The 1998 Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship featured 26 races across 13 rounds, it commenced at Thruxton on 13th April and ended at Silverstone on 20th September.
The championship was won by Rickard Rydell in a Volvo S40, the runner-up was Anthony Reid in a Nissan Primera and James Thompson finished in third, driving a Honda Accord. The Autosport Cup for Independents, a championship for privateer entries, was won by Tommy Rustad in a Renault Laguna.
The video game TOCA 2 Touring Cars is based on this championship season.
Changes for 1998
There were three major rule changes to the championship prior to the start of the 1998 season. Race weekends were changed notably, with two different types of races now elected. A shorter “sprint” race and a “feature” race, 25% longer than previous races and featuring a mandatory two-tyre change pitstop, to be taken between 15 and 75% distance.
Qualifying for the sprint race involved drivers holding a “shoot-out” style session where each driver was sent out one of a time and were given a single timed lap to determine their starting position, with the slowest driver from feature qualifying going first and fastest going last. This became known as the “One Shot Showdown”. Qualifying for the feature race remained the same as the previous season.
Four wheel drive systems were also banned for 1998, a system used notably by 1996 champions Audi – who were running a front wheel drive system for the first time in 1998.
The Independents trophy, previously known as the ‘Total Cup for Independents’, became the ‘Autosport Cup for Independents’. The £250,000 prize fund, introduced in 1997, remained in place. However, at the request of the independent competitors, prize money now will be awarded on the results of each individual round rather than as a lump sum to the top three overall finishers at the end of the season. In 1998, the first independent finisher in each of the 26 rounds will receive £2,500, while second and third past the chequered flag will receive £1,250 and £500 respectively.
Eight manufacturer backed teams contested the championship with no changes to the manufacturer team line up. Alfa Romeo were set to make it 9 manufacturer entries, but withdrew.
1997 champions Williams Renault, now in their fourth year of partnership in the BTCC, retained their driver line up of Alain Menu and Jason Plato – once again driving the Laguna. The familiar yellow and blue livery was replaced by the dark green of new title sponsor Nescafe Blend 37. The team entered a third car for the final round at Silverstone for independents cup winner Tommy Rustad.
Audi were forced to abandon their four-wheel-drive A4, which helped them to the 1996 title, for a more conventional front-wheel drive car. 1995 French touring car champion Yvan Muller joined the team after helping German manufacturer develop the new FWD car in the Super Tourenwagen Cup in 1997. He was joined by John Bintcliffe, now in his third season with Audi. Frank Biela moved across to Audi’s Sportscar project.
Nissan were another team to retain their driver line-up, with the experience Scotsmen David Leslie and Anthony Reid racing a pair of RML prepared Primeras. The team entered a third car at Brands Hatch in August for former driver and then Top Gear presenter Tiff Needell. This appeared as a feature on the popular motoring show.
Following a very promising winter test program, Prodrive run Honda retained Yorkshire’s James Thompson with ex BMW driver Peter Kox replacing 1994 champion Gabriele Tarquini.
TWR Volvo had also changed their lineup with former Ferrari, Footwork and Sauber F1 driver Gianni Morbidelli replacing Kelvin Burt, who switched to JTCC, to partner Swede Rickard Rydell – who remained with the team for a fifth season.
Vauxhall engineered and run by Triple Eight continued with Derek Warwick and 1995 champion John Cleland racing the Vectra. Following the disaster with aerodynamics in 1997 Triple Eight developed the aero themselves for 1998.
One of the biggest stories going into the season was that Ford had signed 1992 Formula One champion Nigel Mansell to compete in three rounds of the championship. At the races Mansell would not compete, New Zealander Craig Baird, a former works BMW driver in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, will race alongside 1991 champion Will Hoy, now in his eleventh season of BTCC competition.
Switching from Ford, Paul Radisich joined Tim Harvey at Peugeot, whose 406’s were again run by Motor Sport Developments (MSD).
Alfa Romeo announced that they would make a comeback to the BTCC, by entering ther later rounds of the season. Pencilled in to make their debut at the August Thruxton meeting. Fabrizio Giovanardi and Nicola Larini were scheduled to drive the new 156, but Alfa Romeo’s plans fell through, and the team never appeared.
Reigning independents champion Robb Gravett again entered his 1996 Honda Accord, now run by Brookes Motorsport. A second car was entered at Oulton Park in September for Lee Brookes but didn’t start either race.
Matt Neal raced a 1997 Nissan Primera, run by family outfit Team Dynamics.
D.C. Cook Motorsport entered the 1997 championship winning Renault Laguna for Norwegian Tommy Rustad, winning the title. For the final two meetings, they also entered a Honda Accord for Paula Cook.
Mardi Gras Motorsport entered a Honda Accord for Norwegian Roger Moen, until team and driver went their separate ways after the Croft rounds. The team took over the running of Mark Lemmer’s Vauxhall Vectra for three meetings in the second half of the season after he split with Mint Motorsport, who had run the car until Croft.