Gallery: 25 years of Vauxhall in the BTCC
With the Vauxhall Insignias of Team BMR being left in the garage this weekend, the iconic Vauxhall brand will not be present on the grid of a British Touring Car Championship race for the first time in 25 years.
The manufacturer officially left the Championship at the end of 2009, but its cars have still be racing on the circuit for another five years. With eight drivers’ titles behind them, with drivers John Cleland, Jason Plato, Yvan Muller, James Thompson and Fabrizio Giovanardi all winning the manufacturer titles, we take a look back at the cars which have raced over the last 25 years.
In 1989, Vauxhall entered the British Touring Car Championship with the Astra GTE. John Cleland won the drivers’ title on his debut season at the age of 37, despite never winning a race overall, thanks to his results in Class C (two-litre), he won the drivers’ title.
In 1990, Vauxhall switched to the Cavalier GSI. Cleland was again the top placed Vauxhall driver, but finished second in class behind BMW’s Frank Sytner, though the overall title went to Ford Sierra RS500 driver Robb Gravett, in the final year of Group A in the BTCC.
In the first year of the two-litre super touring era, Cleland finished second in the standings with three victories. Will Hoy would win the title for BMW.
The Cavalier wasn’t the only Vauxhall on the grid in 1991, with Jeff Wilson running an independently built Vauxhall Belmont in a handful of races.
The one that got away for Vauxhall. Perhaps the best remembered season finale of all time was the collision between BMW’s Steve Soper and Vauxhall’s John Cleland in the final race, which effectively handed Soper’s team-mate Tim Harvey the drivers’ title.
Ecurie Ecosse also ran a Vauxhall Cavalier for the late David Leslie in 1992.
Ecurie Ecosse were back in 1993 with the updated Cavalier. Here’s sportscar regular Chris Goodwin behind the wheel of the #80 car.
The now previous generation Cavalier ended up in the hands of privateers in 1993. Ian Ashley would finish third in the privateer class. That year the privateer class was won for the first time by future Vauxhall driver and BTCC champion Matt Neal.
The new Vauxhall Cavalier only took Cleland to fourth in 1993, while BMW took the title with Jo Winkelhock, with the BTCC now starting to attract international attention as it entered its golden period.
Ian Khan was the second highest placed privateer in 1993 in one of the older Cavaliers, team-mate to Ian Ashley at Tamchester Team Maxted.
The Ecurie Ecosse Vauxhall Cavalier of David Leslie was even more patriotic in 1993.
Jeff Allam was Cleland’s long standings team-mate, with 1994 his final season full-time with the manufacturer. The factory team now handed over to touring car powerhouse RML, who’d been involved with the Ecurie Ecosse project previously.
Cleland’s 1994 Cavalier, easily identifiable against his team-mate’s with its Scottish blue markings. Cleland would again finish fourth, with Alfa Romeo winning the title in the controversial 155, with Italian Gabriele Tarquini behind the wheel.
Chris Goodwin was back in the privateers class in the Roy Kennedy Racing Cavalier, finishing third in class.
Jeff Allam made a one-off appearance in 1995, substituting for the injured James Thompson, who at 21, looked set to challenge for the title until a crash at Knockhill.
It was Vauxhall’s year though, with John Cleland winning his second, and final, drivers’ title ahead of Swiss driver Alain Menu.
1990 champion Robb Gravett was competing in the privateers class with the Cavalier as well, for a partial season, in which he ran with the Cavalier just once.
It was out with the Cavalier, and in with the Vectra for 1996. Unfortunately the car was not as competitive as the Cavalier, with Cleland finishing eighth and Thompson tenth. The BTCC was dominated by the all-wheel drive Audi A4 Quattros, with Frank Biela taking the drivers’ title.
The Cavaliers would still be on the grid in 1996, with Ian Heward competing in a partial season.
Richard Kaye would have a better season, finishing in second place in the privateers category for Mint Motorsport.
James Thompson’s Vauxhall Vectra in 1996. The British driver would leave the manufacturer at the end of the year and start a stint with Honda. Thompson took the only victory for Vauxhall that year at Snetterton.
