After the first two rounds of the Dunlop British Touring Car Championship, at Silverstone and Oulton Park, there are already a number of pointers as to which drivers are likely to be in contention for the title.
In Class A (for cars of 2501cc and above or their turbo equivalent) it has been the Ford Sierra Cosworths which have been the dominating factor. Of the ten regular cars which have so far appeared, the one which stands out is the Kaliber-backed RS500 of Andy Rouse, who has won the championship four times before. His display at Oulton Park was flawless, putting the car on pole a full six seconds under the existing lap record and scoring a runaway victory.
Due to a turbo intake –pipe working loose at Silverstone the preceding week, Rouse was only able to take sixteen place, which left newcomer Jerry Mahony the championship leader after these opening rounds.
Jerry had a somewhat lucky victory at Silverstone when Rouse, and then Graham Goode, hit trouble, but as if to show that it was no fluke he planted his car second on the grid at Oulton Park and was the only man to challenge Rouse until a loosened turbo pipe caused him to drop to third.
Of the other Ford Cosworth runners, the most likely challengers on present form are Graham Goode, Laurence Bristow and Mike Newman. 1987 Group A champion Tim Harvey can be expected to show well once the car has been properly developed. Steve Soper, however, making irregular appearances in the series in the works Texaco Ford Racing Team Sierra RS500, is the man most likely to bring Andy Rouse to account.
Of the other Class A runners, the Holdens possess the greatest potential to upset the Ford applecart. In the two races so far, the Autoglass-backed car of Mike O’Brien has been running in the last year’s trim as the newly-homologated engine and bodywork got lost while en route from Australia.
Despite the handicap of running this ageing car, O’Brien gave a scintillating performance at Oulton Park to finish second in the race behind Rouse. Prospects for the next round, at Thruxton on May 2, look very good for the Alan Docking-run team, as we should see Mike out in the new car. There is also the prospect of Tom Walkinshaw running a similar car in future rounds.
The MIL Motorsport Toyota Supra of 1987 champion Chris Hodgetts has been a big disappointment. Obviously in the early stages of development, it qualified well down the field at Silverstone and proved a real handful for Hodgetts to race, while at Oulton Park the car expired on the starting-line with a broken driveshaft. Peter Buxtorf’s BMW 635CSi is really only racing to make up the numbers.
Whereas Class A is all about Ford Sierra Cosworths, the BMW M3 runs Class B. Frank Sytner, in his Prodrive-run car, was the class-winner in each of the opening two rounds of the championship while team-mate Mike Smith is still mid-way through his learning curve.
At Silverstone Smitty made it a works one-two, but at Oulton Park, where he only had one session to qualify, he was a full six seconds slower than Sytner. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that Pirelli sent from Italy tyres of a hard compound instead of the soft ones so urgently requested by the team.
The main challengers to these two are Alan Minshaw in the Demon Tweeks M3 and Godfrey Hall, also in an M3. Such is the competition between these four that the order at Silverstone was Sytner, Smith, Hall, Minshaw, while at Oulton Park it was Sytner, Minshaw, Hall, Smith.
In fact the race at the Cheshire circuit was shortened three laps early when the Sytner and Minshaw cars had a coming together which left the Prodrive car stranded across the track while the Demon Tweeks M3 was launched over the tyre-wall and out of the circuit. Fortunately neither man was hurt.
These BMWs are opposed by a couple of Ford Escort RS Turbos. These cars were class winners in 1987, but this year they are hard-pressed to come to terms with the machines from Munich.
Runners in Class C have been virtually non-existent. So far only James Kaye’s 16-valve Golf GTi has appeared in both rounds, and he has been outpaced by the Toyotas which make up Class D.
In this class, it is Phil Dowsett in the front-wheel-drive Corolla GT who has won both opening rounds. At Silverstone he was chased all the way home by Tony Crudgington’s rear-wheel-drive Corolla GT, and at Oulton Park he as challenged by the similar car of Mark Hales.
The presence of the television cameras has done much to revive interest in the British Touring Car Championship as far as manufacturers and sponsors are concerned, and media personality Mike Smith has done his bit to stimulate interest from the public. We also have the mouth-watering prospect of a works Maserati entered for future rounds of the championship.
So long as the racing does not become the domain of one man, or one team, and as long as the racing itself is close, the prospects for this year remain exciting. WK