The British Touring Car Championship is one of the best-loved, most illustrious and famous motor racing championships in the world. Only Formula 1 and America’s NASCAR stock car series have longer histories – since its inception in 1958, it has attracted and captivated millions of fans around the world.
Saloon car racing was a huge success from the very start, with the public packing into Britain’s motorsport venues to watch the top drivers of the day compete in racing versions of their road cars at simply unbelievable speeds. It’s a lasting appeal that to this day continues to deliver a punch and panache that is the envy of every other motor sporting arena in the UK.
Traditional, great British names such as Jaguar, Austin, Ford, Mini, Lotus, Sunbeam and Triumph – often with top international stars, including Formula 1 drivers, at the wheel – were all winners in the first 20 years, each aware of the importance of using the BTCC to showcase their latest models.
By the Eighties, the BTCC was moving with the times and beginning to develop a truly international flavour. Mazda, Toyota and Alfa Romeo were the first three winners of the decade as the championship continued to be run for several classes of car, but the mighty Ford RS500 and BMW M3 – dominant as the Nineties loomed – are probably the two most evocative models of the period.
It was in the Nineties, however, that the BTCC truly boomed. The championship was already beginning to grow in stature, with regular television coverage on the BBC’s flagship sports show, Grandstand. When the decision was taken to make the BTCC exclusively for 2-litre cars, it instantly created closer racing and attracted a host of high-profile manufacturers, teams and drivers to the series. Combined with enhanced television coverage and marketing genius, this made the BTCC essential viewing for millions throughout the UK – and many millions more around the world.
Trackside crowd figures nudged the 40,000 mark as the calendar evolved into a major UK tour with events being added in Scotland and Wales. The social element of the championship quickly became important, and as is the case now, there was no substitute for ‘being there’. Few other sports have enjoyed such rapid growth in popularity.
Unsurprisingly, manufacturers simply could not afford to miss out on the enormous marketing value of competing in the BTCC and Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Peugeot, Renault, Toyota, Vauxhall and Volvo were all quick to join the party. Every one of them has the BTCC to thank for being a part of their ongoing growth in the UK today. Honda, Subaru, BMW, Vauxhall, MG reap the rewards by fielding official ‘works’ teams in today’s championship while Ford and Toyota each provide customer support to teams on the grid.
Twenty years on, now with unprecedented levels of national television coverage, ITV has agreed a long-term contract extension up until the end of 2022. That same 2-litre formula continues to provide one of motor sport’s most addictive, action-packed atmospheres for an audience of millions. It is the perfect platform for teams, drivers and sponsors to raise their profiles and reputations.