The SuperTouring era of the British Touring Car Championship does tend to be looked back upon fondly and you cannot deny the retrospective praise it deserves. Despite a huge disparity between manufacturers and independents, the cars used at the time still produced great close racing and are often the era of regulations that current drivers wish they could go back to.
Sadly, as the seasons progressed the amount of money it cost to run a team for the championship grew until budgets were unsustainable for the future. The BTCC waved goodbye to SuperTouring following the 2000 championship where they headed to the relatively cheaper BTC-Touring category in 2001.
Alongside the iconic cars came the iconic drivers. These were the heroes that most of the current grid and fans would have grown up watching on television or playing as them on their Playstations.
Menu, Cleland, Biela, Radisich, Leslie and Winkelhock are just a few of the great names who took part in the championship during this time.
One such iconic driver was Sweden’s Rickard Rydell. The 1998 BTCC champion being one of the names that gives British touring car fans an air of nostalgia whenever his name is mentioned. Memories of his time with the Tom Walkinshaw Racing Volvo still strong for those who watched at the time.
The Checkered Flag caught up with Rickard to talk about his time in the BTCC and the fact he will be reunited with his title winning Volvo S40 later this year at the Silverstone Classic.
Before his BTCC career started in 1994, it could have been very different if it wasn’t due to a lung collapse caused by constant travel between Sweden and Japan.
Rickard Rydell – “Well first of all may aim was to do F1, I won Macau in 1992 and in 1993 I did F3 and I had a seat to do F3000 in 1994 which I verbally almost agreed to. Then it was the fact I actually had a lung collapse in Japan from stress going back and forwards to Japan. Being in hospital for a week in Japan then after that getting the offer from TWR to drive their car in the BTCC. I thought maybe it’s better to travel back and forwards to the UK not Japan. So if it hadn’t been for that I would have done F3000 in Japan to get to F1, but I decided to do touring cars.”
When Rickard learnt about the BTCC, he was surprised to learn about how popular the series was in the UK.
RR – “At that time, I didn’t know how big the BTCC was or how big it was going to be. It grew a lot in those years. Maybe at the beginning I thought ‘is this the right thing to do’. But, quite soon I really appreciated it and I don’t regret it at all. I had some really fun years and if I hadn’t done it, who knows? I might have done F3000 in Japan for one more year and my career may have been over, you don’t know.”
The Checkered Flag – What were your first thoughts of the Volvo 850 Estate?
RR – “When I signed for TWR, I didn’t know we were going to run the estate. The step from hoping to be in F1 to driving an estate in the BTCC was quite big. In the beginning I thought ‘have I really made the right decision’. I wasn’t happy the first few races because the car was really difficult to drive and I thought it was like that to drive a touring car. It was the first time TWR made a front wheel drive car and quite soon they made the car better through the year. We managed to qualify the car third at Snetterton and the car got a little bit better. At the beginning it was not so easy.”
“From 1995 onwards the car [850 Saloon] was really fun to drive. I was third in the championship ”
TCF – What was the change like going from the Volvo 850 to the Volvo S40?
RR – “It was good, you could definitely feel the difference. You realise the 850 was quite a big car so [the S40] had a quicker change of direction and was easier to drive whilst the other car was a bit slow to react.
“I think the biggest change from 1997 to 1998 was the engine, TWR managed to get more out of the engine so I think that was a big help. The chassis also became a little bit better, I remember we also changed the geometry and got a better front end for 1998 as well.
“It was like a step up in 1997 but not enough, then the things we didn’t get right with the S40 we did right in 1998.”
TCF – That’s always been the case with most cars, it’s very rare a new car in the series will dominate from the first race.
RR – “Exactly”
“It’s difficult on a design to get it right, it’s only when you test it and drive it around different kinds of corners of a circuit when you realise that you need a bit more of this or a bit more of that. You have to run the car on the track before you know exactly.
“I guess also in those days it’s not like an F1 team where you have so many resources that you get it right because you have done so many tests and other things. When you do a touring car and with the resources and budget we had, you need a bit of experience with the car for sure.”
TCF – Having driven for TWR and Prodrive in the BTCC, were you ever tempted to drive for another team?
