Video: BTCC 1992 – Tin-Top Tearaways
The British Touring Car Championship has pitted high-street cars and household-name drivers against each other for over 50 years. And ever since those early years in the late 1950s, the emphasis has always been on door-banging, paint-trading and fender-bending.
Spectators flocked to all the major circuits of the UK – Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Donington and Oulton Park – to witness four-door fights between a range of modified versions of saloon cars they’d driven to the track that morning.
During the first three decades – the 60s, 70s and 80s – great champions were crowned, and hum-drum cars took on faster machines in a tyre-shredding class war that raged for lap after lap, weekend after weekend, season after season.
The BTCC’s fan popularity rocketed manufacturers flocked to take part – on that age-old, water-tight marketing philosophy of ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ – and drivers from a range of disciplines continued to hold the series in high regard. Witness Formula 1 world champions Jack Brabham, Graham Hill and Jim Clark adding wins to their bulging CVs during the 1960s.
By the end of the 1980s, the BTCC had become a televisual phenomenon, but its class system – that allowed for a fourth-division 1600cc, front-wheel-drive Toyota Corolla to score as many points for a class win as the race-winning, homologation-special, turbo-whistling Ford Sierra RS500s – confused the audience.
As the BTCC entered what would become its best-ever decade, change came in the form of a one-class, easy-to-follow, winner-takes-all series for 1991. And it more than delivered. Six drivers won races for three different marques, with Will Hoy lifting the title in his BMW M3. Racegoers could identify with what they were watching and battles raged up and down the field.
But it was the second season of the new-look BTCC – and in particular the final race of the year at Silverstone – that, 20 years on, remains one of the most memorable in championship history.
The 15-lap finale, in which reigning champion Hoy (now in a Toyota Carina), BMW-mounted Tim Harvey and Vauxhall linchpin John Cleland were all still in with a chance of lifting the ’92 title, was watched by millions on terrestrial, Sunday-afternoon TV with pants-on-fire commentary from the irrepressible Murray Walker.
The early running was made by the Vauxhalls of David Leslie and Jeff Allam, with veteran four-time champ Andy Rouse’s Toyota the meat in a Cavalier sandwich. Title protagonists Hoy, Harvey and Cleland were running nose to tail in fourth, fifth and sixth, which would have given the title to Cleland. But the otherwise wily Scot hadn’t reckoned on title nemesis Harvey’s BMW team-mate Steve Soper. On the penultimate lap, Cleland and Soper were side-by-side into the complex at the Brooklands left-hander, the Vauxhall man up on two wheels as he fought to fend off Soper. With the inside line for the next right-hander at Luffield, Soper launched the 318is up the inside and speared straight into Cleland.
The two veterans were out on the spot, with Harvey safely up the road – having earlier dispensed with Hoy – and en route to the title with fourth place behind Rouse, Allam and Leslie.
It was classic touring-car argy-bargy with Cleland and Soper predictably seeing things entirely differently.
“I didn’t leave any room, but he made some and pushed his way in,” offered Soper.
“He just came straight in, he never braked,” countered Cleland. “If he can get away with that in Germany, he can piss off back there.”
The post-race recriminations continued for hours – days, even – with Cleland setting the tone for two decades’ worth of textbook post-race banter between rivals: “I think he made a desperate move, which just didn’t work out. What am I supposed to do, just say, ‘Well done, old boy, you’ve just pushed me out of the way’?”
By Henry Hope-Frost
Follow me @henryhopefrost