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Opinion

Why Super Touring Power should become a regular highlight

OPINION: A new festival for the Super Touring machines that entertained British Touring Car Championship observers in the 1990s attracted strong interest, both from period competitors and fans alike. Now to make it a regular fixture on the club racing calendar

Greg Murphy, Nissan Primera STW

Super Touring cars were amazingly sophisticated and expensive, which helps to explain why getting a consistently strong grid of them for a historic championship has always been a challenge. But it is possible to relive one of the true heydays of tin-top competition, as last weekend’s Brands Hatch Super Touring Power Event proved.

A fine field of 20 cars qualified for the first race on the Grand Prix layout on Saturday and 15 lined up for the fourth and final contest on the Indy circuit on Saturday. The races were short and sharp – sensible given the exotic machinery – but long enough to make the right sights and sounds, and evoke many memories.

The celebration went far beyond that, with displays and on-track demonstrations that included more Super Tourers and other impressive tin-tops. Seeing Alain Menu’s 1997 British Touring Car Championship-winning Renault Laguna on-track with Ash Sutton’s current NGTC Ford Focus and a 2008 Holden Commodore driven (quickly) by Greg Murphy was a highlight even though they weren’t racing. And then there were the myriad other attractions, including the chance to play the original TOCA and TOCA 2 computer games that so helped increase the profile of the BTCC in the late 1990s.

But perhaps the biggest draw was the period stars, who were swamped for autographs. Menu found himself signing five of his old overalls owned by one fan and twice joined Autosport on the Super Touring Power stand to reminisce about a golden era of touring cars. Jeff Allam, Tim Harvey, Murphy, Paul Radisich, Anthony Reid, Steven Richards, Andy Rouse, Steve Soper and Patrick Watts did likewise over the two days, while Jake Hill – who showed his class on-track by winning all four races in the ex-Laurent Aiello Nissan Primera – also joined in. All seemed to enjoy it, with Menu even staging a minor invasion of our interview with his former team-mate and sparring partner Reid…

Reid said the weekend “exceeded expectations” and that summed up the general feeling. There were certainly plenty of fans – official figures weren’t put out but it’s safe to say it was closer to a contemporary BTCC crowd than to a ‘normal’ clubbie.

It provided a feel-good factor for MSV group motorsport event manager David Willey, who worked closely with Classic Touring Car Racing Club chairman Stuart Caie, Peter Still and MSV’s Tom Arron to make it happen.

Period and contemporary BTCC racers completed demo runs, with Ash Sutton aboard his NAPA Ford

Period and contemporary BTCC racers completed demo runs, with Ash Sutton aboard his NAPA Ford

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

“I met with Stuart at Easter last year,” says Willey. “They’ve been doing a tremendous job with the Super Tourers and we thought we’d really push an event at Brands. We discussed some ideas and it was one of those moments when all the stars seemed to align.

“We thought, ‘What was at those events?’ As a teenager, I spent hours on TOCA 2 and a few colleagues said they still had the game, so we ended up getting four PlayStations and old games, and a tent…”

Reaction to a TOCA 2 social media post showed they were on the right track.

“We’ve put a huge amount of promotion and investment behind it,” adds Willey. “We put our heart and soul into this.

"There are so many more stars we could hopefully invite next year. And it’s all about making sure people want to do it again" David Willey

“The love and fondness for the period has just been amazing. What’s blown me away is how approachable the legendary drivers have been and to hear how happy they are to be here.”

It wasn’t just about Super Touring, either. Although that was the headline, the CTCRC’s other series charted the history of tin-tops right back to the start, with its usual pre-1966/1983/1993/2003 and Classic Thunder divisions – and plenty of spectators stayed trackside to watch them.

“It’s been an amazing race weekend and the entries have been fantastic,” confirms Willey.
It led many to ask about a repeat in 2024.

“I would love to say we’re going to do this next year and we’re open to it, but it’s been such a success how on Earth are we going to top this?” asks Willey. “We have to be mindful about how we take this forward.”

Down Under stars Steven Richards, Paul Radisich and Greg Murphy made the long trip to Brands. Now organisers want more past legends to join the fun

Down Under stars Steven Richards, Paul Radisich and Greg Murphy made the long trip to Brands. Now organisers want more past legends to join the fun

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

Fortunately, there is scope for more. Watts is thinking about racing his Peugeot 406, John Cleland – who couldn’t make it this year – would be an obvious draw. Then there’s 1998 champion Rickard Rydell (busy last weekend at the Red Bull Ring), plus Frank Biela and Yvan Muller (both potential attendees until getting Le Mans Classic gigs).

There were no Audis or BMWs in the Super Touring races, either – that’s not a criticism, merely a point to aim for next time. There are already murmurings that other cars could reappear.

“Now that they’ve seen the event, people will get cars ready,” agrees Willey. “One of the big things to get next year would be John Cleland. He’s fantastic, still runs his Vauxhall Vectra and has such a following. There are so many more stars we could hopefully invite next year. And it’s all about making sure people want to do it again.”

There doesn’t seem to be much issue there. Some of the drivers hadn’t seen each other in 20 years so there was a kind of reunion atmosphere. And their thoughts also turned to who else should come – Menu suggested 1993 champ Jo Winkelhock, while Hill reckoned other current BTCC racers should come along.

Willey was understandably cautious about committing to doing the event again, but this felt like the start of something, not a one-off. Let’s get a date in the 2024 diary sooner rather than later…

All concerned hope to see Super Touring Power become an annual club racing highlight

All concerned hope to see Super Touring Power become an annual club racing highlight

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

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