A 1980s Fan's View

08 August 2001

The Editor was good enough to let me out of my usual sportscar / GT racing ‘box’ to help on BTCC duty for the Snetterton night race meeting last weekend.

In a week when ‘Super Weekends’, the latest initiative to boost interest in National motorsport was unveiled, it was an ideal opportunity to take a close look at TOCATOUR.

A 2001 Touring Car ‘virgin’ I might be, but I’m one of many whose first real introduction to circuit racing was stimulated by those series we first saw televised. F1 (it’s all right I’m much better now thanks!) and BTCC were the first to stir my interest beyond the armchair, and I had many wonderful weekends during the glory years of the BTCC at Oulton Park, Brands Hatch and Silverstone. From the heady days of grids composed of Sierra Cosworths, to the later years when if you threw a bucket of water over the paddock fence up to eight factory teams would send representatives to beat you senseless, those indeed were the days!

So how does the modern ‘show’ compare? Well, the cars are generally very well prepared and presented and there is more than a smattering of well known names to keep the casual fan happy.

The mix of classes, though rather forced on the organisers owing to a lack of entries, does add that certain something when the leaders come to lap traffic (it’s that GT favouritism of mine showing itself undoubtedly). But there are undoubtedly things which spoil the show as far as this observer is concerned:

1. Not enough cars in the top (Touring) class. Now there’s a surprise for a modern racing series! Even with all the potential entrants in the class this season, we would be looking at an absolute maximum of 13 cars. In reality 7 or 8 has been the norm so far. Early days I know, but where are the entries coming from in 2002? I admire the organisers for gripping the issue of ‘Super Touring or beyond’ for this season but, in truth, the racing up front looks a wee bit contrived.

2. Driving standards amongst the ‘top-class’ drivers. Some will say this is a modern disease, if you don’t punish a Schumacher (or a Senna) then what else can you expect to filter down? That’s as maybe, BUT it doesn’t make it any more acceptable (particularly if you’re the guy being hit). The phrase “that was a Touring Car move” is now familiar to readers of race reports and spectators at circuits for all manner of motorsport. For those unfamiliar with it, it usually describes a forceful, clumsy (or even deliberate) barging / passing move. It is NOT a badge that BTCC should be proud of. There were several moves amongst the BTCC frontrunners which were, in my opinion, potentially dangerous and either deliberately executed, or if accidental, worthy of a Clerk of the Course checking to see whether the perpetrator was in possession of a driving licence, let alone a racing licence.

3. The cars themselves. Some of them just don’t look ‘horny’ enough, the Astras in particular. Quick they may be, but what the hell are those cornflake boxes doing stapled to the sides? They look suspiciously like 'deflection' zones to me (and it certainly seemed as if they were being used for that purpose by one or two of the Astranauts). Either way, they succeed in providing a triumph of function over form. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the look of the Peugeot 406 Coupe, even in ‘Linford Green’ and with its ‘Halfords Ram Raid’ bodykit and the Tims (Harvey and Blake) have done wonders to make the wee Alfa 147 and bigger Lexus IS200 look like racecars rather than a shopping trolley and a junior exec’s fast lane cruise missile, BUT to an audience weaned on Super Tourers, the Astras and Alfas in particular look a bit too much like the sort of car that you wouldn’t let your daughter get into if some spotty herbert turned up to take her out for the evening.

4. The Support Package. Formula Renault, Renault Clios, Lotus Elises and an invitation Aston Martin Race. This is not good enough for a Premier Package, in my view. The Formula Renaults were processional until the rain came, the Clios (with the odd one or two honourable exceptions) were uninspiring and the Lotuses were, I’m terribly sad to say (I am a card-carrying Lotus Nut), very, very dull indeed. I know the series has good drivers in it (the three Privilege graduates this season - Horner, Turner and Devlin - have proved that) but the racing doesn’t do them justice. Somebody, somewhere, needs to do some very quick thinking about a suitable support package for next season. The PowerTour’s support package ideally complements the main feature races (with the exception of the doomed Fiesta Challenge), but the BTCC’s does not even come close.

In short, despite the downsides, I enjoyed the meeting. A night race always has a bit of a buzz around it and the BTCC have recognised that the crowds and the TV audiences like this a lot. However, there is no room for complacency. The whole championship needs to sprint forward towards 2002 rather than the apparent vague shuffle that seems to be taking place at present. A much better support package, more top class teams, an approach which encourages more teams like the ‘Tims’ to have a go, and a recognition that catering principally to the lowest common denominator – The “Have the B****** off Jason!” mob - might be a little short-sighted.

I love Touring car racing, I genuinely do. Watching the backside fall out of Super Touring over the last two seasons was tough to take. I hope that those taking the decisions for the future show as much bravery in making them as they did when they chose to adopt the new rules.

Graham Goodwin

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