BTCC season overviews from 1996 to 1999

1996 After the championship winning year of 1995, John Cleland took to the wheel of the replacement for the highly developed Cavalier....the all new Vauxhall Vectra, carrying No.1 on the doors.

The season started at Donington and it was not long before the new Audi team with their 4 wheel drive A4 Quattro showed the rest of the field the way to go. Ex Italian and German Touring Car Champion, Frank Biela, out-drove team-mate John Bintcliffe and the rest of the field, winning the first 4 races of the season. After a third position from the German, recovering from a 10 second penalty at Thruxton in round 6, TOCA penalised the the Audi's 4 wheel drive performance advantage for the rest of the season, by adding a weight penalty to both Audis to even up the score.

John was struggling with the aero kit on the Vectra which was close to being on the pace but not enough to mix it with the Audis, Volvos, Renaults, BMWs and Hondas.

John's team-mate for 1996, James Thompson, managed to grasp a victory at Snetterton after most of the front runners went off circuit together. Apart from this silver lining, the clouds were pretty grey for John Cleland and the Vauxhall team during the '96 season. John finished a creditable eighth in an under-performing car due to midfield consistency.

1996 Championship Results:

Drivers:

1 Biela - 289

2 Menu - 197

3 Rydell - 194

4 Leslie - 159

5 Winkelhock - 158

6 Ravaglia - 157

7 Bintcliffe - 113

8 Cleland - 102

9 Hoy - 95

10 James Thompson - 83

Manufacturers:

1 Audi - 298

2 BMW - 258

3 Volvo - 244

4 Renault -234

5 Honda - 201

6 Vauxhall - 172

=7 Ford & Peugeot - 74

Total Cup Privateers:

1 Lee Brookes - 312

2 Richard Kaye - 272

3 Neal - 155

 

1997 saw John continue in the under-performing Vectra with a new team-mate in Derek Warwick and a new paint scheme for the car.

 

Another disappointing and frustrating season for John and Vauxhall, still not coming to terms with the aerodynamics of the car, which was now quite successful in the German Championship with different aerodynamic rules.

 

Meanwhile, Swiss driver Alain Menu romped to championship victory with a record 12 race wins.

1997 Championship Results:

Drivers

1. Menu - 281

2. Frank Biela - 171

3. Plato - 170

4. Rickard Rydell - 137

5. James Thompson - 132

6. Gabrielle Tarquini - 130

7. John Bintcliffe - 119

8. David Leslie - 87

9. Tim Harvey - 66

10. Kelvin Burt - 60

11. Anthony Reid - 56

12. John Cleland - 44

Manufacturers

1 Renault - 278

2 Audi - 210

3 Honda - 209

4 Volvo - 191

5 Nissan - 155

6 Peugeot - 118

7 Ford - 113

8 Vauxhall - 106

Teams

1 Williams Renault - 422

2 Audi Sport - 283

3 Honda Sport - 254

4 Volvo S40 Racing - 191

Total Cup for Independents

1 Robb Gravett - 236

2 Lee Brookes -  225

3 Colin Gallie -  225

4. Jamie Wall - 168

5. Matt Neal - 166

6. Ian Heward - 6

 

1998 brought the introduction of compulsory pit-stops during the feature race and also saw a noticeable improvement in the development of Vectra.

 

Round 5 at Donington saw Cleland up front on merit, after qualifying 3rd in dry conditions, culminating in John's first win since 1995.

Relief all round for the Vauxhall team after a very long run without victory and smiles all round from John.

 

The second Donington meeting was to be very interesting with ex Formula One and Champ Car champion, Nigel Mansell driving his "red 5" Mondeo. Two more than eventful races, with the whole pack trying to beat Mansell in any way they could.

John finished 5th in race one but race two turned out to be a gripper. Mansell took the lead after a hard battle with one of the Nissans with Cleland in hot pursuit. The ensuing battle was a joy to watch for Cleland fans as he overtook Mansell to take the lead. John won the race from David Leslie with Warwick forcing an error from Nigel to finish third.

 

The rest of the season saw many winners in many different cars but an emerging Rickard Rydell took the reins from mid season and clinched the title from Anthony Reid in the improving Primera in his dominant S40 at his 4th attempt.

