Sunday 4th October 1992 is a day that will go down in touring car fokelore. It was the final race of the 1992 British Touring Car Championship at Silverstone, and what would go on to be one of the most controversial races in the series history.
25 years on, we look back at the day with the main stars…
THE BUILD UP
John Cleland left the penultimate round of the season at Donington Park, with a slender 3 point lead over Tim Harvey. Tim himself had a one point advantage on Will Hoy. All three were determined to win the title at the final round at Silverstone, on the Grand Prix circuit.
After breaking his back and sternum during a recent testing crash, Cleland was determined to carry on.
JC: “We were testing the Cavalier at Donington, just before the penultimate meeting of the season. I got on the grass at the Craners and I ended up hitting the wall at the old hairpin head on. I broke my sternum and 2 vertebrae in my lower back, which required being injected with pain killers by the circuit doctors for both Donington and Silverstone races. With those inuries, had I not been leading the championship, I would have pulled out of the final 2 events, but not with a championship up for grabs!“
Team mate to Tim Harvey, was Steve Soper – who had spent the season concentrating on the DTM series & missed several BTCC meetings. This meant that whilst he was very fast, he was not involved in the championship fight, but there to be a thorn in the side for Harvey’s competitors.
SS: “For 1992, I was contracted to BMW Germany, who wanted to do both DTM and the BTCC. However, the priority was to race in the DTM, so that took priority when there were clashes in the calendar.“
The new BMWs started the season off the pace. The brand new model was under developed, giving Cleland free reign to take a commanding lead in the first few meetings of the season.
TH: “The 318is was a brand new model car for 1992 and was being developed by both Vic Lee Motorsport and Prodrive BTCC teams. There were handing issues to start with, which we soon identified as flexing rear suspension arms. This meant that the car did not respond to set up changes we made and therefore, the car could not show its true pace. Once we strengthened the parts on the car, it worked brilliantly. We never told Prodrive what the issue was and they never sorted it…“
By the half way point of the season, the BMWs were the fastest car and at the midway point in the season, Harvey took 5 consecutive wins to close the gap on Cleland at the top of the standings.
After a season that swung back and forth, it all went down to the wire – the very last race of the season at Silverstone.
Qualifying would have been music to the ears of Alan Gow. Due to wet conditions, the grid was a complete lottery, with Cleland leading the championship protagonists with 7th place. Hoy took 9th and Harvey qualified 12th.
Race day dawned and the grid was lined up, ready to start. The following 15 laps were about to go down Touring Car fokelore.
TH: “I was totally confident about taking the championship. I had momentum behind me, having had a good run of wins and I knew I had the beating of both John and Will on sheer pace.
It was also an emotional time for me, the team and BMW, due to Vic Lee’s arrest mid way through the year and the efforts we had all gone to to finish the year. I wanted to win it for all of them as much as for me, I just needed nothing to go wrong…“
The first lap was as fraught as you’d expect. Hoy got a great start and got in front of Cleland to lead the other championship protagonists. Soper, who was there to help team mate Harvey win the title, had qualified fourth, but on lap one, had found himself involved in an incident at Club with David Leslie’s Vauxhall.
SS: “I got spun around after getting involved with David. At the time, I felt I had been deliberately spun to benefit Vauxhall.“
At the time, Soper had felt that the Ecurie-Ecosse run Vauxhall of Leslie was sent out with the aim of taking Soper out.
JC: “Not sure why Steve felt set-up by Vauxhall! David was driving an Ecurie-Ecosse car, built by RML, I was in a Dave Cook car (the factory team) and we were all a bit concerned that they were getting a bit too close to the factory cars and that maybe we would lose the deal, so we were definitely not part of the same team – no connection! Ironically team owner Vic Lee had offered me the drive in that BMW for the season. When I turned it down, he put Tim in it for the 1992 season!“
Soper, incredibly, was able to race back into contention – coming from 21st back into the fight between Cleland, Harvey and Hoy. Harvey had moved ahead of Cleland into 5th place and started to chase down Will Hoy in fourth.
SS: “Immediately after the incident, I was mad, as I thought I could win the race from where I started. After 5 or 6 laps, I soon realised there was a chance I could, so I got my head down. I came back through the field, right up to John, Tim and Will, without touching another car!“
Soon, Harvey and Cleland were right with Hoy – with Soper not far behind!
