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Ranking the top 10 BTCC title deciders

British Touring Car Championship title-deciders usually produce excitement in spades. We've attempted to rank the best of them all

James Thompson (GBR) VX Racing wins the 2004 BTCC championship.British Touring Car Championship

Photo by: Mark Capilitan

The battle for the British Touring Car Championship always seems to go down to the final race. It doesn’t quite, but there have been plenty of incredible finales in the category’s history, stretching back to the very beginning in 1958.

For this list, we’ve looked at how tight the title fights were, the circumstances of the final round and the drama of the decider. With multi-race meetings, we have focused on the final encounter rather than the whole weekend and considered the drivers still in contention at that point.

 

10. 1958 Brands Hatch

Sears beat Tommy Sopwith in 1958 in a two-heat race during which they swapped cars

Sears beat Tommy Sopwith in 1958 in a two-heat race during which they swapped cars

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Contenders: Tommy Sopwith, Jack Sears
Winner: Jack Sears
Champion: Jack Sears

This one either had to be at number one or number 10 because it’s the only time in series history that a special race was put on to decide the crown. We’ve popped it at 10 because later bouts were more dramatic or action-packed, involving more protagonists, and even Autosport reckoned the promise of a “grand scrap” was “not really fulfilled”.

Tommy Sopwith and Jack Sears both dominated their classes in the inaugural season of what was then known as the British Saloon Car Championship. Sopwith did most of the overall winning with his 3.4-litre Jaguar, while Sears set the pace in Class C for cars up to 2700cc in his Austin A105 Westminster.

Following the final round at Brands Hatch, they were tied on 48 points, just one ahead of Speedwell Austin A35 driver John Sprinzel, so a shootout was organised on the same day, with both in Riley 1.5s.

In appallingly wet conditions, Sopwith won the first five-lapper by 2.2 seconds. The duo then swapped cars and this time Sears came out on top by around 4s, giving him the victory on aggregate and becoming the series’ first champion.

9. 2013 Brands Hatch

Through atrocious conditions, Jordan's privateer Honda Civic claimed the title in 2013 by defeating MG driver Plato

Through atrocious conditions, Jordan's privateer Honda Civic claimed the title in 2013 by defeating MG driver Plato

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Contenders: Andrew Jordan, Jason Plato, Gordon Shedden
Winner: Gordon Shedden
Champion: Andrew Jordan

Andrew Jordan had been a rising force in the BTCC for some time, particularly once he got his hands on the NGTC Honda Civic, and put one over the factory teams in 2013. A consistent campaign that included six wins meant he carried a 34-point lead over Matt Neal into the rainy final round. Gordon Shedden, Colin Turkington and Jason Plato were also in contention, but it looked like Jordan’s title to lose.

After a fine fifth in race one – ahead of Neal – things got a lot harder for Jordan thanks to the second encounter. Jordan and Neal were the innocent victims of a multi-car incident on lap two, which put Neal out of title contention and meant Jordan had to start the finale in 24th. His points advantage had also been slashed to 15, now over MG driver Plato. Somehow, that put Jordan into a better frame of mind.

“Before the race I was more relaxed than I had been all week,” he said. “If Jason won I needed to be eighth so we had a goal. I was quite chilled.”

Jordan rose from 24th to 18th on the first lap of 15 and reached 13th on lap four. With a struggling Plato only running sixth and race leader Shedden 20 points behind, that would have been enough for Jordan to take the title, but he pressed on.

After six laps the blue Honda was 10th and now Jordan responded to his team’s requests to slow. A moment for Plato handed Jordan another spot and he duly crossed the line ninth, while superb victor Shedden snatched second in the standings, seven points down having come into the weekend 35 adrift.

PLUS: Autosport tests Jordan’s BTCC title winner

8. 1977 Brands Hatch

While Dron's Dolomite claimed the class crown, he lost out on the overall spoils to Unett

While Dron's Dolomite claimed the class crown, he lost out on the overall spoils to Unett

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Contenders: Bernard Unett, Tony Dron
Winner: Gordon Spice
Champion: Bernard Unett

Tony Dron and Broadspeed’s focus for 1977 wasn’t just to win the 1601-2300cc class, it was to take overall victories against the bigger-engined Ford Capris. Dron’s Triumph Dolomite Sprint proved incredibly good at that and scored more overall wins – five – than any other combination.