RR – “Well I talked to people, but I was quite happy with Volvo and TWR. It was only when Volvo pulled out in 1999 that I had an offer from TWR to go to Australia on a two year contract to stay with the team in 2000 and 2001. I was thinking about doing that but then decided to stay. At that time Ford owned Volvo, so Volvo talked to Ford and I got the drive at Prodrive. I decided to stay in the UK because I had my family in Sweden and we didn’t really want to move to Australia.”
TCF – Who were your toughest competitors in the BTCC?
RR – “I guess if you look back over the years, Alain Menu was always very fast. He won a lot in the Renault so I guess he was one of my toughest competitors. The first couple of years John Cleland, he taught me a few tricks.
“But I guess seeing my whole BTCC time I must say Alain, now he’s probably one of my best friends in racing. We don’t speak regularly, but we do now and then and keep in touch.”
TCF – Which BTCC race are you most proud of?
RR – “In 1998 I guess there were a few important races, the one I remember is Silverstone when I managed to seal the championship before the second race. It’s not that I was proud of that race I just can’t remember. I think I finished third.
“I’m sure I had other better races, I can’t remember to be honest I don’t think about a particular race. When you look back, you look back more at the season. Maybe it’s too easy for me to forget the past and just look ahead, I don’t think about what I’ve done so much, it’s only when you do a thing like the Silverstone Classic you look back and see what you had done but I haven’t thought like that much before.
“I tend to forget the races I’ve done but of course when you look back there must have been many good races but I can’t think of any particular race.”
TCF – Which was your favourite circuit in the championship and why?
RR – “I think Brands Hatch Grand Prix, it’s just a really nice circuit with the elevation changes. Paddock Hill Bend is like something else and the back of the track where you have Hawthorn and Dingle Dell. The old Dingle Dell of course was really good but even the new one is quite spectacular. Stirlings you had on cambered corners, off cambered corners it has a lot of those things.
“Another circuit I liked was Oulton Park, the long Oulton Park circuit was quite special as well, maybe a little bit more dangerous but if you look at the circuits you have in England there are a lot of nice tracks but Brands Grand Prix is number one.”
TCF – Which was your least favourite circuit in the championship and why?
RR – “There’s not any one I dislike at all. I guess, I don’t dislike Snetterton at all but it’s the one I don’t like as much as the others.”
TCF – How would you compare your time driving the SuperTouring cars in the BTCC and the Super2000 cars in the STCC and WTCC?
RR – “It’s quite a few years between them, some things got better. Differential and drivetrain being a little bit different from 1998 and 1999. The Chevrolet was really well balanced but so were the SuperTouring cars.
“There were too many years in between so it’s really hard to compare a car from that age to later, it’s around fourteen years or so. I guess the aero was better in the SuperTouring car, the air wing at the front we had a bit more downforce which helped in fast corners.”
TCF – If back between 1994 and 2000 you had no loyalty or contract to any team, which one of your competitors cars would you have wanted to try out the most?
RR – “Haha, I guess the first season with the Alfa Romeo when they came because they were so fast. In the beginning I would have liked to have tried out that Alfa as it was in 1994, it was the car to have at that time for sure.
“It was quite a big difference, when that car arrived they had done everything with the wings and it was quite a lot faster than anything else. Later years when the Renault was quick there was not that much in between it.”
TCF – Are you looking foward to your drive in the Silverstone Classic?
RR – “Yes, definitely. I have had so many years driving in England from 1989 to 1991 and then again from 1994 to 2000 so I spent a lot of time there, it’s like a second home but I haven’t been there much the past few years.
“I’ve not been before but I’ve heard a lot about it, just to go on the infield and watch the other cars is going to be great. I’m really looking forward to it.”
TCF – And the fact it attracts drivers like John Cleland and Gabriele Tarquini means that it’s a highly regarded event.
RR – “Yeah exactly and also there will be quite a few people from my TWR days there. Jason Minshaw who runs the car normally has been in contact with a few of the mechanics, I’ve been in contact with Graham Taylor my engineer when we won in 1998 so it’ll be a fun weekend to meet everyone.
“I know when you put the helmet on when you’re a racing driver you want to go out there and do the best you can. But, I’m really looking forward to the weekend as a whole. The racing is gonna be fun but it’s Jason Minshaw’s car and we have to be really careful. We don’t have spares and things like we had in the past, but it’s still going to be fun.”