30 years ago today, a new era of the British Touring Car Championship began. Out went the complicated class structure of the previous seasons, replaced by “The 2 litre touring car formula” which had been devised between the likes of Andy Rouse, Dave Cook and David Richards.
Engines had to be 2-litres and no more, they had a limit of 6 cylinders and revs would be capped at 8,500rpm.
The formula had made its debut during the 1990 season, running alongside the Class A entries, but took centre stage for the 1991 season. BMW and Vauxhall were the main protagonists during the maiden season of the formula.
Unsurprisingly, after effectively having a year head start on their opposition, they were the teams to beat for 1991. BMW also had a numerical advantage, the factory Prodrive team entering two cars and the semi-factory Vic Lee Motorsport team entering four. Vauxhall had two cars, as had newcomers Toyota, Mitsubishi entered a single Lancer for Mark Hales, whilst Ford only appeared with a single car for Robb Gravett’s Trakstar team.
The grid was supplemented with a variety of independent entries, including some unusual entries, such as Moto-Build’s Rover 216 GTi, driven by Grahame Davis.
Hoy off to a Flier
A packed out Silverstone was present to welcome in the new era of BTCC, the Easter Monday crowd enjoyed a 21 car field duke it out at the home of British Motorsport. Will Hoy won the race from the Vauxhall pair of Jeff Allam and John Cleland. Hoy was already looking tough to beat.
Soper put up a decent challenge before getting stuck in 3rd gear and limping back to the pits. Hoy had stretched his lead to 16 seconds at one point, before suffering a fuel pick-up problem with two laps to go, meaning Allam had closed the gap to 10 seconds at the flag.
After the race, Hoy told Autosport’s Adam Cooper “Once you have that sort of gap, your driving relaxes. They were fighting amongst themselves anyway! It’s a brilliant car, so easy to drive and you have to give it to Vic (Lee) – the team has worked so hard.”
Hoy also took victory in R2 at Snetterton, winning by 4 seconds from team mate, Ray Bellm. Pole Position winner Cleland suffered severe tyre problems in the race and finished 9th.
“Hell hath no fury!”
Round 2 at Snetterton, however, became infamous for one thing – a clash on lap 3 between former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer and Nettan Lindgren. Palmer had been involved in a collision at the start of the race with Tim Harvey & was fighting back through the field when he came across Lindgren in the BMW Team Sweden car. Diving up the inside into Russell, Palmer lost control of his car and collected Lindgren, both ending up in the kitty litter and out of the race.
Lindgren was throughly unimpressed and got out of her car and gave Palmer an infamous talking to – much to the delight of the Snetterton crowd. “I lost the back end of the car again!” Palmer told journalists as he walked back to the paddock, whilst Tim Harvey had some harsh words for Palmer too.
Nissan made their debut in the series at Snetterton, with Janspeed running a single car for Keith O’Dor. Sadly for them, his clutch went at the start of the race and he didn’t complete any laps. Another debutant for the season was Sean Walker – though he soon withdrew as he claimed the restricted RS500 was hopelessly outclassed.
Everything went Will Hoy’s way for the first two race meetings of the season, but that all came crashing down at Donington.
In the hours leading up to the race, the cars from Vic Lee Motorsport had fallen foul of the noise level limits, which required the cars to be under the 110dB limit. The team faced a race against time to get the cars under that level, or they wouldn’t be allowed to race. The team tried to temporarily re-route the exhaust and pack in extra noise protection to solve the issue.
Hoy and Harvey subsequently had all their times disallowed and had to start the race from the back of the grid.
Steve Soper was back for the Prodrive BMW team, splitting his time between the BTCC and the DTM, with the German series taking priority for the Brit. Soper returned and promptly took pole position alongside team mate Jonathan Palmer.
Hoy’s problems continued into the race, as on Lap 2 of the race, he pulled off with smoke billowing out of the car – a result of the temporary modifications to the exhaust system.
Soper won the race from pole, followed home by John Cleland. Frank Sytner took an excellent 3rd place for Pyramid Motorsport.
There was more drama at the end, however, as Ray Bellm pulled over on the line – not wanting to finish in 6th place & face post race scrutineering, as only the top 6 got checked & he was worried about getting penalised for breaking the noise limit – just as his team mate did. Unfortunately for him, Tim Harvey, his VLR team mate was the one who passed him into 6th and he was subsequently disqualified for breaking the noise level. Not only that, he was also deducted 48 championship points – his season was effectively over.