PLUS: The forgotten BTCC wins scored by the Capri’s first nemesis

He also went to the season finale with an overall championship chance against Bernard Unett, already a two-time title winner and the pacesetter in the smallest-engined class with his Chrysler Avenger 1300 GT.

The use of Dunlop qualifying tyres had helped Dron all season and he managed to beat the Capri hordes to pole by a scarcely believable 1.1s. He was engulfed at the start but didn’t need to beat the Class D cars and all looked good for the crown, particularly as a shunt in practice had left Unett’s Avenger looking second-hand.

Then Dron got a strange feeling as a tyre began to fail. “I nursed it as best I could on the right-handers but the damage was done,” Dron told Autosport in 2021. “As that tyre steadily fell apart, I found myself going ever more sideways, at much-reduced speed. With about three laps to go, I spotted the nose of a Vauxhall Magnum in the distance behind me, gaining rapidly.”

That was class rival Jeff Allam. Somehow, the struggling Dron kept Allam behind until the final corner of the season.

“My left rear was completely shot by then and so, with great chunks of tread flying off it, I went through that corner on nearly full opposite lock at a painfully slow speed while still trying my best to make myself into an obstacle,” added Dron. “It was hopeless, and Allam slipped past very easily and beat me to the finish line by less than a second.”

It turned out that, unbeknown to Dron, Broadspeed boss Ralph Broad had gone for a softer-compound tyre than originally planned. The result was that, although Dron took the class crown, he missed the overall title by one point to Unett, the 1300cc dominator who suffered his own defeat at Brands.

7. 1966 Brands Hatch

Ford Anglia driver Fitzpatrick, pictured at Brands Hatch earlier in the 1966 season, narrowly won out over Mini driver Rhodes

Ford Anglia driver Fitzpatrick, pictured at Brands Hatch earlier in the 1966 season, narrowly won out over Mini driver Rhodes

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Contenders: John Rhodes, John Fitzpatrick
Winner: Jackie Oliver
Champion: John Fitzpatrick

Overall victories in 1966 were shared around so, not for the first or last time, the overall crown boiled down to a battle between those in the smaller-engined classes. Rising star John Fitzpatrick was the man to beat in the up to 1000cc class with his Broadspeed Ford Anglia, while the entertaining and consistent John Rhodes scored well in the 1300cc split with his Cooper-run Austin Mini Cooper S.

Neither could afford to slip up at the Brands finale, run over two heats for an aggregate score and described by Autosport’s Gregor Grant as “highly exciting”. While Jackie Oliver’s Ford Mustang won, Rhodes faced a stern test from the Superspeed Anglia of Mike Young.

Autosport reckoned the duo were “rushing round the circuit in a little ball of tyre smoke” as Young pressed Rhodes until finding a way past in heat one. The Anglia held on to beat Rhodes by just 0.2s and take fifth overall.

Rhodes grabbed the advantage in heat two in a contest that again went all the way to the flag. “On the last lap the two of them were side by side round Paddock, side by side up the hill and side by side round Druids,” reported Simon Taylor.

Young came out ahead and held on to pip Rhodes once again and restrict him to second on aggregate. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick beat the Imp challenge in both stanzas to take Class A.

That meant the duo finished the season on equal points and, with six class wins to the one of Rhodes, Fitzpatrick became the youngest series champion, a record that still stands.

6. 2000 Silverstone

Reid was unfortunate in the 2000 final round at Silverstone, staged under the floodlights, to lose out to Ford team-mate Menu

Reid was unfortunate in the 2000 final round at Silverstone, staged under the floodlights, to lose out to Ford team-mate Menu

Photo by: Peter Fox

Contenders: Anthony Reid, Alain Menu, Rickard Rydell
Winner: Tom Kristensen
Champion: Alain Menu

In terms of manufacturer involvement, the high-cost Super Touring era was past its peak by 2000, the final year of the ruleset in the UK. But the quality was incredibly high, with crack teams from Ford, Honda and Vauxhall.

Prodrive’s sophisticated V6 Ford Mondeo was the car to have and all three of the team’s drivers – 1997 champion Alain Menu, 1998 title winner Rickard Rydell and 1998 runner-up Anthony Reid – went to Silverstone with a chance of the crown.

