The 1999 British Touring Car Championship featured 26 races across 13 rounds, starting at Donington Park on 5th April and ending at Silverstone on 19th September.
The driver’s title was won by Laurent Aïello, in his debut season driving for the Nissan team, with his teammate David Leslie in second place. Rickard Rydell, the 1998 champion, came third.
One of the surprises of the season was the performance of independent driver Matt Neal. Driving for his father’s Team Dynamics in a 1998 Nissan Primera, Neal became the first independent driver to win a championship race in the feature race of the first Donington round; series organisers TOCA had put up a reward for £250,000 for this achievement.
We spoke to Matt Neal about his first ever BTCC win here.
Changes for 1999
The Snetterton rounds in the summer of 1999 would become the first ever BTCC night races, with the sprint race taking place at dusk, before the feature race taking place in total darkness.
Independent runners were now permitted to run the same tyres as the manufacturer teams.
Six manufacturer backed teams contested the 1999 championship, Audi and Peugeot having withdrawn at the end 1998. Seven independent drivers appeared on the initial entry list, however neither the Atford Ford Mondeo of Gareth Howell or the TRM Motorsport BMW 320i of Collin Gallie made an appearance.
Just a single tyre manufacturer was represented (Michelin) and all competitors used the same tyre, most notably including independent runners.
Night racing was introduced to the BTCC for the first time for the rounds at Snetterton in July. The pit lane and main spectator areas were floodlit, whilst other parts of the circuit were in total darkness. To aid the drivers eyesight for the sharp changes from light to dark, the cockpits had a soft red light glowing inside.
Tom Walkinshaw Racing again ran Volvo’s effort, defending champion Rickard Rydell came into the 1999 season with a new team-mate in Belgian Vincent Radermecker who had previously raced in the Belgian Procar series and replaced Italian Gianni Morbidelli.
1998 manufacturer champions Nissan once again entered two Primeras engineered by RML. David Leslie remained with the team for a third season and was joined by Frenchman Laurent Aiello, a former STW and French champion who took the seat vacated by Anthony Reid.
After a successful year in 1998 with Prodrive, Honda’s effort was now to be run by WSR in a straight swap with Ford. James Thompson went into the season as title favourite and topped pre-season testing. He was joined by Peter Kox for the second year in a row. The team entered a third car for 1994 champion and STW Honda works driver Gabriele Tarquini at the Knockhill and Brands Hatch rounds.
The Williams campaign, running a pair of Renault Lagunas, was headed by Jason Plato who was promoted to lead driver, following the departure of Alain Menu to Ford. He was joined by Jean-Christophe Boullion, a former Williams F1 test driver, Sauber F1 race driver and 1994 Formula 3000 champion. Boullion had missed out securing the Renault drive to Plato in 1997.
The Triple Eight Racing Vauxhall Vectras were driven by 1995 champion John Cleland, his 11th season driving for the manufacturer and he was joined by Yvan Muller, following Audi’s withdrawal. He replaced Derek Warwick, who retired from full-time racing to focus on running the team.
Completing the factory team line-up was Ford, now run by Prodrive, who had what many regarded as the strongest driver line up in the pit lane. 1997 champion Alain Menu partnering 1998 runner-up Anthony Reid. They replaced the 1998 lineup of Will Hoy, Craig Baird and Nigel Mansell.
The Independents field was spear-headed by title favourite Matt Neal, whom had shown throughout 1998 his ability to mix it with the manufacturer backed teams. Neal’s Dynamics team would again have a year old ex STW Primera at their disposal, a car that Neal had shared with Steven Richards at Bathurst in 1998.
1998 Vectra Challenge winner Mark Blair, entered a 1996 Vauxhall Vectra, which had been a prize for winning the support series and had been driven by Mark Lemmer in 1998. The car was updated with the 1999 aero kit but was unable to use the latest specification engines.
Lee Brookes returned to the series driving a 1998 Honda Accord. Brookes missed four races after injuring his arm and then withdrew from the series after the second visit to Thruxton, stating that nothing they did to the car made it competitive.
Paula Cook also drove a 1998 Honda Accord, that she had previously driven in the final two rounds of 1998 and run by D.C Cook Motorsport. The team withdrew after the Snetterton rounds, citing lack of budget.
Russell Spence started the season driving a 1998 Renault Laguna run by Arena International. Spence would suffer a frightening crash at Oulton Park and step down soon after due to business commitments. He was replaced by 1991 champion Will Hoy from Snetterton onwards, who subsequently made significant gains with the car.