving. A late race error saw the team leave Baird in the car at the final pit stop instead of putting Morris in the car for the run to the chequered flag.

This mistake cost the team a 1-2 finish for BMW. The Orix Audi Australia 4WD A4’s of Brad Jones/Frank Biela & Cameron McConville/Jean-Francois Hemroulle completed the podium with the two Volvo 850’s of Jim Richards/Rickard Rydell and Cameron Mclean/Jan Nilsson completed the top five.

However the 1998 race was a more memorable affair. Practice, Qualifying and the race lead for the entire 161 laps was fought out between the Volvo Racing Team of Jim Richards & Rickard Rydell in a Volvo S40 and Matt Neal & Steven Richards in a Nissan Primera run by Team Dynamics with support from Nissan Motorsport.

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Rydell put the S40 on pole in a lap that is regarded by the Swede Tintop legend as his best ever pole lap for his favourite race. In the end it was the Volvo pairing that won by over two seconds from the Nissan pair. Joining them on the podium were the Audi Sport Australia pairing of Brad Jones & Cameron McConville, this time in a FWD Audi A4. The top five were completed by Cameron McLean/Tony Scott in a privateer BMW 320i and BTCC pairing John Cleland & Derek Warwick in the Team Vectra Vauxhall Vectra.

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 the original post ended there, but at the time of writing the WTCC was moving to new TC1 cars, there was the creation of TCR & the recent announcements of the various national TCR series to be in place for 2015 or 2016 and the FIA’s adoption of the BTCC NGTC regulations to be introduced in other national tintop series.

My original thought was that its just possible that we could yet see a Touring Car Challenge re-appear one day… Plus, I love talking about these SuperTourer Memories.

Well fast forward to 2017 and with the new format of the 2017 TCR Europe Trophy, we finally have something akin to the original Touring Car Challenge taking place 24 years later!!!

See you soon!

Phil.

All the best from the Guru!!

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