My Group A Touring Car Favourites…Part 2

Following on from my last blogpost, here is the 2nd part of my Group A tribute. With the Ford Sierra RS500 being my first love, my second love of the Group A rules was the BMW M3.

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Now this car was the car to have in the Class B or Class 2 of either the BTCC or WTCC/ETCC. One man who proved this was BMW Stalwart Roberto Ravaglia. He is the man who won the 1987 World Touring Car Championship and the 1986 and 1988 European Touring Car Championships. He also won the 1989 DTM Championship again in the BMW M3.

Back in those days, the races of the ETCC and WTCC were 3 hour multi driver change races. Ravaglia’s co-drivers were often Emanuele Pirro and Olivier Grouillard and the three of them proved a potent force. They drove for the Bigazzi BMW team and were often a match for the Works Schnitzer BMW Team on the World Stage.

While Ravaglia couldn’t compete for outright race wins with the mighty Ford Sierra’s on the world stage, this didnt deter him. Like the multi-class BTCC in the late 1980’s, a Class Win was scored the same as the outright win. However when the Class A cars ran into trouble, the super reliable BMW was there to pick up the pieces.

The best example of this being the Donington Park 500 round of the 1988 ETCC. In the beginning the Class A Sierra’s disappeared into the lead. The expected challenge from the Group A Nissan Skyline with Win Percy at the wheel faltered with engine issues and finally Brake problems. However, so did the Fords…leaving BMW to take a 1-2-3 finish on the podium. Ravaglia was joined by his regular co-drivers by one Mark Thatcher, son of the late Prime Minister Margaret…

His sense of direction or lack of it is legendary…

In the BTCC, The M3 became famous in the hands of Frank Sytner. Driving for the Prodrive Team and sponsored by Mobil and BMW Finance, Sytner was the man to beat in Class B. While he couldnt compete for the overall race wins, he was always battling hard at the front of his class, which was dominated by the M3.

Due to the class wins system, Sytner won the 1988 BTCC Title while Andy Rouse was in the quicker car in Class A winning races outright. Like today, there is a point for setting the fastest race lap. Famously at Snetterton, after the race had finished, Sytner was questioning his team to see if he had gotten fastest lap on a track that started wet and dried up.

However Sytner was furious to hear that his team mate at Prodrive BMW that year, a certain radio DJ Mike Smith, had been in to change to slick tyres and taken the fastest lap point. Sytner’s temper was infamous and during every race encounter would demand either Smith fall behind him in 2nd place or he would “take him off” the track. Mike Smith joined Robb Gravett at his TrackStar Team for 1989, driving a Group A Sierra…

In 1989, Frank was joined at Prodrive by James Weaver, who was a specialist driver in Sportscars. Weaver immediately made it clear he was here to race and the two drivers had an exciting race long scrap at the Silverstone BTCC round. With Sytner losing his front bumper at Copse on lap one, he fought for the class B lead for the whole distance with both cars swapping positions many times each lap…until Weaver was blocked by Sytner going into the chicane and then later almost crashed at Abbey after contact by Sytner…

John Cleland won the 1989 BTCC Title in his Class C 1.6 litre Vauxhall Astra and both he and Sytner would have many races where they would clash. In 1990 the BTCC scaled to a 2 Class system. Class B became a battle between the 2 litre machines of the BMW M3 and the new Vauxhall Cavalier. Both drivers both clashed at the 1990 Birmingham Super Prix, again in controversial circumstances…

Sytner’s team mate Kurt Luby was leading Class B in his M3. Sytner was hunting down Cleland in the Vauxhall in the late stages of the race due to the fact that his tyres were going off on the street circuit. Andy Rouse won the race overall, however Sytner and Cleland clashed on the last lap. Cleland locked going into the turn and Sytner was committed to a pass that would end up retiring both cars.

Needless to say the tempers flared as Cleland blamed Sytner as he had taken the racing line after locking his tyres and Sytner blamed Cleland for not yeilding the place…

Whats that saying? Birds of a feathers flock together…

The last BTCC Title the M3 would claim would be in 1991. Will Hoy drove in the BMW M3 during endurance races and one off appearances between 1988 and 1990. At times he was team mate to Sytner at Prodrive when they competed in the British ETCC rounds so he learn the car well. In ’91 both he and Ray Bellm were signed up by Vic Lee Motorsport and was able to make a full on assault for the title. His rival was Cleland in the Vauxhall Cavalier.

How the BTCC Changed in 1991. Gone were the Group A rules and the Multi Class system. Now every car was a production car powered by a 2 litre normally aspirated engine, based on the road going cars Joe Public drove. A much simpler championship for a new era of close equal racing. Andy Rouse moved to Toyota and developed the Carina while Nissan joined the fray thanks to the new regulations.

Cleland was considered favourite but he and Hoy fought it out at the front with Hoy beating Cleland and winning the title. Sytner had a much quieter season than previous seasons, never really troubling the front runners and 1990 Champ Gravett also had a quiet year in a Ford Sierra Sapphire that scored one podium. However Sytners team mate at Pyramid Motorsport during the second half of the season would be a certain Matt Neal…

Other british drivers of note who ran the BMW M3 were Godfrey Hall and Alan Minshaw in the famous red Demon Tweeks car. Minshaw was joined by Roland Ratzenberger for the Endurance BTCC rounds in the late 1980’s before the Austrians step up to F1 in 1994…

The M3 also was the car to have in the DTM. After leaving Ford, Steve Soper joined the likes of Ravaglia, Jo Winkelhock and Johnny Cecotto at BMW as part of their various DTM squads and the M3 was a match for the Mercedes 190E and the Audi 80 Quattro. The racing was just as close as in the BTCC as it took part on legendary tracks such as Hockenheim and the Nurburgring (both on the GP Circuit and the Nordschleife circuit). The M3 was also infamous on the endurance touring car races such as the Spa 24 hours and at Macau.

So as you can tell, there’s an enormous sense of pride in me as either a Ford Sierra Cosworth or a BMW M3 goes past on the road. Such legendary touring cars and cars that helped cement my love of Touring Car racing as a child.

Now normally I would suggest you go get a cuppa after reading this. But as the warmer weather has arrived, go and get a nice cold glass of juice with Ice Cubes in.

Enjoy

Phil.

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