In 1997, Swedish driver Jan Brunstedt would bring his Swedish Touring Car Championship Opel Vectra over for the Silverstone round.
Resplendent in the red livery which Vauxhall would carry for the remainder of their time in the BTCC, Cleland here in the Vectra, now built and run by new team Triple Eight Race Engineering, set-up by former Formula 1 driver Derek Warwick and Ian Harrison.
Warwick’s car was easy to tell apart with its white livery, but from 1998 onwards the two cars would share a red and white design. The 1997 championship was dominated by Renault, with Alain Menu taking his first drivers’ title. Cleland and Warwick finished 12th and 14th in a tough first season for the team, without a podium finish
Cleland’s 1998 Cavalier, which can be seen racing in the Historic Super Touring Car Championship this year. Cleland won two races that year, both at Donington Park, with the second of the BTCC’s most memorable moments as he overtook 1992 Formula One champion Nigel Mansell’s Ford in the final moments in a wet race.
Mint Motorsport’s Mark Lemmer finished fourth in the privateers’ standings.
1998 was Warwick’s second year with Vauxhall, and his last year in the BTCC. The title that year went to Swede Rickard Rydell, driving for Volvo.
The grid numbers started to dwindle in 1999, the year of the first ever overall victory for a privateer at Donington Park. Unfortunately for Mark Blair, that wasn’t him. But he did finish second in the privateer standings, though was no real match for Team Dynamics’ Matt Neal’s Nissan.
Nissan’s (run by former Vauxhall operator RML) were a thorn in everyone’s side in 1999. The overall title went to Laurent Aiello in his one and only season in the BTCC. Cleland’s last season saw him finish 13th in the standings, with fourth his best result.
The new boy at Vauxhall in 1999 was French driver Yvan Muller. The 29-year-old would win his first ever BTCC race in a Vauxhall at Brands Hatch, and go on to finish sixth in the standings.
In the final year of super touring, Vauxhall would field three Vectras. Yvan Muller was the highest placed driver, finishing fourth in the standings with three victories. His team-mates that year were Renault refugee Jason Plato, and former Volvo driver Vincent Radermecker, who’d finish fifth and tenth in the standings.
The new era of the BTCC began in 2001, with smaller, cheaper cars, but a decimated field with only Peugeot fielding a full season campaign against them. The new Vauxhall Astra Coupé would win 25 out of 26 races, with only West Surrey Racing’s MG ruining a perfect score at a wet Brands Hatch.
The special livery run at that wet Brands Hatch final, which saw Jason Plato take his first ever BTCC title ahead of Yvan Muller. However, the close season took its toll on their relationship, with Plato forced to leave the team at the end of the season.
17-year-old Tom Chilton made his BTCC debut in 2002 in a Barwell Motorsport-run independent Astra. He would also shock with a podium in his first race, at the time he was the youngest driver to ever take part in a BTCC race, a record which stood until 2013.
Triple Eight would field four cars to help bolster the numbers and invariably would end up fighting themselves. Matt Neal drove for Vauxhall for the first time in 2002, but it wouldn’t be his only spell with the manufacturer.
Making the move up to the touring class in 2002 was 22-year-old Paul O’Neill, a BTCC regular since and now part of the Championship’s television team.
It was James Thompson who would win his first title that season behind the wheel of the Astra Coupé, in another close battle with team-mate Yvan Muller.
Yvan Muller would have to wait until 2003 to win his first, and only British Touring Car Championship title. Now driving for the rebranded VX Racing, with Vauxhall having launched their VXR performance sub-brand.
Paul O’Neill would turn on the waterworks when he took his first victory in the BTCC at Snetterton.
2003 independents champion Rob Collard was back in his privately run Vauxhall Astra Coupé in 2004.
GA Motorsport would field a number of drivers in 2004 in their assortment of cars, including two Astra Coupés and a Super 2000 specification Alfa Romeo 156, with the FIA S2000 regulations now being phased in to replace the BTC-spec cars.
James Thompson would win Triple Eight’s fourth consecutive drivers’ title in 2004, in his last full season in the Championship before he joined the new-for-2005 World Touring Car Championship.
