The nervous smile is little more than a half-hearted attempt to break the tension. Perched on the plastic seats at the front of Donington’s pitlane garages, ashen-faced Robb
Gravett can barely look. No wonder. Stig Blomqvist, 1984 World Rally champion but hardly the most obvious choice of partner for an hour-long, two-driver British Touring Car Championship race, is just seconds away from victory in the bare white Ford Cosworth RS500 – and for Gravett and Trakstar there’s a great deal riding on it. The lack of stickers on the flanks of the steroidal saloon are the tell-tale. A £6000 Ford bonus for every RS500 race victory really counts and this being just the second round of the 1990 BTCC, with a long season stretching out ahead and not a sponsor bean in sight, the cash is crucial to get them to the next round.
He’s safely around the Melbourne loop. But David Sears, in for BTCC kingpin Andy Rouse in the smart, blue ICS-stickered RS500, is still right there. Stig charges down to Goddards – and shock-horror – dumps the lot by braking far too late, the white Cossie spinning clumsily to face the way it has just come. On the TV commentary, Murray Walker has sailed past his own breaking point as Sears calmly takes the corner and passes the chequer. If he’s smiling behind the wheel, that’s nothing compared to the utter glee spread over Rouse’s face in the pitlane. Further down the pit road, Gravett looks like he might be about to vomit.
Just another day, then, in the super-powered Group A era that kickstarted the BTCC boom. But this was not just another year. In 1990 – hard to believe it’s 30 years ago – Rouse vs Gravett provided the perfect swansong for Group A and the wondrous RS500s, offering up all the raw ingredients of a classic season: intense personal rivalry, a relative upstart taking on the establishment, will-he-make-it-or-won’t-he financial strife and fabulously overblown turbo track action. Then to add to the mix, in the final year for the traditional multi-class tin-top tomfoolery in which drivers buried in the midfield usually won the title, the bloke who won most of the races actually became overall champion, too – just as the BTCC was finally about to see sense and simplify it all with a single class, for 2-litre normally aspirated ‘shopping cars’. Oh the irony.