Top 10: Ranking the greatest BTCC Super Touring drivers

Reid led Menu by nine points, with Rydell the outsider in a dropped-scores system. And things started badly for Menu in race one when, after a poor start, he lost control and was hit by Plato. “It was my fault,” recalled Menu in 2007.

He could only watch as Rydell took second and Reid seventh, but it could have been worse. A ballast-laden Reid had been running fourth when contact with Gabriele Tarquini’s Honda, for which the Italian received three penalty points, pushed him back.

“I was completely relaxed between the two races because I had nothing to lose,” added Menu. His job was made easier when on engine leak cruelly prevented Rydell from starting the finale, setting up a straight duel for the title.

Menu ran second early on in the night race and the pressure was on sixth-starter Reid. Both made sure of grabbing a point for leading during the pitstop phase.

The title still hung in the balance, with Menu running in the second place he needed but with an attacking Plato pressuring him and Reid fifth. But when a tentative Reid was hit by an aggressive Vincent Radermecker’s Vauxhall at Becketts with less than three laps to go, it was all over. The Belgian was handed four penalty points for the move but that was little consolation for a distraught Reid, who was left in the gravel.

Menu was then happy to let Plato by. The Swiss finished third, enough to secure his second BTCC title by two points. “It feels much better than 1997,” he said.

“What a finish!” reckoned Autosport.

5. 2015 Brands Hatch

Shedden carved his way through the pack from 19th to finish fourth and pip Plato to the 2015 crown

Shedden carved his way through the pack from 19th to finish fourth and pip Plato to the 2015 crown

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Contenders: Gordon Shedden, Jason Plato
Winner: Jason Plato
Champion: Gordon Shedden

A 23-point lead heading into the final meeting is not to be sniffed at in the modern era. That’s what works Honda ace Shedden had going into 2015’s finale but there was a rollercoaster ride before the Scot secured his second BTCC crown.

Title rival Plato had thrust his VW ahead of Shedden in race one and then backed him up, though at least Shedden had team-mate Neal playing rear-gunner. But in race two a punt from behind gave Shedden damage and he finished 19th, scoring no points and giving him a row 10 start for the finale. Plato was now 12 points behind and starting from second…

Plato did his bit by grabbing the lead when poleman Neal slid wide at Paddock on lap one, and headed the pack throughout, putting the onus on Shedden to get deep into the points. At least he now had no success ballast, allowing Shedden to unleash the full potential of the Civic Type R.

A combination of hard-charging, safety car restarts, help from certain rivals and others hitting trouble, allowed Shedden to move forward. “I just couldn’t do anything apart from give it everything,” he said. “If I didn’t give it maximum attack I wasn’t going to win anything.”

With four laps to go, Shedden moved into fifth but still needed one more place given Plato’s lead, fastest lap and higher number of 2015 race wins.

With two laps to go, third-placed Neal backed off to allow Jack Goff and Shedden through. Sam Tordoff also stole the fastest lap point on the penultimate tour, meaning Shedden’s drive from 19th to fourth was enough to beat Plato to the title by four points.

Shedden’s winning margin in 2016 was even smaller – two points – and he had to come back from a 52-point deficit halfway through the season, but rival Tordoff just wasn’t able to put up as much of a fight in the finale, so 2015 gets the nod here.

4. 2019 Brands Hatch

Turkington stormed back into contention after race two drama and became champion after Cammish's brakes gave out

Turkington stormed back into contention after race two drama and became champion after Cammish's brakes gave out

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Contenders: Dan Cammish, Colin Turkington, Andrew Jordan
Winner: Jason Plato
Champion: Colin Turkington

BMW duo Colin Turkington and Jordan had set the pace early in 2019 with West Surry Racing’s new 330i M Sport. Typically, Turkington’s campaign became one of consistency while carrying significant success ballast, while Jordan banged in more wins as he strove to recover ground lost to a serious shunt at Donington Park.

And also in the mix was Dan Cammish, in just his second BTCC season with the Dynamics Honda squad. A win and a third in the first two Brands races put Cammish ahead of Turkington and Jordan, despite only taking two wins to their five and six respectively. He’d been helped by a controversial clash between team-mate Neal and Turkington in race two, which had limited Turkington to 25th and earned Neal a five-place penalty for the finale.

