THE RULEBREAKER

With trac­tion and on-track speed to die for, the Su­per Tour­ing A4 couldn’t last

CAR (UK) - - Car Interactive - Words Ben Miller |

YOU HAVE TO hand it to Audi Sport, they’re noth­ing if not per­sis­tent. Wher­ever they’ve roamed with qu­at­tro all-wheel drive tucked up their sleeve, up­set­ting the sta­tus quo, win­ning com­fort­ably and break­ing ri­vals’ hearts, more of­ten than not they’ve then been banned. It’s hap­pened time and again but for­tu­nately the world has quite a few race se­ries, so Audi just keeps mov­ing on: ar­rive, win, get banned, re­peat.

In the mid-’90s, Su­per Tour­ing was en­joy­ing a hal­cyon age of big in­vest­ment, ter­res­trial tele­vi­sion cov­er­age, pan­tomime-vil­lain driv­ers, spec­tac­u­lar on-track ac­tion and huge in­ter­est. Into this mael­strom of rear-drive BMWs and a pha­lanx of un­likely front-wheel-drive ri­vals, in­clud­ing Primeras, Vec­tras, La­gu­nas and Mon­deos, strode Audi and its all-wheel-drive Su­per Tour­ing A4 for the 1996 sea­son. Low-slung on 19inch forged OZ rims and re­splen­dent in a stun­ning works liv­ery of gi­ant red rings on Ger­man Rac­ing Sil­ver, the nor­mally blobby B5 A4 bodyshell had a visual men­ace in Su­per Tour­ing spec­i­fi­ca­tion that was, it would tran­spire, en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate – the thing was a weapon.

Ri­vals in the 1996 BTCC se­ries didn’t have to look hard for omi­nous omens. Audi’s Tour­ing Car Ter­mi­na­tor Frank Biela won both races of the open­ing round and went on to record a string of 20 podium fin­ishes across 26 races to bag the ti­tle. So com­plete a racer was the A4 Su­per Tour­ing – and so un­equiv­o­cal its on-track ad­van­tage – that Audi won ev­ery sin­gle one of the seven na­tional cham­pi­onships it en­tered that year.

The BTCC protests from ri­val teams re­sulted in a weight penalty to­wards the end of 1996, and a still more de­bil­i­tat­ing one for ’97, a hand­i­cap that left Biela de­fend­ing his ti­tle with both arms tied be­hind his back. He nearly man­aged it nonethe­less, fin­ish­ing the year in sec­ond. An out­right ban was is­sued for ’98 and Audi packed its bags. Again.

Audi just keeps mov­ing on: ar­rive, win, get banned, re­peat

Pho­tog­ra­phy Wil­son Hen­nessey

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