Touring Round

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Honours were well distributed in the Castrol Anniversary Touring Car Championship

There were a lot of doubting Thomases around, including this writer, when the RAC decided to make its British Touring Car Championship for 1974 open to Group 1 production saloons only. The decision was based on the escalating costs of preparing competitive Group 2 cars, the resultant thin grids and a lack of competitive racing which saw Frank Gardner’s SCA Camaro roar off into the distance in almost every race in 1973. Castrol stepped in to support the Championship, temporarily renaming it the Castrol Anniversary Touring Car Championship to celebrate their seventy-five years in the oil business, Camaros continued to roar off into the distance and the cost of a competitive car prepared cleverly to the border lines of legality soared to anything up to £8,000 for what was ostensibly a “production saloon”.

In its first year under Group 1 regulations the Touring Car Championship has laid itself wide open to such justifiable cynicism, yet on the credit side the racing has been mostly excitingly close, many drivers who would never have had the opportunity to aspire to any racing above club status have been provided with the opportunity to make their names in a national championship and major manufacturers, including the dormant British Leyland, have been tempted into the fray. What’s more, most of the manufacturers have had their pound of publicity flesh, which is why they involved themselves in the first place and such success should encourage them to continue to support the sport.

They were given more opportunity to have a chance at ultimate glory by the splitting of the Championship into two categories, for drivers and for manufacturers. Works Chrysler driver Bernard Unett became the British Touring Car Champion by dint of some furious driving with one of two very rapid works Avenger 1600 GTs in the smallest class of the Championship, while the Triumph Dolomite Sprints, largely those driven for Broadspeed/British Leyland by Andy Rouse and Tony Dron, carried off the Manufacturers’ Championship.

Mazda had benefited from a useful share of publicity from the usually spectacular, often expensive driving of Barrie “Whizzo” Williams, whose Mathwall-prepared, Wankel-engined RX3 was faster than the Dolomites in a straight line, but slower, yet more dramatic to watch, round the corners. Williams had three class wins to Rouse’s seven. General Motors were represented at the front of the field by the fearsome privately-owned Camaros and in the 2,501 c.c. to 4,000 c.c. class by the impressive Opel Commodore 2.8 GS/E Coupe driven for Dealer Opel Team by Peter Hanson, a car which won its class four times, but suffered its fair share of ill luck, like in the last race of the series when obstinate officials prevented it running at all.

From mid-way through the season, the big Opel lost ground to Tom Walkinshaw’s works Capri 3-litre, which at last had the power it had lacked early in the season because of a mix-up in the homologation papers. They contrived to feature the revised inlet manifold of the latest uprated Essex engine (now of several years standing), but not the later type cylinder head with revised porting. Once the recipe had been corrected, the Scot was able to score six class wins, including an outright win on the tight little Ingliston circuit. The evergreen Tony Lanfranchi had a fraught season in this class with his BMW 3.0 CSi, the only one in the Championship: a long run of engine failures rocked the boat, which finally sank when Van der Steen, the BMW dealers whose car it was, were put into the hands of a Receiver, who snatched the car from under his nose.

In the smallest class, up to 1,600 c.c., Bernard Unett had it all his own way, winning his class nine times out of 13, Stan (brother of Roger) Clark claimed three wins with an Alfa-Romeo 1600GT and John Markey (Toyota Celica GT) qualified for one win by default when Unett and team-mate Roger Bell had their cars written off in a multi-car shunt which stopped the last race of the series, at Brands Hatch, two laps prematurely.

There was no doubt who was the moral King of the Championship. Former motorcycle racer Stuart Graham took his self prepared Z28 Camaro to eight outright wins in thirteen rounds with a display of smooth and competent driving which his main Camaro challenger, Richard Lloyd, could do little about. But because the scoring system prevented the gaining of maximum points when a class had less than six starters (and the big class was poorly supported early in the season), he was unable to amass sufficient points to take the Championship. As if to make up for this, he won the non-Championship RAC Tourist Trophy in September. His immaculate Camaro is tested opposite.—C.R.

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