1989 to 1994
1989 saw the start of John Cleland's career in the prestigious British Touring Car
Championship, when he secured a factory Vauxhall drive in a
16v GTE Astra, off the back of two Thunder Saloon Car Championship victories
in GM Vauxhall and Opels in 1986 and 1988.
At this stage Vauxhall identified a potential class victory for the sporty
hatchback and a possibility of clinching the overall Championship victory from
the dominant Sierras and BMW's of the period, by gathering points and remaining
out of trouble in the middle of the pack.
Their guess was right and Cleland secured the Championship by only one point
from James Weaver's BMW, taking eleven class wins during the season. His team
mate, Louise Aitken-Walker picked up the class wins on the two occasions Cleland
failed to run true to form, at one event attempting to try his hand at three wheel
1989 Championship Results:
Class A= 2501-3000cc. Class B= up to 2500cc. Class C= 1601-2000cc. Class D= up
1. John Cleland (Class C) -
2. James Weaver (Class B) -
3. Andy Rouse (Class A) - 78
4. Robb Gravett (Class A) -
5. Louise Aitken-Walker
(Class C) - 72
6. Frank Sytner (Class B) -
1990 saw our hero in a BTCC with a revised
rulebook which deemed the overall length of the Astra too short for the new
regulations. After the success of the
previous year, Cleland was behind the wheel of the new 2 litre Cavalier GSi
with something to prove.
After only three races in the new car the Cavalier, in JC's capable hands,
ended the 27 race, class winning streak of BMW at the Thruxton circuit.
The combo won four more times that year, only to be eventually beaten to
Championship honours by the BMW of rival, Frank Sytner.
Results: Class A= over 2.0ltr turbocharged. Class B= under 2.0ltr
1. Robb Gravett (Class A) -
2. Frank Sytner (Class B) -
3. Andy Rouse (Class A) -
4. Tim Harvey (Class A) -
5. John Cleland (Class B) -
6. Jeff Allam (Class B) -
saw the expansion of Vauxhall's involvement in the BTCC with the addition of a second Cavalier GSi, Jeff Allam
took the wheel of car No.2 in the first year of a single 2.0 Litre, non turbo
Cleland took four victories during the season, finishing all thirteen races
and earning second place in the Championship.
JC was now warming up to take on the best and take his second BTCC title in
the following year's titanic battle.
was to many, the most exciting British Touring Car season before or since.
The contenders were all quality drivers and the machinery very similar on
With names like Tim Harvey, Will Hoy, Andy Rouse, Steve Soper, Jeff Allam,
David Leslie, Kieth Odor, Tim Sugden and new boys Alain Menu and Matthew Neal,
to name but a few.... in a selection of Toyotas, BMWs, Nissans, Vauxhalls and
Peugeots, the season would set the strengthening BTCC crowds alight.
Cleland started the season with a confidence
boosting vengeance by taking victory in the first two rounds at Silverstone
and Thruxton, stamping his authority on the '92 season.
Next came Oulton Park. The Toyotas were strong, with Hoy taking pole and
Rouse's second Carina sandwiching Cleland's Vauxhall on the grid.
JC lead from the start but was struggling for grip on cold tyres whilst trying
to stave off the Toyota twins of Rouse and Hoy...it lasted half a lap before
his tyres decided they disliked tarmac and the Cavalier fishtailed off the
track into the armco in a cloud of soil and debris....11th place was all he
could retrieve after eventually pointing the car in the right direction,
giving Rouse the lead in the title chase.
Hoy, Harvey, Cleland and Allam shared the
victories in the following races with Harvey taking 5 consecutive victories by
round 14 at Donington, leaving Cleland, Hoy and Harvey all within grasp of the
Championship with only the final round at Silverstone to go....four points
separated the three drivers.
If 1992 was the season to end all seasons,
the final meeting at Silverstone was the clash of the titans.
The unusually(?) inclement Silverstone weather started the chaos by lashing
down during qualifying, shaking up the grid. Cleland had the title edge
starting in 7th, with Hoy in 9th spot and the on form Harvey languishing back
Early in the race itself, Steve Soper was
on the receiving end of a "nowhere to go" shunt which saw the
back of his 318is changing shape dramatically. This was to be the start of
one of Soperman's renowned drives from the back of the field, culminating
in one of the most controversial BTCC incidents ever.
Allam, Leslie and Rouse battled it out up front, slowing each other down
as the title hungry threesome followed by a frighteningly quick Soper
forced their way through the field.
On the penultimate lap, Harvey tried to take Hoy which ended in tears, the
pair of them dropping back behind Cleland and the resurgent Soper. Soper's
took Cleland with a clean out-braking manoeuvre and soon after, Harvey
followed through at Club and was soon waved through by his team-mate to
take fourth.. At this point, JC was probably wondering what he could do to
get those valuable points back to win the title...so...he went for it as Soper
braked for Brooklands, turning in and almost using Soper as a cushion, he
pulled alongside, his nearside wheels at least two feet off the tarmac.
From a non-biased point of view, what happened next was that Soper now had
the inside line for the next right hander into Luffield, Cleland was
probably a yard or two ahead when he turned in and Soper turned in as
tightly as he could considering he was on the same payroll as Tim Harvey
and "accidentally" harpooned Cleland putting the pair out of the race.
An angry and unbelieving JC, his Championship hopes gone in the gravel
trap, suggested of Soper...."the man's an animal"
I have it from the horses' mouth that
John and Steve are now talking! See the incident and a contemporary
discussion about the incident
Rouse went on to win the race and Tim Harvey's fourth place was enough to
give him the Championship laurels.
Another near miss for the Scot!
John looks despondently at his Cavalier after the controversial clash with
Steve Soper at
1. Tim Harvey - 152
2. Will Hoy - 149
3. John Cleland - 145
4. Jeff Allam - 137
5. Andy Rouse - 128
6. Steve Soper - 77
was the year that the BTCC came of
No longer was a performance or handling development measured in seconds per
lap but in 10ths of a second....the moment had arrived when you either had
it at the beginning of the season or it was difficult to catch up.
The season was notable for the competition of Ray Mallock's Ecurie Ecosse
Cavalier being dangerously competitive against the works Vauxhalls and the
ultimate Championship victory from an impressive BMW team led by Smokin' Jo Winkelhock.
Cleland was fourth in the championship tables at the end of the season.
1. Joachim Winkelhock -
2. Steve Soper - 150
3. Paul Radisich - 110
4. John Cleland - 102
5. Julian Bailey - 88
6. Kieth O'dor - 82
1994 saw a noticeable change in livery for
the Cavalier but did not make the car or JC ready for the onslaught of the
mighty Alfa Romeo 155 in the hands of Gabrielle Tarquini.
The Italians had done their homework and showed up with an Aero-kit which
all but flaunted the new aerodynamic rules with what was essentially an
The Alfa won when it wanted to and no-one, even the BMW's, could even
consider an assault on the red monsters.
Two wins was all Cleland could achieve, although his consistency gained John
a fourth place driver's championship position.
Drivers Championship Results:
1. Gabriele Tarquini - 298
2. Alain Menu - 222
3. Paul Radisich - 206
4. John Cleland - 177
5. Giampiero Simoni - 156
6. Joachim Winkelhock - 147
7. Steve Soper - 102
8. Patrick Watts - 98
9. Tim Harvey - 77
10. Jeff Allam - 76