Although S2000 was moving in, Vauxhall stuck with the BTC-spec formula for 2005 with the new Astra Sport Hatch. Unfortunately it wasn’t as competitive as hoped, and though a BTC-spec car won the title, it wasn’t Vauxhall’s, but the first overall title for an independent team, with Team Dynamics winning with their Honda Integra Type-R with former Vauxhall driver Matt Neal.
The Astra Coupé would remain a favourite with privateers, who’d almost actively avoid the newer Astra Sport Hatch. Here is the Daniels Motorsport Astra Coupé of Andy Neate.
Mark Procter ran an Astra Coupé as well in the independents’ class, but in a year where that was dominated by the Team Dynamics Hondas, there wasn’t much that anyone could have done.
Gavin Smith, the older brother of current BTCC driver Aron Smith, drove for Vauxhall in their anonymous 2005 season. Their other driver was Colin Turkington, who’d go on to do quite well but not in a Vauxhall.
Tom Chilton joined the works squad in 2006 for two seasons.
Fabrizio Giovanardi was drafted in from the WTCC to replace Yvan Muller, who’d gone the opposite way in 2006. Giovanardi though struggled to get to grips with the car which was developed specifically with Muller in mind. It was therefore another title for those pesky independent Honda Integras in 2006.
Fiona Leggate is still the most recent female driver to compete in the BTCC, driving the Astra Coupé run by Techspeed Racing.
It was back to the top step in 2007, with the new Vauxhall Vectra, built to Super 2000 regulations, delivering Fabrizio Giovanardi his first BTCC title, with team-mate Tom Chilton in ninth.
Alain Menu was a Vauxhall driver for a day only. The Swiss was drafted in to help Giovanardi’s title bid at the Thruxton finale.
It was title No.2 for Giovanardi in 2008, now aided by two new team-mates. Tom Onslow-Cole, now in his sophomore season, and the return to the team of Matt Neal.
Giovanardi wasn’t able to repeat the feat in 2009 however, in one of the most thrilling finales of the BTCC. With Vauxhall having announced their departure from the Championship, they were there to see if they could go out with a bang and beat West Surrey Racing’s Colin Turkington. Unfortunately, the Northern Irishman left with the title, and the RML Chevrolet of Jason Plato snuck in three victories at Brands Hatch to sneak away with second place in the standings.
Vauxhall’s third driver in 2009, in a car run by satellite team Eurotech Racing, was future champion Andrew Jordan.
Without Vauxhall backing, Triple Eight carried on with the Vectra for two more years. Despite 2010 seeing the entry of Chevrolet and Honda factory teams, the Vauxhall was still too good at the first weekend, with a one-off appearance for Giovanardi netting the team two victories.
Triple Eight would carry on winning in 2011. Future WTCC independents’ champion James Nash would win the BTCC independents’ title this year, also taking his first ever race victory in the last year that Triple Eight would run Vauxhalls.
The Next Generation Touring Car regulations attracted Thorney Motorsport, a team which is a Vauxhall tuner by day, to build the new Insignia to the new rules in 2011, and launch it with a somewhat peculiar livery. The car would not get its first proper race run until the next season however.
Dave Newsham has the honour of having won the last ever race for Vauxhall in the BTCC, at Snetterton with Team ES Racing.
John Thorne ran the NGTC-spec Insignia himself for selected rounds in 2012. Chris Stockton was then set to drive the car, but abruptly handed the car over to Tony Gilham mid-weekend, who’d go on to buy both cars.
Tony Gilham switched from driver to team owner in 2013, running Thorney’s two Insignias for a plethora of drivers, including Jack Goff in 2013.
Lea Wood would be the last driver of the Vauxhall Vectra, winning the S2000 “Jack Sears Trophy” class in 2013.
Warren Scott, team owner and driver for Team BMR, along with team-mate Jack Goff, become the last pair of drivers to compete with Vauxhalls in the BTCC, as the team switches over to the Volkswagen CC from this weekend. As a result, the Insignias are retired for now, though who knows if it will be back later this year or next, or if someone else will build Vauxhalls for the BTCC, or even if the successful anufacturer will return to the Championship itself in the near future.