The British Touring Car Championship has always been a way for the manufacturers to bring the relatable and more affordable models in their line-up to TV screens – usually on a Sunday. Children across the schoolyard would argue whether the Ford Mondeo sat on the driveway was superior to the Renault Laguna that their friend’s parents owned, based on the outcome of the recent races.
The Super Tourer era of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) is often remembered fondly for the no-compromise, open-chequebook mentality it embodied. While the annual budgets have never been disclosed, rumours abound of numbers between 8 and 12 million pounds to run three cars for the 2000 season, with the cars themselves costing close to 1 million pounds.
Prodrive undertook the mammoth task of developing the Ford Mondeo for the 1999 and 2000 seasons, and chassis number PR-ST/F-2K-01 – as driven by Alain Menu in period – was brought out of hibernation from their collection to be displayed at Bicester Heritage’s recent Spring Scramble.
Such a prominent paint job was identifiable from halfway across the site, the vivid blue and yellow standing out against the backdrop of weathered brickwork and green buildings.
As you moved ever closer, you start noticing the more obvious differences to the road-going counterpart. Big center-lock wheels tucked into the arches and the prominent front splitter hugging the ground, paired with a boot wing.
The body shells underwent a huge amount of preparation to bring them up to Super Tourer standard. As the story goes, the shells were shot-blasted, left exposed to the elements to rust, and the process repeated again few times to thin the metal down. The cars then received a single coat of gloss paint, with no primer. Any non-essential brackets were removed from the interior, and underneath the fuel tank was flat-bottomed to aid aerodynamics.
While the front wings look like stock items that have been reworked, they are actually completely bespoke. Starting with a flat steel sheet, each wing was hand-formed to provide the required wheel and tyre clearance. This combined with the tubbed inner wings returned some room for steering lock.
The rear arches obviously didn’t receive as much care; they look to have been rolled fairly hastily in an effort to fit the wheel/tyre package. Despite a multi-million pound budget, sometimes things get the hammer treatment.
The front and rear bumpers are stock, but have had all reinforcements removed. That cylindrical shape protruding from the grill? It’s for an air line to connect to the onboard air jacks.
19×9-inch center-lock magnesium O.Z. Racing wheels sit at each corner, still wearing period Dunlop race rubber. Huge AP Racing 6-piston water-cooled callipers provided braking duties at the front axle, with a smaller 4-piston setup on the rear.
Opening the doors and you’ll see the drilled-out hinges and thinner latch – a further reminder of the strict diet the car underwent.
The seat isn’t where you expect it to be; it’s moved back in line with the B-pillar and hugs the central tunnel. Its position is as close to the centreline of the car as possible, all in aid of optimal balance. Neither the steering nor the brakes are assisted, making for a physically-demanding drive.
Carbon fibre adorns any surface which is not bare metal, with only two gauges present on the dash in the sightline of the driver – oil pressure and temperature.
A carbon centre console houses essential controls and fuses, along with providing a mounting location for the Xtrac 6-speed sequential gearbox shifter.
Moving round to the front, it’s obvious to see that a huge portion of the money went into the engine. The 2.5L V6 originally from a Ford Probe was downsized to 2.0L to meet regulations, and while Prodrive retained the Cosworth-developed engine for the 1999 season, they were developing their own engine for the following one.
To quote George Howard-Chapell, Prodrive race team chief engineer, “When Prodrive took on the cars for the beginning of the 1999 season we knew we had to improve most areas of the car, including the performance of the engine. The majority of the chassis-related issues were addressed for the 1999 car, so to win the championship in 2000 meant splitting our efforts – 1/10th on the mechanical systems, 2/10ths on the aerodynamics and 7/10ths on the engine.”
A number of key areas were identified and worked on heavily during the development. Gearbox, valvetrain, the oil system, breathing and combustion were all closely dissected and improved upon. The cylinder heads were purported to have cost the same as their F1 equivalents at the time, and 682 of the 806 major parts in the engine were modified or changed. The result? Over 300hp at 8,500rpm.
These engines weren’t easy to start. Such were the tight tolerances of the engine that the oil needed to be preheated, and once that was achieved the oil system would need to be primed manually followed by cranking to build oil pressure before eventually firing up.
The V6 itself is barely visible, sitting as far back as possible. A huge air box hides most of it, feeding fresh air to the six individual throttle bodies. And so low is the engine that the driveshaft to the passenger-side wheel from the gearbox runs between the V.
All the effort was worth it though, and the cars were fiercely competitive in 2000 with 11 race wins from 24 races. This resulted in Ford Team Mondeo not only taking the Drivers Championship (Alain Menu), but second (Anthony Reid) and third (Rickard Rydell) too. Unsurprisingly, Ford Team Mondeo also won the 2000 Manufacturers Championship and the 2000 Touring Teams Championship.
The dramatic rule change to cut costs for the 2001 season put an end to the Super Tourer era, and while we mourn its demise, many of the cars live on either in historic racing or being brought out for special events like the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Until the opportunity presents itself to see another Super Tourer in such close proximity, I’m off to fire up TOCA 2 on the original Playstation to get my fix.