Vincent Radermecker joined the grid of the British Touring Car Championship in 1999, replacing the under-performing Gianni Morbidelli at Volvo. He would be teamed up with the reigning BTCC champion, Rickard Rydell, in one of the Swedish Volvo S40s.
With the withdrawal of Volvo at the end of the 1999 season, Vincent found himself at Vauxhall, driving a third Vectra alongside future champions Jason Plato and Yvan Muller.
We recently caught up with Vincent and sat down and discussed his 2 year stint in the BTCC.
Vincent, welcome to the 1990sBTCC blog! You started your racing career in single seaters, I am guessing that Formula 1 was the original aim?
“Yes, I started in karting very late, nearly 19 years old. I only spent 2 years racing Karts before switching to single seater racing , in Formula Ford 1600. I also got the support of Marlboro Belgium until the end of 1994 British F3 Championship, where I finish 2nd behind Jan Magnussen. I lost the support of Marlboro and my Formula 1 dream was over. No money, no drive.”
In 1997, you made the switch to racing touring cars, how did this happen?
“I had no drive for nearly 2 years, it was a very difficult time for my family. We were living only on my wife’s salary. Then I had a contact with Peugeot Belgium, they were looking for a new driver for the 1997 Belgium Championship, but they decided to do a shoot out betwen 4 drivers ( Eric Helary, Stephane De Groot, Marc Goossens and myself). We tested as Paul Ricard and I ended up fastest, which gave me the drive!”
Whilst racing in the Belgian ProCar championship, were you aware of the British Touring Car Championship? Was participating in BTCC an aim of yours?
“Yes, of course. The BTCC was the best touring car championship in the world, so in touring cars, it was the place to be!”
How did the contact with Volvo first come about?
“First contact was with Graham Taylor, the race engineer for Rickard Rydell – he remembered me from the British F3 days, but this was at the end of the 1997 season. Eventually, TWR choose Gianni Morbidelli to replace Kelvin Burt. I did keep in touch during the 1998 season, where I still driving a Peugeot, but a 306 as the Belgian series had switched regulations to super production cars.
During the winter of 1998, the contact was closer and Volvo called me to do a first test at Pembrey, together with Rickard. At the end of the test, they put new tyres on my car for Rickard and myself to have a final run and Rickard beat my time by only 0,15 sec. They called me for a second test, this time in Jerez, and by the end of the day – they made the decision to give me the number 2 car drive. During the negotiation, I received the help of Marc Van Dalen, my team boss in Peugeot, who I think did a pretty good job.”
You started the season strongly, with a top 5 finish in your first meeting, before scoring your first podium at Thruxton, only a few races later – why do you think you had such a strong start to your BTCC career?
“The Volvo was really matching my driving style, that was a good help for my confidence, and the team were Champions in the 1998 season, so we started with really good base.”
That strong start you made immediately raised the question of your status within Volvo and whether you were allowed to fight with Rickard. Historically, Volvo weren’t too keen on their two drivers battling each other on track. What were the rules between you two as drivers?
Rickard had been in the team since the beginning , I was the new one who signed the contract to race quite late, I think I remember it was only 1 month before the start of the season, so I was not going to fight Rickard on a regular basis. Sometimes I was very close and sometime Rickard was really faster with superior skills, especially in qualifying.”
At the end of your first BTCC season, Volvo withdraw from the series – how early on did you find out that they were leaving?
“Actually, in July 1999, TWR told me that I was staying in the team for the 2000 season. but then in August, we were told that Volvo wanted to withdraw from the championship and that was it!”
Before joining Vauxhall for the 2000 BTCC season, you were heavily linked with a move to Team Dynamics with a second Nissan alongside Matt Neal. I understand that discussions had already started with Steve Neal, the Dynamics boss. How close were you from that move completing?
“It was not really close discussions, as they were looking for a pay driver. I’m not the kind of driver who bring sponsorship to a team – Racing driver is my job, they pay the race engineer, the mechanics, the manager… Racing is a team sport and the driver is part of the team. I’m not from a rich family, so if they don’t pay me I can’t make a normal living.”
What were the main differences between the Volvo you raced and the Vauxhall? Which car did you prefer to drive?
“Like I said to you earlier, the Volvo was really good for my driving style. the Vauxhall was pretty different, good car but different, a bit less stable in the fast corners and we had something a bit strange in the steering rack or in the front axle, that gave an inaccurate line especially in the exit of corners. We never really found the solution to this problem during the season.”
During your relatively short stint in the BTCC, you were partnered up with 3 of the best drivers in the business in Rickard Rydell, Yvan Muller and Jason Plato. Who was the toughest?
“I never had much problem with any of them. My mother language is French, so naturally, I spent more time speaking with Yvan then the 2 others.”
During 2000, you were involved in some huge accidents, such as Croft and Silverstone. Did this have any impact on you?
“Not really, accidents – it’s part of the job. Croft was one of the biggest of my career, but it wasn’t my mistake, just a car failure, so out of my control. The one in Silverstone, I was pushed off the track by James Thompson and unfortunally spun across the grass and came back on the track into Anthony Reid. Another big one, but it wasn’t my fault.”
At the end of 2000, the new low-cost forumla of BTCC car was introduced, which meant several teams and manufacturers left the series. Did you have any offer for driving in 2001? Were you interested in continuing with the series? What did you make of the BTC Touring forumla from 2001 onwards?
” I had no offer for 2001. My 2000 season wasn’t a great season for Vauxhall and the number of professional drives was decreasing massively. In 2000 there were 9 works drivers, I think in 2001 it was only 3 or 4 at the start of the season – there were too many drivers on the market.”
After leaving the British Touring Car Championship at the end of 2000, you went on to race in various other championships, winning the Belgian ProCar Championship in 2001 and the Belgian Touring Championship in 2005. Do you feel like you have unfinished business in the BTCC? Did you ever think of returning?
“Yes, I had great time racing in Belgium, but also in France and Germany. I was racing pretty good cars – the silhouette regulations were really good fun and I met some very good people at that time.
The BTCC has always interested me, I had somes contacts but, the discussions was always cut short when they started to speak about getting money for the drive. As I already explained, I am not a pay driver. Actually I’m still looking the BTCC closely, as I think it is a really, really good championship – a very high level of competition.”
What are you doing with yourself these days?
“I’m still racing! I was the first driver to win a race with the VW Golf TCR car back in 2016. I’m driving with a Belgian team, AC motorsport, in the 24H endurance series. One of my team mates is James Kaye, who BTCC fans will know. The other is Stephane Perrin. We had good results and I put the car in pole position for a few races!
I’m also an instructor for people who want to improve their skill, both security driving on normal road situations and car control for racing drivers. I’m also a test driver for different manufacturers on the Nürburgring Nordscheilfe since 2008, driving different kind of cars, doing more or less 600 laps a year – so now I can be considered as a specialist of that beautiful track! I was the driver who did the lap record for Jaguar at the wheel of the Jaguar P8 there. I did also a lot of days testing and develloping the Jaguar I-Pace Trophy car together with the Jaguar engineers.
Thanks to Vincent for taking time out of his schedule and agreeing to share some stories of his time in the BTCC.