Cammish started eighth and reached sixth just after one-third distance. A charging Turkington was already ninth but, with Jordan only fifth, a shock title seemed to be heading to the Honda driver.

Remarkably, Turkington kept coming and, on lap 12 of 15, found a way by Cammish to take seventh, with Tom Ingram further demoting the Civic to ninth.

Even Turkington rising to sixth wasn’t enough for the BMW ace but on the penultimate lap Cammish’s overheating brakes finally failed him heading into Hawthorns. The ensuing crash dramatically put the Honda out and handed Turkington his fourth crown by just two points from Jordan and Cammish.

“It’s definitely been the race of my life,” said Turkington. “There have been some amazing finals but for me personally, I could never replicate that.”

3. 2004 Donington Park

Muller led all the way in the 2004 finale, but third with fastest lap was enough for Thompson to edge to the crown

Muller led all the way in the 2004 finale, but third with fastest lap was enough for Thompson to edge to the crown

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Contenders: James Thompson, Yvan Muller
Winner: Yvan Muller
Champion: James Thompson

Vauxhall and Triple Eight dominated the early years of the cut-price BTC-T era with the Astra Coupe, its top drivers battling it out for the title. The 2001 clash between Plato and Yvan Muller could have made this list, but we’ve gone for the Donington decider three years later because there were more frontrunners and the championship fight was even tighter.

It was the first year of three races per round and MG driver Reid had a mathematical chance of the crown at the final meeting. But really it was about James Thompson and Muller, separated by just four points, both having scored four wins.

Thompson was in an uncharacteristically rough mood and got a fine and points on his licence for a big lunge on Neal’s Honda in race one. He apologised but crucially finished second, with Muller only seventh after his own contretemps with his team-mate.

Muller clawed some ground back in race two, finishing second to Thompson’s fifth. That meant the Frenchman was six points behind heading into the 30th and final contest – and had more success ballast.

In what Autosport called “one of the tightest, closest battles of the season”, Muller grabbed the lead, with Thompson rising from fifth to third on the opening lap. There were 15 points on offer for a win, one for leading and one for fastest lap. Only 10 were awarded for third, so the destiny of the crown was on a knife edge throughout.

Muller had to fend off the attentions of Plato’s lighter SEAT, while Thompson managed to set fastest lap on the third tour. If anyone other than Muller took it away from him and the Frenchman stayed where he was, the duo would finish on the same number of points, with Muller taking it on wins countback.

Despite a big effort and a little contact from Plato, Muller held on to win by 0.291s. But even tighter was the fastest lap point: Plato’s best was just 0.021s slower than Thompson’s. The Brit thus took his second BTCC crown by a single point – not many titles are decided by 0.021s!

“That was always the game plan – to take fastest lap,” said a cool Thompson. “Then I just had to sit there and hope no one else went quicker.”

“It was a fine end to an exciting BTCC season,” concluded Autosport.

2. 2009 Brands Hatch

Turkington had to get his elbows out to secure his first BTCC title in 2009

Turkington had to get his elbows out to secure his first BTCC title in 2009

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Contenders: Colin Turkington, Fabrizio Giovanardi, Jason Plato
Winner: Jason Plato
Champion: Colin Turkington

The 2009 campaign was one of the great BTCC seasons. Double champion Fabrizio Giovanardi was aiming for a hat-trick with the Triple Eight Vauxhall squad, Plato became more and more of a threat with the RML Chevrolet Lacetti, and Turkington had come of age with the WSR BMW team.

Turkington, with six wins, arrived at Brands with a 13-point lead over five-time victor Giovanardi, while Plato (four wins) appeared the outsider, another 15 points behind. All three showed their mettle across a fittingly enthralling showdown.

A relatively tame opening affair was enlivened at the end as Plato managed to outfox long-time leader Tom Chilton at Clearways, winning the drag to the line by just 0.015s. Giovanardi was third, while Turkington could only progress from 10th to eighth.

Top 10: Ranking the greatest BTCC champions

Plato did it again in race two, though this time Turkington made it to third, with Giovanardi between them. “The Italian’s car teetered on the brink of adhesion more than any other – that was how hard he was pushing,” reported Autosport. “It was breathtaking to watch.”

