The 2013 season saw the birth of an all-new historic racing series, the HSCC Super Touring Trophy, and crowds flocked to see the stars of the ‘golden era’ of the British Touring Car Championship back on track.
As it turned out, it was not only the fans who were desperate to see Nissan Primeras, Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500s, Honda Accords and Vauxhall Vectras racing again, as the series tempted big names from BTCC’s history back in to the race seats. Both Patrick Watts and John Cleland got hold of their old machines, Watts in a Peugeot 406 and John Cleland in his Vectra, while Tim Harvey made appearances to drive Paul Smith‘s Sierra Cosworth RS500.
The season began at an incredibly cold Thruxton, although only a small grid made it to the Easter Trophy, an event that saw Stewart Whyte score the Treble – Pole position and wins in both of the races – the only man to do so all year.
It was a different story at Brands Hatch for the Historic Superprix in June, however, as Watts and Cleland arrived with their newly acquired challengers. While Watts’ Peugeot hadn’t been the strongest of contenders during its time in the BTCC, it was a proven race-winner Down Under, and Watts was determined to prove the old girl still had the pace.
“The 406 was a good car,” he said at the Silverstone Classic Media Day.“We had good drivers, too. It was the team that held us back. The team is gone and we’re going for the front.”
And for the front he went, taking pole position at Brands Hatch, almost three seconds ahead of Thruxton star Whyte, while fellow Scot Cleland qualified down in fifth.
The first race didn’t quite go as planned for either of the BTCC legends, with both drivers retiring in the first two laps – Watts pulling off with a loose wheel and Cleland following suit with a driveshaft issue. The retirements allowed the two Nissan Primeras of James Dodd and Derek Palmer to take a 1-2 finish, taking Brands Hatch back to the 1999 BTCC season and the dominance of David Leslie and Laurent Aiello.
Due to Watts and Cleland’s retirements, they were relegated to the back of the grid for race two, resulting in an extremely exciting fight through the field. Watts stormed through the pack before having a good race-long battle with race one winner, Dodd, while Cleland battled with the ex-Matt Neal Nissan Primera of Dave Jarman, only passing the Nissan on the final lap of the race to complete the podium positions.
“I was trying all the tricks in the book, lights on, lights off – it was a bit of fun,” said the 1995 BTCC Champion. “We had to make some new parts overnight after the suspension mount for the engine broke in the first race, which could have been an issue, but there were no problems with them. There’s some pace left in me, too. It was the first time I’ve raced on slick tyres since 2005 so it’ll take some time to get used to them again.”
It was only two weeks until the Super Tourers were back in action, this time on the full Silverstone Grand Prix circuit for the Silverstone Classic. Unfortunately there was to be no John Cleland for this round, but in his place stepped Tim Harvey and current BTCC star, Frank Wrathall.
An extremely good looking 31-car grid lined up for the first race, with Patrick Watts once again taking pole position, but this time by just 0.070 seconds over Whyte, who was cementing himself as a top name in the series. A notable performance was that of the Smith/Harvey Sierra RS500 entry, which had qualified on the second row of the grid.
At the drop of the flag, Harvey stormed to the lead, utilising the superior straight-line speed of the Sierra over its Super Touring rivals, managing to hold Watts back for the remainder of the opening lap despite the far stronger cornering speed of the 406. Harvey only had to hold Watts off for one full lap as the Peugeot speared off to the right on the exit of Copse, ending his weekend. Watts blamed cold tyres for the spin having been held up through the corners by the Sierra.
After Harvey dropped down the field due to an engine issue, the battle for the lead now saw Whyte trying to find a way past Neil Smith‘s Alfa Romeo 156. Eventually the Honda made it through at Brooklands on the penultimate lap, a move Smith tried to emulate a lap later, resulting in both cars going off track and allowing Wrathall to close up to Smith after Whyte had stormed off in the lead. Whyte spun off just a few corners later, giving Wrathall the win after the on-the-road victor Smith was disqualified for the contact with the Honda.
A much calmer second race saw Wrathall take a lights-to-flag victory, holding off an early charge from the RS500s, while Stewart Whyte forced his way back into second place after the damage in race one. Neil Smith, who had to start from the back of the grid following his exclusion, could only manage to work his way into fifth place as Craig Davies took the final podium spot in an RS500.
