WSR has reached a land­mark in its Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship his­tory. By Matt James

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Af­ter nearly 1200 races in the Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship and two driv­ers’ ti­tles, WSR is on the cusp of a land­mark this year. Brands Hatch will be the be­gin­ning of WSR’S, and team boss Dick Ben­netts’, 21st sea­son in the cat­e­gory.

Join­ing the BTCC in 1996 was quite a di­rec­tion change for the team. WSR and Ben­netts had forged a fear­some rep­u­ta­tion in For­mula 3. Af­ter lift­ing crowns with Jonathan Palmer, Ayr­ton Senna, Mauri­cio Gugelmin, Mika Hakki­nen and Rubens Bar­richello, the team boss fig­ured that there wasn’t that much fur­ther to go.

“I had won ev­ery­thing there was to win at F3 level. Mov­ing up the sin­gle­seater path­way would mean that the team would have got big­ger and then there would be less con­trol,” ex­plains Ben­netts. “I didn’t want that – and I was look­ing for a fresh chal­lenge. It all came about at the right time.”

While the tim­ing might have been good from a team per­spec­tive, the launch into the tin-top world was any­thing but easy. That was through no fault of the team ei­ther – it was a com­bi­na­tion of cir­cum­stances.

Ben­netts ex­plains: “It was Paul Ra­disich who in­tro­duced me to tour­ing cars in the mid­dle of 1995 – I don’t know whether to thank him or shoot him! He came to me half way through that sea­son when he was driv­ing for Ford in the Mon­deo. The pro­gramme was be­ing run by Andy Rouse En­gi­neer­ing, and it wasn’t up to speed with the tech­nol­ogy and the car wasn’t good. It started from there.”

The 1995 sea­son wasn’t strong for Ford, and there was only one win through­out the cam­paign for Ra­disich, who was part­nered by Kelvin Burt.

“I had an in­ter­view with Ford and got the gig, but that was the easy bit,” says Ben­netts. “Rey­nard was go­ing to build the car, but it couldn’t do it in the timescale in­volved, so we got cars from Schubel En­gi­neer­ing in Ger­many which had been run in the Su­per Touren­wa­gen Cup. Over there, they had been four-wheel drive but we had to make them two-wheel drive. It was not the ideal situation for our first year in the top flight.”

And in those days, there were eight fac­tory teams fight­ing it out at the front and there was nowhere to hide. In the mod­ern BTCC, there is time for a team to come in, run a sec­ond-hand car and learn the ropes. That was not the case in 1996. Ev­ery­thing was un­der the spot­light in the in­ten­sity of com­pe­ti­tion.

“It was hard to come in with a car that wasn’t the best, to put it mildly,” adds Ben­netts. “We had to build up the team and get the right peo­ple to­gether. It was not just about get­ting the right peo­ple to­gether, it is about get­ting peo­ple that work to­gether well.

“And then the cham­pi­onship was all about de­vel­op­ments. We were bring­ing new de­signs to the car all the time and push­ing it for­wards. It was a good tech­ni­cal chal­lenge.”

That tech­ni­cal chal­lenge was con­quered even­tu­ally – but it took a long time. The first win was in 1998 when Will Hoy man­aged to dom­i­nate a wet race.

The Ford deal was re­placed by Honda for 1999 and 12 wins fol­lowed, but the dawn of the new era in the BTCC, when the rules were changed to slash the costs of the in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive Su­per Tour­ers, was im­mi­nent.

The birth of the Btc-spec class in 2001 was an­other step for Ben­netts: “We had been in touch with MG in 2000 but they’d said no, but when the more cost-ef­fec­tive reg­u­la­tions came in, they were in­ter­ested again.”

Ini­tially the team ran Lola-built chas­sis – and won dur­ing its late-sea­son foray to three rounds – but MG and Lola split af­ter 2001, so the pres­sure was on WSR to cre­ate a new car, with no car­ry­over from the Lola ver­sion.

“The MG ZS was the first car that we had built from scratch. It was our baby, if you like,” ex­plains Ben­netts. “It was a heck of a rush to put the thing to­gether, but it served us well for five sea­sons – even af­ter the MG Sport and Rac­ing fac­tory deal fell out of bed at the end of 2003. Colin Turk­ing­ton was right in the hunt for the cham­pi­onship even in 2006.”

The car had been through evo­lu­tions when it was in Ben­netts’ hands, most no­tably in the en­gine depart­ment. The V6 was re­placed by a Judd-tuned four-cylin­der en­gine that didn’t have the same power out­put as the pre­vi­ous pow­er­plant, but of­fered plenty of other ad­van­tages in terms of weight and han­dling.