Tyres were the major talking point at Round 4 of the series, held at Thruxton. The teams were worried about the durability of their tyres. As a result of this, the first practice session was untimed, to allow the teams and tyre manufacturers play around with compounds and setups.
Hoy bounced back from an awful Donington meeting to take pole position, ahead of the Cavaliers of Allam and Hoy, with Allam suggesting that the FWD Cavalier was aerodynamically strong at the fastest UK circuit. Debutant Christian Danner took 4th place, replacing Soper and out-pacing team mate Jonathan Palmer at the first attempt!
As the grid lined up for race day, Hoy crept before the lights, stopped and started again well after the lights went out, meaning Cleland, Allam & Palmer all went past him. Cleland had a flying start and led the race into T1. After the race, he said “All last year, I couldn’t get the start right – this year, I’ve been able to just pull out and go! I knew Will would go carefully, so I just went through the middle.”
After the first few laps, the race settled and the two Vauxhall Cavaliers drove off into the distance. Hoy finished 3rd, with Harvey taking 4th place after a fantastic battle with Christian Danner and Jonathan Palmer who finished 5th and 6th respectively.
Round 5 saw the teams head back to Silverstone, which saw Tim Sugden put his BMW on pole position in controversial circumstances. His BMW was found to be 4kg underweight after the session – which was deemed to be acceptable, as the scales used by the championship at the time were accurate to within 0.5%, much to the anger of the other teams. Championship leader, Will Hoy joined Sugden on the front row.
As the race loomed, the track was damp and rain clouds were lurking. Despite this, the vast majority of the field decided to start the race on slicks, with the exceptions of Andy Middlehurst, Gary Ayles and Frank Sytner.
At the race start, Hoy took the lead at Copse, whilst pole man Sugden had a nightmare opening lap. “I wasn’t aggressive enough on the first lap,” he told Autosport’s Nick Phillips. “I got pushed wide at Becketts!” Allam and Cleland were running 2nd and 3rd, until the Scot got past his team mate on lap 2. Sytner, on his wet weather tyres, was slicing through the field and was up to 8th by lap 3.
Cleland took the lead on lap 4 and was leading by some distance after Allam collided with Hoy at Becketts. By now, the track was starting to dry out and the wet-shod cars were beginning to drop back – until lap 9, when the heavens opened and it was very heavy!
As the wet-shod cars tore their way through the field, the likes of Palmer and O’dor pitted to change tyres as lap 11 saw Forrest, Whale, Cleland, Allam, Hoy and Harvey all fall off the circuit. Sytner had worked his way into the lead & believed he had completed 12 laps as the race was red flagged. The officials saw otherwise & despite protests from Pyramid Motorsport, the race was declared a result at the end of Lap 10, meaning John Cleland won the race, despite ending his race in the barrier!
The Championship soon took the decision that the results of this meeting would not count towards the championship and no points were to be awarded.
Only 17 cars entered the 6th race of the season, with some entries opting to withdraw and improve their cars. After a disasterous meeting at Silverstone, Tim Sugden bounced back at Round 6 at Brands Hatch, where he set no fewer than 6 lap times that were good enough for pole position. John Cleland suffered a big blow to his championship bid, qualifying a lowly 11th. Hoy took 2nd on the grid and was looking to claim another victory.
On race day, Hoy took the lead from Sugden at the start after a beautiful start, although Sugden immediately put the pressure on him from behind. Andy Rouse pulled off a stunning move on Lap 2, overtaking Jonathan Palmer around the outside of Paddock Hill.
Hoy defended brilliantly for the first half of the race, but on lap 15, going into Surtees and Sugden got alongside Hoy. Will didn’t budge and the two collided, letting Sugden through to take the lead and immediately start to pull away. Further down the field, Cleland’s hard weekend wasn’t easing up as Gravett battled his way past the Scotsman to take 9th position.
Cleland’s struggles meant that Hoy was more than happy with the result, as it increased his lead in the championship. “It’s a good result for me, because the Vauxhall boys weren’t up there,” Will told Autosport.
Will left Brands Hatch with a 16 point lead in the championship over Jeff Allam, with Cleland 22 points behind in 3rd place.
Check back soon for Part 2 of our 1991 30th Anniversary look back!