“This win is much more enjoyable,” said Wrathall after the second race. “We didn’t deserve yesterday’s win, but I was desperate to make it count after the first race so we made some changes overnight. I knew from the first lap that it was much better, it was perfect. I could have driven an hour in that race, the car was a dream.”
The final weekend of the season saw the Super Tourers head to Oulton Park for the prestigious Gold Cup meeting. A 1999 ex-James Thompson Honda Accord also joined the series, driven by James Dodd.
Dodd could only manage second on the grid, however, as Derek Palmer took his first pole of the season in the Nissan Primera, followed by Watts and the returning John Cleland on the second row of the grid. Unfortunately Watts’ race ended prematurely yet again, this time through an incident with Paul Smith’s RS500.
As Dodd started to pull out a lead, a thrilling three-way battle for the remaining podium places ensued, with Cleland doing his best to hold back the chasing Whyte and Palmer. It all ended in tears, though, as Cleland and Whyte collided through Old Hall on the final lap, dropping Palmer to the back of the field while Whyte claimed second, closely followed by Cleland.
“The Primera passed me twice at Old Hall and I gave him plenty of room, but I’d get him back a couple of corners later,” said Cleland. “I saw Whyte coming and I gave him the same amount of room, but he was just carrying too much speed in to the corner. If I wasn’t there he would have gone off.”
“I noticed he was slow through Old Hall,” responded Whyte. “I put the car down the inside and he turned in on me.”
The final race of the year was much more well behaved affair, with Dodd storming to his second win of the weekend while the opening stages saw Cleland hold back Whyte. An almost certain second place for Cleland went out the window just two laps from the end with an alternator belt issue, promoting Whyte up to second and allowing Tim Harvey to take the final podium spot of the season.
“I got quite emotional driving the car,” said the 1992 British Touring Car Champion. “The engine went at Silverstone, but the new one was just fantastic, it was so strong and so easy to drive. It was a lot of fun, I loved it. I’ve definitely got the bug back, I just wish I could buy it!”
2013 HSCC Super Touring Trophy Results
|Event||Pole Position||Race 1 Winner||Race 2 Winner|
|Thruxton Easter Revival||Stewart Whyte (Honda Accord)||Stewart Whyte (Honda Accord)||Stewart Whyte (Honda Accord)|
|Brands Hatch Historic Superprix||Patrick Watts (Peugeot 406)||James Dodd (Nissan Primera)||Patrick Watts (Peugeot 406)|
|Silverstone Classic||Patrick Watts (Peugeot 406)||Frank Wrathall (Vauxhall Cavalier)||Frank Wrathall (Vauxhall Cavalier)|
|Oulton Park Gold Cup||Derek Palmer (Nissan Primera)||James Dodd (Honda Accord)||James Dodd (Honda Accord)|
The series is now preparing for its second year as part of the HSCC, with a number of new cars coming out of the woodwork, including two ex-Williams Renault Lagunas that were seen testing at Donington Park. Whether the new entrants will be able to keep up with the likes of James Dodd of Stewart Whyte remains to be seen, but it’s almost certain to add to the spectacle for the fans.
The 2014 Super Touring Trophy will also see a slightly expanded calendar. The four current events will be joined by an additional round on the 7th-8th June, although the location is still to be announced.
“This series really does have the potential to be a great, great series,” said Cleland at the close of the 2013 season. “There’s a lot of great cars out there, more are coming back to the UK, and the fans love them. Loads of people come just to see these cars, and to see them out on track again is just fantastic.”
With exciting racing, big names and a lot of fan interest – which can only have been increased by the Silverstone Classic’s television coverage, which will air again on Christmas morning – the Super Touring Trophy is a series to keep your eyes on. Will James Dodd’s Oulton Park pace continue? Will the new Lagunas be up to speed? Will John Cleland make it back to the top step of the podium? Can Patrick Watts finish both races in a weekend?
2014 HSCC Super Touring Trophy Calendar
|19-20 April||Thruxton Easter Revival|
|12-13 July||Brands Hatch Historic Superprix|
|25-27 July||Silverstone Classic|
|23-25 August||Oulton Park Gold Cup|