As Thruxton prepares to mark its 50th anniversary, we continue to select highlights from bygone years. This month? The BTCC’s Super Touring era
Since opening in its present form in 1968, Thruxton has maintained a permanent presence on the British Touring (né Saloon) Car Championship calendar. That first season, Brian Muir scored outright victory in the second round of the BSCC, at Thruxton on April 15, while fellow Ford drivers Frank Gardner (Cortina) and Chris Craft (Anglia) were class winners, as was Graham Janzen (Mini Cooper S). The modern iteration of the series returns very shortly, on May 19-20.
Between times, Thruxton has hosted Britain’s premier tin-top category through all its phases – and the Super Tourers of the 1990s represent one of many fertile periods in the BTCC’s history, with widespread manufacturer representation and fantastic strength in depth in terms of driver pedigree.
Super Tourers first appeared at the circuit in1990, as a secondary class (the championship had yet to outlaw the Ford Sierra RS500s that so electrified the previous BTCC generation), and Vauxhall Cavalier driver John Cleland was first to record a victory at Thruxton. Later in the year, he was followed by Swedish housewife Nettan Lindgren (BMW M3). When the BTCC returned twice more in 1991, the championship’s first season with a single-class structure, Cleland notched up another win in May while Steve Soper headed home BMW team-mate Jonathan Palmer in September.
It was the dawn of a decade in which a galaxy of champions graced the sweeping Hampshire circuit, notable winners including Jo Winkelhock, Gabriele Tarquini, Alain Menu, Frank Biela, Gabriele Tarquini, Rickard Rydell, Anthony Reid, David Leslie and Laurent Aïello. The cast of those who didn’t includes Andy Rouse, Derek Warwick, Matt Neal, Jason Plato, Johnny Cecotto, Tom Kristensen…
Much of Super Touring’s appeal lay in the visual similarity between the cars competing and those that fans could drive to the track, though beneath the surface the racers were highly sophisticated – and increasingly expensive to run. By 2000, the final year of ST in Britain, there were but three manufacturer teams where once there had been 10. Yvan Muller notched up a Thruxton double in his Vauxhall Vectra and the BTCC moved on to embrace fresh regulations.
It remains every bit as competitive to this day.