WSR had the tiger by the tail in 2004. Ben­netts had in­vested heav­ily in the four-cylin­der unit be­fore MG pulled out, and it was left in the situation where it sim­ply had to plough on with the pro­gramme re­gard­less. “We had out­laid nearly £1mil­lion on the en­gine kits and up­grades,” ex­plains Ben­netts. “That very nearly put us over the edge as a team.

“We had back­ing from RAC in 2006, and it said that it would rather we ran a car that was on sale in the UK and it wanted a good brand to be as­so­ci­ated with,” ex­plains Ben­netts. “So we started look­ing around for what was suit­able – and, to be hon­est, there wasn’t very much. We set­tled on the BMW, which had a 3 Se­ries kit avail­able to build. We or­dered those, and that meant we changed di­rec­tion in 2007. It is a brand we have been loyal to.”

And it has been a brand that has brought the team some of its great­est suc­cesses. Af­ter two sea­sons with the rear-wheel-drive BMWS, learn­ing the nu­ances of its han­dling, it came to­gether for Turk­ing­ton in 2009 when he pre­vailed in a nail-bit­ing fi­nale at Brands Hatch against Fabrizio Gio­va­nardi and Ja­son Plato.

“That was a spe­cial feel­ing – it was the cul­mi­na­tion of ev­ery­thing we had put in up un­til that point. Al­though the cham­pi­onship had moved on since we’d joined it in 1996, it was still fiercely com­pet­i­tive,” says Ben­netts. “Turk­ing­ton was at the top of his game and we were at the top of our game en­gi­neer­ing-wise.”

The crest of that wave didn’t last long. RAC re­versed out of its deal at the end of that sea­son. Go­ing from the joy of win­ning the ti­tle, a per­son­nel change at the back­ers meant the team was left with­out sup­port.

“It had been a three-year deal with RAC and then they ex­tended it for a year,” says Ben­netts. “But they had a new mar­ket­ing man­ager in the mid­dle of 2009 and he liked football rather than rac­ing. We were left high and dry.”

Af­ter a cou­ple more years, it was time for the BTCC to un­dergo yet an­other rev­o­lu­tion. The cut-price Ngtc-spec cars were com­ing on stream and Ben­netts did his re­search – and by now had ebay back­ing. The cars that were tick­ing the box were the smaller ma­chines, such as the Honda Civic.

“We had the op­tion to stick with the 3 Se­ries, but we knew it had to be a com­pact car, so the 1 Se­ries was the best op­tion for us,” says Ben­netts. “There was a de­sire from BMW to see that hap­pen as well, so we gave it the green light. It was only the sec­ond car that we had con­structed af­ter the MG ZS, and it was a huge un­der­tak­ing.”

In 2013, Turk­ing­ton took five wins and went in to the cham­pi­onship show­down in with a sniff of the crown. But then, in 2014, it came to­gether for the 125i M Sport. Some clever en­gi­neer­ing tweaks half­way through the cam­paign pushed Turk­ing­ton to a run of four wins from six races in the sum­mer and that was enough for him to outrun Plato’s MG.

“That ti­tle was down to con­ti­nu­ity in the team and an in­creased un­der­stand­ing of the car,” says Ben­netts. “Colin was so me­thod­i­cal in the way he went about things. We had drilled that in to him from his early days with us. He keeps fan­tas­tic records on each of the cir­cuits and re­ally worked hard away from the cir­cuit.”

Yet again, the joy was short­lived. Back­ers ebay pulled out of the sport at the end of the year and Ben­netts was once again left look­ing for sup­port.

“It was get­ting to the point that we didn’t want to win the ti­tle any more,” jokes Ben­netts. “We would have been bet­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond or third if it meant we could keep our spon­sors!”

Since then, the team has ploughed on with its 1 Se­ries and fur­ther re­fined the ma­chine. “Twenty years in the BTCC has gone very, very quickly,” reck­ons Ben­netts. “But the chal­lenges re­main the same, and that is what makes it so en­joy­able. Look at what we achieved last sea­son – at Croft, we scored our first 1-2-3 in the cham­pi­onship and the great thing about that was that all three of our driv­ers – Sam Tord­off, Andy Pri­aulx and Rob Col­lard – man­aged to win a race. There are still land­marks to tick off, and we will keep go­ing un­til we get there.” ■

Ben­netts: still in the BTCC af­ter 20 years

Col­lard in the turbo BMW in ’12

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