 

1998 Championship Results:

Drivers
1. Rickard Rydell - 254
2. Anthony Reid - 239
3. James Thompson - 203
4. Alain Menu - 187
5. Jason Plato - 163
6. David Leslie - 148
7. Yvan Muller - 110
8. John Cleland - 106
9. Derek Warwick - 70
10. Will Hoy - 69

Manufacturers

1. Nissan - 273

2. Volvo - 245

3. Renault - 244

4. Honda - 222

5. Vauxhall - 162

6. Audi- 150

7. Ford - 117

8. Peugeot - 96

Teams

1. Vodaphone Nissan - 168

2. Blend 37 Williams Renault - 159

3. Volvo S40 Racing - 140

4. Team Honda Sport - 95

5. Vauxhall Sport - 75

6. Audi Sport U.K. - 59

7. Ford Mondeo Racing - 44

8. Team Dynamics - 24

9. Esso Ultron Team Peugeot - 19

Independents

1. Tommy Rustad - 251

2. Rob Gravett - 212

3. Matt Neal - 211

4. Mark Lemmer - 95

5. Roger Moen - 92

6. Paula Cook - 27

 

 

1999 was the year that Matt Neal started on pole position for race 2 at the opening rounds of the season at Donington Park.

The Nissan came from the successful factory team from the previous year and was expected to be quick. After running at the front, Neal stalled the car after his pit-stop and came out of pit-lane into the pack in 5th place. A storming drive through the field saw him pass Thompson's Honda to take the win and a cheque from TOCA for 250,000 for the first independent to win a race outright.

 

Meanwhile, Laurent Aiello's Nissan Primera dominated the season alongside his fellow Vodaphone Nissan team-mates, Reid and Leslie.

The first night race took place at Snetterton this year, which showed the Honda team ate more carrots than everyone else. Peter Kox picking up the first BTCC win for a Dutch driver in a Honda Accord in the dark!

 

After a frustrating season thus far, John Cleland announced to a surprised Thruxton crowd that he would be retiring from the series at the end of the year.

 

The last round of the 1999 season took place at Silverstone and the Vauxhall team pulled out all the stops to ensure that John had a great send-off. A special tartan livery adorned the cars, the team mechanics wore ginger wigs and tartan caps to honour the Scot who had brought Vauxhall two BTCC titles.

 

 

Image: JC gets the red carpet treatment from his "McTeam" at the final Silverstone meeting of 1999.
 

The racing that day was interesting to say the least with John having a reasonable day with a fifth place in race one and a tenth  (hampered by a ten second stop-go penalty) in race two . The result of this was a very interesting comment about the current state of the BTCC and the rules imposed by Alan Gow and TOCA.

If you are not squeamish or offended by harsh language, you can hear John Cleland's comments recorded live from his in-car radio by clicking here. Audio Clip

 

After John had calmed down, he had this to say:

"It's been a fantastic time for me in the BTCC. I've enjoyed
every single minute of it but I'm pissed off I got done for speeding in the pit lane today. I don't know what I'll do next year, but I've a number of different offers and I'll take a decision in good time."
 

The BTCC was not the same after John Cleland's departure. Although some of the characters of the 1990's have returned to the BTCC in the recent past, the glory days of the super tourers, racing door handle to door handle, the controversy and the lack of political correctness will be missed...at least by me.

 

 

 

 

 

1999 Championship Results

Drivers

1. Laurent Aiello - 244

2. David Leslie - 228

3. Rickard Rydell - 192

4. James Thompson - 174

5. Jason Plato - 122

6. Yvan Muller - 119

7. Peter Kox - 113

8. Vincent Radermecker - 113

9. Matt Neal - 109

10. Jean-Cristophe Bouillon - 97

13. John Cleland - 51

Manufacturers

1. Nissan -464

2. Honda - 296

3. Volvo - 295

4. Renault - 227

5. Vauxhall - 186

6. Ford - 164

Teams

1. Vodaphone Nissan - 210

2. Team Honda Sport - 132

3. Volvo S40 Racing - 127

4. Nescafe Williams Renault - 108

5. Vauxhall Sport - 83

6. Team Dynamics - 55

7. Ford Team Mondeo - 53

8. Arena International - 10

9. ADR Motorsport - 7

10. Brookes Motorsport - 4

11. D.C. Cook Motorsport - 2

 

Copyright : Dave Willetts 2000 - 2005