BTCC Super Touring’s Paddock Whispers
During the 90s, the BTCC rumour mill often went into over drive. There were always whispers and secrets of drives and cars that were in the pipeline, some more realistic than others!
Today, we look through all the stories and rumours that never came to fruition.
BMW were rumoured to be arranging a third Prodrive BMW M3 for rally driver Jimmy McRae for the 1991 BTCC season, but the outcome depended on available finance, which was never found.
After losing the BMW contract for 1993, Prodrive were heaviy linked with a works-supported Mercedes C-Class programme for the BTCC, with Tim Sugden as lead driver.
The plan was to do the last 3 rounds of the 1993 season, before stepping up to a full prorgamme in 1994. The project was top secret, but was not given the green light.
The car was going to be built by AMG in Germany and developed by DTM ace, Bernd Schneider.
A young David Coulthard was lined up to be the second driver at Mazda, alongside Matt Neal. The deal was dependant on Noel Edmunds’ IMG group sponsoring the project. In reality, Coulthard was not that keen on entering the BTCC & was focused on getting into Formula 1, as he told us at Autosport International in January 2019.
“There were talks of a Mazda deal in 1994, with Noel Edmonds backing, but I don’t think I was ever a serious candidate, as far as I am concerned, I was nowhere near it (the deal) at all as far as I was aware. I think people were talking to Mazda on my behalf, but I was with Williams as test driver and I was still very much focussed on Formula 1 and a single seater career.”
Just imagine how the Crinkley Bottom Team Mazda name would have raised a few eyebrows!
Alain Prost was heavily rumoured to to replace Will Hoy at the start of 1995, with Frank Williams eager to get the Frenchman into a car. His problem being that Hoy and Menu were already contracted to drive for the team. Whilst a drive for Prost never materialised, the rumours resurfaced around mid-season and there was also talk of a 3rd car for Prost in the midway point of the season.
“Nothing is set in concrete – Alain is employed by Renault and I know he’d love to drive a touring car! There might be the odd straw in the wind,” said team owner Sir Frank Williams at the time.
NASCAR driver Mark Martin was pencilled in to race a 3rd works Ford Mondeo at the Donington Park meeting in August, because of the tie-up between Ford and Valvoline. The drive never materialised.
After losing the Ford contract to West Surrey Racing for 1996, Andy Rouse was rumoured to be returning to the championship to race a privately entered Ford Mondeo, equipped with a transverse-mounted four-cylinder engine, rather than the V6 enging of the works Mondeo that his team had run for the last three seasons. He was spotted testing the car just as Ford announced the move to WSR. Eventually, the squad ran a semi-works programme with the Nissan Primera with him acting as manager, rather than driver.
Andy Rouse designed and built a Toyota Corolla to run independently for the 1997 BTCC season. Running into homologation problems, the cars debut was put back to 1998, with Patrick Watts driving. A a lack of testing and development, then a lack of funds prevented the car from ever making its BTCC debut.
Alfa Romeo intended to enter the 1998 BTCC season with a pair of Alfa Romeo 156’s piloted by Nicola Larini and Fabrizio Giovanardi. They even appeared on the official entry list, numbered 56 and 57 respectively.
The original idea was for the team to run a small programme towards the end of the season before a full tilt on the 1999 championship. However, after the European championships shuffled their calendar, Alfa Romeo could no longer make their debut at Thruxton in August as intended. Sadly, the team never made it to the grid in 1998.
After seeing Nigel Mansell’s first meeting at Donington Park, Alan Jones & Jody Sheckter put their hands up to ‘take on’ Mansell at the season finale at Silverstone. Alan Gow was keen on the idea and a Renault for Jones and a Nissan for Sheckter were mooted, but the idea came to nothing.
After attempting to retire from Formula 1 after the British Grand Prix, Damon Hill was offered a test with top indepedent outfit, Team Dynamics. Hill, who made a single appearance in the BTCC in 1990, ended up completing the Formula 1 season with Jordan Grand Prix instead.
Richard Tait-Harris said at the time, “‘His talent is unquestioned and would certainly lead to wins, indeed the championship if he was to enter.”
Whilst Tarquini did make a few apperances in 1999 for Honda, there was some mid-season speculation that Honda would pull out of the German championship and join the BTCC entry – forming a 4 car entry with Tarquini and Kristensen alongside Kox and Thompson to bolster Thompson’s title chances.
A four car team for Honda would have been quite something!
Alfa Romeo again considered a return to the BTCC, if the Italian Super Touring series was cancelled at the end of 1999, with Giovardi driving one of the cars. In the end the Italian series were replaced by a European championship, and Alfa raced there instead.
Giovanardi said at the time, “If the Italian series stops then it may be possible. If Alfa says no to BTCC, I would try anything to drive for another team in the BTCC. I need a new challenge.”
Volkswagen were heavily linked with a BTCC entry in 2000, with the Bora. Funding issues were believed to be the reason behind the cancellation of entry, along with the substantial rule changes at the end of the Super Touring era at the end of the 2000 season.
VW Motorsport boss at the time, Andre van der Watt was quoted as saying, “We can run in 2000, but we won’t be competitive. We might do a few races at the end of the year, but it depends on when we start work.”
Vauxhall and TOCA were co-operating to put a gas-powered Vectra on the grid for 2000, but shortages of funds saw the programme canned. Mark Ticehurst was to race the car as an independent entry.
Vauxhall motorsport chief Mike Nicholson said, “It would have been an independent entry. The engine would have been about five percent down on power, but could have been competitive.”
Mark Ticehurst, who raced a gas-powered Vectra Sri V6 in 1999’s one-make series, was gutted, “It was lined up. Everything hinged on that deal. My chances to get on the BTCC grid now are small.”
Nissan’s uncertainty to continue in the BTCC for 2000 might have cost Laurent Aiello the chance to fight for his BTCC title. He was offered a drive with Honda for the 2000 season, but with Nissan still not sure if they were going to be entering in some form, the Honda drive ended up going to Tom Kristensen.
What rumours do you remember from the Supertouring era of the BTCC?
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