If you have lived in the UK, are in your mid to late-20s and have an affection for motorsport, then it’s quite likely that exposure to the BTCC in the mid to late-1990s was responsible for your future motorsport addiction.
While your parents and relatives might have commuted in their mundane saloon cars during the week, on the weekend you could watch the same cars do battle on the track, all while slammed into the ground and tucking 19″ wheels. This was what drew so many to the Super Touring era in comparison to the likes of Formula 1, with my own interest being sparked when my dad took my to Oulton Park to watch one of the 1997 rounds of the championship. I had the posters on my wall and the Scalextrix cars in the attic; the young me was hooked.
Twenty years later and I found myself back at Oulton Park, although this time it was for the Gold Cup that sees cars from all eras racing in various groups throughout the three day event. One of the classes on the schedule was the Super Touring Car Championship, which gave me the first chance in a long time to see some of these 1990s classics doing battle all over again.
Unlike my first visit to the track, this time round we are actually allowed to get as close to the cars as the pit crews would allow. It was a stark difference to how it was back in the day when the factory backed teams were extremely secretive, due to the millions of pounds being poured into their campaigns by the manufacturers. I’d often wondered just how similar to the road going cars these track versions were, so I made the most of the relaxed atmosphere in the pit garages and took as many in-depth photos as possible.
For this first post, I’ll be covering the 1999 Nescafe-liveried and Williams-built Renault Laguna that was once driven by a young Jason Plato. With ’99 being Renault’s final year competing in the BTCC (dropping out at the end of the year along with Nissan and Volvo), this Laguna marked the pinnacle of the engineering (and spending) excess that had begun to dictate the championship. It all became too much for some manufacturers, who decided to withdraw as a result.
The car is now owned by a team based not too far from Oulton Park or myself, so hopefully I’ll be seeing it around again in the future. For now though, here’s a bunch of photos that I managed to quickly take on my phone at the time.
Starting from the front and its immediately clear just how low and far back the 2 litre 4 cylinder lump is, although other teams (notably Nissan) appeared to have their engine setup mounted even lower. With the best part of 300bhp, the team quipped that a rebuild every 2000km or so is mandatory. As you can probably tell by the various tanks and pipework in the engine bay, a dry sump setup is in use. The front anti-roll bar also runs through the engine bay.
What’s also immediately clear is the size of the front tubs. While these have become de rigueur in drifting over recent years due to the need for clearance for extreme steering angles, BTCC teams were doing this over twenty years ago in order to accommodate the 19″ wheels while still running the car as low as possible.
A three-point strut brace has also been welded in, with the external reservoirs for the front coilovers attached to it. To the right of the engine you can also see what looks to be a 90degree transfer setup for the steering column (I presume it has a more technical name!). With the engine being mounted so low, the column’s original location was no longer available. I spotted a similar setup on a number of other cars during the day too.
As you can see, looking from underneath, the huge tubs don’t entirely prevent the front tyres from making contact with metal. You can also see that the upper chassis leg has been completely scalloped (much like some Nissan S-body owners do when running extremely low).
On a side-note, the front steering knuckle seen here looked to be the same (if not incredibly similar) as those used on the 1999/2000 Ford Mondeo that I also saw on the day. Perhaps they were a regulation item that the teams needed to use and base their suspension designs around?
The metal front wings featured a very large arch radius in order to give the wheels room to turn. In earlier seasons, most teams appeared to run factory front wings that meant that the cars would tuck a lot of rim. While this looked incredibly cool, I can’t imagine it allowed for much steering angle, and most teams looked to run front wings with larger arch radiuses in the later seasons.
The front brakes were understandably serious AP-Racing items that featured liquid cooled calipers (you can just about see the coolant feed and return lines in the photos above). Conventional air ducting from the front of the car was used to cool the discs which also featured a centre lock setup. The turnbuckle and gas strut on the left of the photo are used to mount the low-hanging front splitter. The gas strut ensures that, after hitting a rumble strip or running off track, the splitter returns to its original position once it has stopped being knocked around. With aerodynamics being so crucial in the competition, this was a very important (yet seemingly quite simple) setup.
The interior was as you’d expect: remnants of the factory dash peppered with carbon fibre, with the digital dash and pedal box brought further towards the driver who, in turn, sat on a bucket seat mounted as far back as possible to aid weight distribution. The carbon fibre extends to the door cards that sit behind the roll cage door bars, while a conventional sequential shifter sat in the middle.
Now it was time to move to the rear of the car and this is where things got particularly interesting. With a minimum weight limit of around 950kg, the teams did everything they could to shave a few hundred kilos off these heavy saloon cars, which resulted in some quite drastic measures being taken.
A peek through the rear window showed the extent of the rear tubs, again fabricated to accommodate the 19″ wheels that would be tucked well within the rear arches. You can also see the flat boot floor on the right of the photo, while on the left you can see the rear anti-roll bar running just behind where the rear seat bench would originally sit.
Then the real surprise came as I moved underneath the car and took a look at what should have been the rear suspension beam (for example, here’s a photo of what the OEM rear suspension setup would look like). In its place sat a tubular subframe setup and, while I’ve seen this done on RWD drift cars, it wasn’t what I expected to find underneath a FWD touring car.
You can see how this tubular arrangement was mounted to the front of the rear arch wells in the photo above. You can also see where the roll cage extended into the wheel well which isn’t something I’ve seen done before.
Moving upwards and it became clear why this might be. The coilover unit was mounted to this triangulated point of the cage, which I imagine ensured that the dampers were secured to the most rigid part of the car. You can also see where the rear anti-roll bar protruded from within the car, connected via a long drop link to one of the lower subframe tubes.
A slightly out of focus, albeit slightly informative photo showing the rear damper mounting.
I appreciate that I’m far from the most qualified or experienced motorsport engineer or fabricator but I hope you might find something to take away from some of the details in this post. Whether its ideas and inspiration for your own build or just piqued your interest about 90s touring cars, I hope these photos are useful in some way or another. I’ll leave you with a short clip of the two Williams Lagunas leading the Snetterton night race during the 1999 BTCC championship.