All this left Turkington four points ahead of Giovanardi and Plato only another four further back. They started sixth, seventh and eighth respectively for the finale.

Turkington picked his way through an eventful opening lap to run second, with Giovanardi third and Plato sixth. Leader Neal tried to hold Turkington up to help his Vauxhall team-mate and the BMW had to get rough, forcing the issue at Druids at half-distance.

Giovanardi followed Turkington through and then attacked at Clearways, the duo flirting with disaster. Giovanardi got two wheels onto the grass and both were delayed, allowing a flying Plato to get a run on his rivals. The Chevrolet powered by the Vauxhall and then went around the outside of Turkington to brilliantly take the lead. “If anyone needed proof of this year’s BTCC being a classic, this was it,” reckoned Autosport.

While Plato headed to a remarkable hat-trick, Turkington had to be more robust than usual to keep Giovanardi back, the Vauxhall being delayed enough to allow Chilton’s Ford into third. “Staying ahead of Fabrizio took probably the best two laps my life,” said Turkington after finishing second to take his first title by five points from Plato.

1. 1992 Silverstone

Cleland and Soper's dramatic crash secured the 1992 title for Harvey

Cleland and Soper's dramatic crash secured the 1992 title for Harvey

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Contenders: John Cleland, Tim Harvey, Will Hoy
Winner: Andy Rouse
Champion: Tim Harvey

Is this the most famous BTCC race of all? It probably did more than any other to boost the championship’s profile.

Despite a nasty testing crash that left him with a broken back and sternum, Dave Cook Racing Vauxhall’s John Cleland held a narrow advantage heading into the finale, but Tim Harvey arrived on the back of five consecutive wins with his Vic Lee Motorsport BMW. Rouse Toyota driver and 1991 champion Will Hoy was also in contention.

All had troubled qualifying sessions, Cleland lining up seventh, Hoy ninth and Harvey 12th, while Andy Rouse scored a spectacular pole, the last of his illustrious BTCC career.

The first drama involved Harvey’s BMW team-mate Steve Soper. Contact with David Leslie’s Ecurie Ecosse Vauxhall at Club sent him spinning and he was collected by Robb Gravett’s Peugeot. Somehow Soper’s shortened 318is was still mobile and he charged back into the race to start a remarkable recovery drive.

Although Hoy had brilliantly jumped to fourth, Cleland remained the title favourite as he battled Harvey. But Soper was soon closing on all three.

With two laps to go, less than 3s covered the top seven, with Hoy leading Harvey and Cleland. That would have been enough to give Cleland the crown, but then Harvey barged past Hoy at Copse, sending the Toyota wide.

Cleland and Soper went by the Toyota and Harvey, before Soper’s ABS-equipped BMW dived by the Vauxhall at Club. While Cleland showed his disapproval, Harvey overtook him at Bridge, with Soper immediately allowing his team-mate through. Now Harvey was set to take the crown.

At Brooklands, Cleland launched the Vauxhall down the inside of Soper, going up on two wheels. Soper retaliated by attacking the Cavalier into Luffield, hitting Cleland in the door – and the duo disappeared into the gravel together. Cue the infamous, “The man’s an animal,” line from Cleland.

The famous crash made for the ultimate dramatic conclusion to a season full of intrigue

The famous crash made for the ultimate dramatic conclusion to a season full of intrigue

Photo by: Sutton Images

Harvey raced on to fourth, with Hoy fifth. That was enough for the BMW driver to take the crown by three points – and for Hoy to snatch second from Cleland.

“No one could have scripted a more dramatic finish,” said Autosport, which also plastered the clash across its cover. “It had been a mighty spectacular race, but a little too physical.”

PLUS: The full story of the BTCC’s 1992 season decider

Up at the front, the race underlined how close competition under the two-litre regulations was as Rouse pipped Allam by 0.1s for his final BTCC victory, with Leslie only 0.72s behind the winner.

Toyota driver Rouse was the almost forgotten winner of the most famous BTCC title decider of them all

Toyota driver Rouse was the almost forgotten winner of the most famous BTCC title decider of them all

Photo by: Motorsport Images

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