BTCC: How F1 Stars have fared in Touring Cars

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Derek Warwick signs autographs for fans in the Brands Hatch paddock in 1995. Image Copyright Tony Harrison; Used under licence via Creative Commons.

When Mark Blundell announced that he would be competing in this year’s British Touring Car Championship, many fans were surprised.

Blundell’s debut in the BTCC will come 16 years after he finished second in a famous 1-2 finish for Bentley in the 2003 Le Mans 24 Hours.

In addition, the 52-year-old has had limited ‘tin top’ racing experience since, having only competed in a DTM support race back in 2010.

Single-seaters was where Blundell made his name, with three podiums in Formula 1 from 1991 to 1995, before winning three CART races in 1997 during a five-year spell in the United States.

He isn’t the first driver to make the transition from F1 to touring cars, with numerous drivers using the BTCC as a way to reinvigorate their career, or to stay sharp in an extremely competitive series.

So, without any further ado, here is a look at some of the F1 stars who have raced in the British Touring Car Championship.

Martin Donnelly

Martin Donnelly talking to Louise Goodman ahead of his British Touring Car Championship debut in 2015. Image sourced from skiddmark.co.uk

Martin Donnelly is the most recent ex-F1 racer to have competed in the BTCC.

Known for his infamous crash at Jerez for Lotus during the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix, Donnelly made an appearance for Support Our Paras Racing during the 2015 season at Thruxton, replacing Richard Hawken.

The team was run by Pro Motorsport and featured wounded and ex-servicemen from the Parachute Regiment amongst its pit crew. On top of this, they also received manufacturer support from Infiniti.

Driving an Infiniti Q50, Donnelly struggled to make an impression as he the Northern Irishman experienced problems with the car’s power steering and could only manage a best finish of 19th over the course of the weekend.

Shortly after Infiniti withdrew their support, which forced the team to run as an independent single-car entry for the majority of the season, bringing to an end the brief dalliance the Donnelly had in the sport.

Derek Warwick

Derek Warwick alongside his Vauxhall Vectra in the late 1990’s. Image sourced from btcccrazy.co.uk

Martin Donnelly’s former Lotus team-mate Derek Warwick also gave touring cars a go during the latter stages of his career.

Warwick was one of Britain’s premier racing drivers throughout the 1980s and early 90s, finishing on the podium four times in Formula One, and won the 1992 Le Mans 24 Hours with the Peugeot 905 Evo 1B, alongside Mark Blundell and Yannick Dalmas.

A brief F1 comeback with Footwork in 1993 led to a one-year sabbatical from all forms of racing, before he joined Alfa Romeo for the 1995 BTCC season.

Alfa had been the team to beat in 1994, but the following year proved to be a struggle for Warwick, as he crashed out of the opening race of the year, and failed to finish on the podium all season.

His greatest contribution to the sport came shortly after, when he founded Triple Eight Racing in time for the 1997 season and took over the works Vauxhall entry.

Warwick raced for the team alongside John Cleland for two seasons, securing his only win in the series at the Knockhill round in 1998 and retired from racing at the end of the year.

Warwick stayed with Triple Eight as Team Principal until 2001, a year which saw their drivers finishing the year in the top four places of the Drivers’ Championship.

Unsurprisingly, Vauxhall also won their first BTCC Manufacturers’ title the same year.

Nigel Mansell

The Ford Mondeo of Nigel Mansell at Donington Park during the 1998 BTCC season. Image sourced from Pinterest.

The 1998 BTCC season also saw Nigel Mansell race occasionally for Reynard Motorsport team, five years after competing in the end of season TOCA shootout.

The 1992 Formula 1 champion took part in three meetings throughout the season aboard a Ford Mondeo, managing a best finish of fifth place at Donington Park.

This race showed Mansell at his best, as he fought back from nineteenth on the grid in changeable conditions, taking the lead when conditions were at their worst.

Unfortunately, Mansell was unable to take this form with him throughout the season, as he failed to score points during his two other appearances in Brands Hatch or Silverstone.

Gabriele Tarquini

The Alfa Romeo 155 of 1994 BTCC Champion Gabriele Tarquini. Image Copyright Tony Harrison; Used under licence via Creative Commons.

Whereas Mansell was at his best when he conquered Formula One and CART in the early 90’s, Gabriele Tarquini was – and arguably still is – a touring car star and also won last year’s FIA World Touring Car Cup at the age of 56.

The Italian holds the unfortunate record of the most failed attempts to qualify for a Formula One race with 40, and switched to touring cars after 1992.

Third place in the 1993 Italian Superturismo Championship was followed by a dominant 1994 BTCC season, with Tarquini winning eight races, including the first five of the year, to take the Drivers’ Championship, with second place Alain Menu 76 point behind.

The season wasn’t without drama, as a dramatic crash at the Knockhill sprint race meant he missed the feature, with the legality of his Alfa Romeo 155 also being questioned by the rest of the paddock.

Jim Clark

There is one driver who managed to find success in both Formula One and the BTCC, and he is regarded by some as the greatest racing driver of all time.

Double F1 world champion Jim Clark raced in what was then known as the British Saloon Car Championship, alongside his Formula One and Indianapolis 500 campaigns with Team Lotus.

An oil leak at the final race of the season – the Mexican Grand Prix – cost him the 1964 F1 championship, with a puncture similarly ending his chances of victory at the Brickyard.

The Scotsman would have no such troubles in his Lotus Cortina touring car, as he won eight races in his class to take the overall championship.

The cars have become much more complex in the fifty-five years since Clark’s success, but the racing remains as close as ever.

It will be interesting to see how Mark Blundell gets on throughout his ‘rookie’ season, as he hopes his comeback proves to be a gamble worth taking.

 

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