Super Tourers stalling?

Eligible cars are plentiful, but few compete

The HSCC Super Touring Car Championship was one of the most eagerly anticipated historic racing developments when it expanded to formal championship status in 2014. It seemed to promise the return of one of the most popular and exciting categories, which has gone down in lore as the pinnacle of British touring car racing.

But just four years on from its relaunch, the reality is very different. Race organisers have struggled to attract entries and competitors have complained about the expense of keeping their complex machines running.

Now, even the championship organisers appear to be worried about its future. HSCC competition secretary Alan Jones admits that the championship is “going through a bit of a dip at the moment,” after a grid of just 11 cars made it to the opening meeting of 2018 at Donington Park in May.

Jones puts the low numbers down to the complexity of the engines making it difficult for privateers to run the cars. “There was quite a bit of manufacturer involvement in period, and they were making, effectively one-off engines,” Jones says. “Cars like the Ford Mondeo were purpose-built by the manufacturers,” he adds.

Super Touring came into its own during the mid-1990s and featured family saloon cars that wouldn’t look out of place on a suburban driveway. The racing was intense and fans could relate to cars, making it one of the most popular championships in Britain. Manufacturers loved it, too, with Ford, BMW, Vauxhall, Honda, Audi and Renault among those involved and teams such as Williams and Prodrive ran their cars. Partly because of this costs spiralled and the series imploded in the early 2000s - a victim of its own success. 

Today, specialist manufacturers such as Judd have had to step in to help competitors rebuild engines for historic competition. Double BTCC champion John Cleland, who is running a 1997 Vauxhall Vectra in the championship, says that “The grids are very thin, and not all the cars are super tourers anyway. We just need more cars of this type to come out. There are a lot out there, and there will probably be two dozen within a 40-mile radius of Donington itself.

“The perception is that they’re expensive to run – and I think that’s what scares people off – but they’re not if you maintain them.”

Historic racer and current British GT front-runner Jason Minshaw concurs: “There’s a lot of rubbish about people saying that you need a team of 40 people to run one of these touring cars, and you can’t start one without a laptop.

“I’ve built a Volvo S40 and run it as a 26-year-old lad and it’s not rocket science. It’s just that everybody’s frightened of them. If you’ve got plenty of spares, running a Super Tourer isn’t a problem.”

But Minshaw, who is restoring a Volvo 850 estate as a demo car, to run at the Silverstone Classic in celebration of the BTCC’s 60th anniversary, won’t be racing it – there just aren’t enough spares around.

Some competitors have expressed disappointment over the spec-Hoosier tyres, which don’t reflect the cars’ performance, and have a narrow, inconsistent window of performance. The HSCC says it is aware of the tyre issue and is working on a solution.

Whether that will be enough to boost the championship remains to be seen, but the HSCC remains optimistic: “It’s probably one of the most challenging points that the championship has got to, and we’re hoping that it bounces back,” says Jones.

WIRDHEIM WINS AT LAST

Former Jaguar Formula 1 reserve Björn Wirdheim won in Monaco on his debut as a historic racer (left) – and avenged a quirky misfortune that had befallen him 15 years beforehand.

Wirdheim was FIA F3000 champion in 2003, finishing on the podium in nine of the 10 rounds. He scored three victories – although that would have been four but for a bizarre incident in Monaco. Having dominated from the start, the Swede slowed on the final straight in the mistaken belief that he had already taken the flag. While he began celebrating, Dane Nicolas Kiesa – still at full racing speed – stole past to win by less than a second.

Now 38, Wirdheim has spent most of his recent career in Japan. He was also co-winner of the 2015 European Le Mans Series. At the GP de Monaco Historique he was invited to race the March 711 of his former manager Eje Elgh, who had Swedish TV commitments at the clashing Spanish GP. After qualifying on pole, Wirdheim didn’t put a foot wrong in the race for 1966-1972 F1 cars and resisted fierce pressure from Stuart Hall (McLaren M19) to win by 0.389sec.

“When I was asked to do it, I said straight away that it would be a chance to lay a ghost to rest,” he said. “I really enjoyed it – and it was such a tough race, too. I had wondered whether things might be a little bit more relaxed in historic racing, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. I’ve raced against Stuart in the WEC and know all about him. He didn’t allow me a moment’s rest.

“It was nice to drive something that relied so much on driver input, too. I’ve been racing GT3 cars for the past five years and, if I’m honest, they are probably becoming a little bit too easy. I’d love to do some more of this.”

'LE MONSTRE' BACK

Derek Drinkwater plans to enter his Cadillac ‘Le Monstre’ replica and his Cadillac Series 61 Coupé in the Le Mans Classic on July 6-8, aiming to emulate Briggs Cunningham’s bold entry into the 1950 Le Mans 24 Hours.

‘Le Monstre’, also known as the Cadillac Series 61 Aerodynamic Roadster, competed at the event with a striking body designed to reduce drag.

The ‘Le Monstre’ replica was built by Drinkwater in his garage, using a projector to trace the replica’s bodywork and match it to the original ‘Le Monstre’, making sure that every individual rivet is in the right place.

It will be powered by the same 331ci engine as the original roadster, complete with a three-speed LaSalle gearbox. As a result, Drinkwater says that his ‘Le Monstre’ should hit a top speed 17mph faster than the original, thanks to a lighter flywheel, increased compression ratio and modern tyres.

“We wanted to do a ‘Cunningham Team’,” said Drinkwater. “We’ve got a 61 Series replica that we raced in 2016, but the engine failed. Now we’ve built the ‘Le Monstre’ so we’ve got the pair.

The only thing I would say that is different to the original is that the headboard is stronger, in compliance with modern-day standards.”

He aims to test his roadster at Brands Hatch before the American Speedfest, at which he will display the two Cadillacs.

200MPH AT PENDINES

Entrepreneur Zef Eisenberg became the first person to break the 200mph barrier at Pendine Sands when he set a motorcycle speed record of 201.572mph at the Straightliners Speed Event on May 13.

Pendine has long been associated with record-breaking in the UK, Malcolm Campbell having run there at 146.16mph with Blue Bird back in 1924.

“It can be a very difficult track,” said Eisenberg, “You often encounter washed-up jellyfish!” The Guernsey-born rider was on a supercharged Suzuki Hayabusa.