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Friday favourite: The British circuit which helped deliver BTCC breakthroughs

Paul Radisich’s racing CV calls on a multitude of stunning and iconic circuits, but a familiar British favourite wins out as his pick of the bunch. Having enjoyed multiple successes at the track during his touring car days, here’s why Donington Park comes out on top

Paul Radisich, Team Mondeo, Ford Monde Si

Paul Radisich, Team Mondeo, Ford Monde Si

Despite his 17 starts in the Bathurst 1000, yielding a pair of second places, many of Paul Radisich’s fondest memories are rooted in the British Touring Car Championship’s 1990s Super Touring era. A couple of massive accidents in Australia’s Great Race, where the Kiwi sustained multiple injuries in 2006 and ’08 that ended his professional career, probably don’t help the fearsome Mount Panorama circuit’s cause.

Instead, it is the venue where Radisich claimed a second consecutive Touring Car World Cup triumph that he selects as his favourite. “For challenging tracks, I would say Donington,” he says. “But not just for that [win]. It was always a delight to run there.”

Four wins and four second places from nine starts across the BTCC, World Cup and non-championship TOCA Shootout, made the 2.5-mile Grand Prix circuit an incredibly successful venue for Radisich in 1993-94. He cites the swooping downhill bends of the Craner Curves as a highlight. “Particularly in those cars. Through there it was always a challenge, getting the temperature in those rear tyres. And it’s such a fast, big flowing track.”

Radisich shot to prominence by taking his Andy Rouse Engineering-run Ford Mondeo to third in the 1993 BTCC standings despite missing most of the first half of the season. He then went to Monza and upset the locals by winning the inaugural end-of-season World Cup against the best from Europe and beyond.

After earlier spells in British Formula 3, Radisich wasn’t targeting a return to Europe. He had his sights set on America, where an abortive 1991 campaign in Toyota Atlantic, driving the unfancied Reynard chassis, featured a high point of finishing second to Jimmy Vasser at the Long Beach season-opener. A relationship struck up at Peter Brock’s Aussie V8 team in 1989 proved to be the catalyst to a change in career path.

“Alan Gow worked with Peter Brock; he ran Peter Brock’s show. Peter and Alan asked me to drive for them,” Radisich recalls of the man who would become the BTCC’s long-serving impresario. “I raced for them, Alan and I struck up a good relationship, and then he left to come and work for Andy in British Touring Cars. Alan rang me and he said, ‘I’ve got a drive for you.’ I said, ‘Oh s***, Alan, I’ve got an opportunity to do Indy Lights.’ I’d just about got a budget together to go and do it. He said, ‘Are you crazy?’ Typical Alan, he said: ‘Mate, you’re a bleep, bleep idiot. This is a works drive – you’re going to be a professional paid driver.’

“I had quite a difficult decision to make. I’d spent 10 years driving Formula 3, American Indy Lights and Super Vee, all that sort of stuff. But there comes a crossroads where you’ve got to make a decision about what are you going to do. In hindsight, it was a great decision and I owe Alan a lot.”

Radisich was initially unsure of the touring car switch, but is thankful he made the call

Radisich was initially unsure of the touring car switch, but is thankful he made the call

Photo by: Sutton Images

It wasn’t all plain sailing from there though. Rouse had been engaged by Ford to develop and run its new flagship Mondeo model and initially planned to go down the rear-wheel-drive route – which the regulations permitted if there were a four-wheel-drive model in the range. But power losses through the transmission, and extra weight, left it lacking pace.

Radisich remembers: “When we got the second car made, and we went out and run at Donington, then the penny dropped that the cars were too slow.” Further development delayed the Mondeo’s race debut and it wasn’t until round eight of 17, at Pembrey, that Rouse and Radisich finally joined the BTCC grid in the front-wheel-drive version. Just eight weeks later, Radisich took the model’s first victory – and Ford’s 200th – at Brands Hatch. The pair became the combination to beat, and Radisich scored a dominant win from pole position on the Donington GP circuit, before being pipped by Alain Menu in the second leg.

Facing Gabriele Tarquini in Alfa Romeo’s bewinged homologation special in 1994, Radisich couldn’t live up to his tag of pre-season favourite as he placed third once more. But Donington proved to be a relatively happy hunting ground. Pole and a pair of second places came in June’s meeting on the GP circuit, although even then the Mondeo was displaying its Achilles’ heel – its V6 engine hanging over the front axle, which meant “it just chewed the tyres up” – as it was overhauled by John Cleland’s Dunlop-shod Vauxhall Cavalier despite a promising start. “Within about five or six laps I could hardly see John in the mirror,” remembers Radisich, “[but] it got to lap seven or eight and it was like flicking a switch.”

"For challenging tracks, I would say Donington. It was always a delight to run there" Paul Radisich

Donington also hosted the BTCC season finale, where Radisich won the first race but was denied by a sparkplug problem in the second. Key to his success was the new rubber Michelin was debuting ahead of the World Cup taking place in Leicestershire the following month.

Against the world’s best, Radisich would again use it to full effect. While its V6 layout further hampered the Mondeo as the development war ramped up in the coming years, Radisich was able to make his rubber last that October afternoon. Despite the longer race distance and late gear-selector issues, he held off Steve Soper’s BMW to take victory. “Michelin developed a carbon fibre sidewalled tyre and I did most of the testing. Instead of dropping away, I was able to just keep belting out record laps.”

Now a two-time Touring Car World Cup winner, Radisich was riding the crest of a wave. “There were [road] cars made under my name, and the groundswell just went on. I had three good years of being known as the world’s best touring car driver – particularly with ’94, doing the double.”

Despite the Mondeo's deficiencies Radisich still found a way to win at Donington Park

Despite the Mondeo's deficiencies Radisich still found a way to win at Donington Park

Photo by: Motorsport Images

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