JC: “As long as I finished right behind Tim and 1 place behind Will Hoy regardless of it being in 1st 2nd 3rd or 10th 11th or 12th – it was my championship.“
That all went out the window, as half way through the race, Harvey muscled his way past Hoy, who fell down the order. The incident also delayed Tim, which meant both Cleland and Soper had both got past, meaning Cleland was leading the championship once again.
The trio get to Club Corner and Soper dives inside Cleland and takes fourth from the Scot, just manging to keep title rival Harvey behind, leaving the Vauxhall in a BMW sandwich!
At Bridge corner, Soper’s plan had worked a treat, he blocked Cleland off and allowed Tim through past the pair of them, into 4th and into the lead of the championship with only a few laps remaining!
TH: “I only had to finish in front of John and Will to take the title, it was job done. I had sat behind John for most of the race waiting for a mistake or clean opportunity to pass and when John missed a gear (too busy gesticulating and screaming at Steve coming out of Club corner) I used my extra momentum to pass him before Bridge. There is no way John would ever have got back in front of me.“
JC: “Going into Bridge, Steve blocked me and got Tim through. It was very professionally carried out by Steve.“
Then, the inevitable happened. Cleland attempted a move at Brooklands on Soper, flicking his Cavalier up on two wheels and into the side of Soper.
SS: “I think John was pissed off with me for the move I made on him to get Tim passed us both, so John then lent on me hard at Brooklands, to try and get the place back. At the time, I thought this was Vauxhall’s way of trying to get rid of me.”
JC: I Still felt I had a chance, so I had to get back past Steve.
SS: “After Brooklands, we both survived and are approaching the next corner Luffield. At this point, John is pretty pissed off with me and I am pissed off with John.
What I didn’t realise at the time, was that John lost his right hand wing mirror in the incident at Brooklands, so in my mind, John can see me and has to give me a small amount of room, but he had no door mirror.
John thinks I am off on the grass never to be seen again and so turns into Luffield with a non-compromise line. I arrive at the same corner believing he has to give me room, as I was along side his rear corner. The outcome was we were both crashed out.”
As the dust settled, Cleland stormed out of his car and realised that Soper was in the gravel alongside him & decided to have a word.
JC: Had I pushed Steve further right onto the gravel when I re-passed him, he would never have been in a position to get near me. We could discuss for another 25 years who was at fault, but Harvey became champion and Steve and I became good mates!
SS: The facts are that if I wanted to push John off, I could have done that very easily and made it look like it was a little mistake on my part. I certainly had the skill to do that without also eliminating myself at the same time! You must remember, I came from last place up to the John, Tim, and Will Hoy battle without touching one other car in that race.
TH: In some ways its a shame the incident took place as I had it in the bag anyway.
Stewards pulled John away from the BMW and he ranted to the TV cameras instead, which became as famous as the incident itself.
JC: That saying has been used for every questionable racing move ever since. I should have it patented and get t-shirts to sell!
SS: At the time I thought Vauxhall had a conspiracy towards me and I am sure John thought BMW had one towards him. I believe now that it was a racing accident – maybe John thinks it was more my fault than his? Let’s just be clear on one thing, there was NEVER any plan from BMW, myself, or the team to get that Championship for Tim at any cost.
TH: Both parties were equally to blame, and of course that’s how it went down with the MSA.
Looking back, Cleland feels that the incident brought in unprecedented coverage for the championship & is one of the reasons the series proved so popular during the 90s.
JC: It immediately put Touring cars on the front pages of every magazine and was a definite turning point in the increased interest for our championship and its players.
TH: After the race, it was crazy! I still have people coming up to me saying they were in the grandstand and have never felt crowd emotion like it. Of course it was all in the press and everyone was talking about it, and this was pre social media!
So, 25 years on – any regrets or thoughts boys?
JC: “A third championship would have been nice, but it happened and we all became bigger names afterwards and got paid more money in the following years, so it was all part of life! Unknown to many people Steve, Tiff Needell, Tony Lanfranchi and myself had done the Willhire 24 hrs in an Opel Monza back in 1982 – so I knew he was a very professional driver even back then and we got on very well outside the cars. Steve and I have become very good mates!“
TH: “If the incident had never taken place, people would not be talking about the year I won the title so that’s good. What is bad is that I did not win the title BECAUSE of the incident. I won it because I was in front of John and Will anyway.
One day, I am going to hire a cinema and invite every journalist and BTCC fan to come and watch the full in car video I have from John’s car in that race. It’s quite revealing…“
SS: “No regrets I have a clear conscience, thats motor racing.”