SU­PER TOUR­ING CAR

This year the BTCC turns 60, but one of the se­ries’ most ex­cit­ing pe­ri­ods was the 2-litre ‘Su­per Tour­ing’ era of the 1990s. Audi’s A4 qu­at­tro dom­i­nated in ’96 – we take a closer look and find out why

Evo - - ANATOMY OF A SUPER TOURING CAR - by AN­TON Y IN­GRAM PHO­TOG­RA­PHY by AS­TON PAR­ROT T

WHETHER YOU watched it from the side­lines at the time, caught the cov­er­age on the telly, or are only now ab­sorb­ing it from grainy Youtube videos, the Group A era of tour­ing car rac­ing was quite a sight: the Sierra Cos­worth RS500S that dom­i­nated its later years were as dra­matic and thun­der­ous as you could hope for from a rac­ing car.

But their death also spawned one of the most ex­cit­ing for­mu­lae the mo­tor­sport world has ever seen. The 2-litre for­mula, or Su­per Tour­ing as it be­came known, was a re­sponse to the spi­ralling costs of ho­molo­ga­tion and the chang­ing needs of the car in­dus­try at the time. And when it ended lit­tle more than a decade later, its en­dur­ing ap­peal had been as­sured.

THE 2- LITRE FOR­MULA

The Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship was in full swing by the late 1980s, fol­low­ing its re­brand­ing from the Bri­tish Sa­loon Car Cham­pi­onship in 1987. Au­di­ences were large, and the se­ries en­joyed healthy cov­er­age on the BBC’S Grand­stand pro­gramme.

But a prob­lem was brew­ing. The four­class sys­tem was con­fus­ing, with John Cle­land win­ning the 1989 ti­tle in his As­tra de­spite the RS500S dom­i­nat­ing the over­all race re­sults. Also, the RS500 was near­ing the end of its ho­molo­ga­tion pe­riod. When they ex­ited, the se­ries faced the prospect of just one or two Nissan Sky­line GT-RS – then rel­a­tively un­known in the UK – tak­ing their place at the top.

The sport’s big­gest play­ers, in­clud­ing driver and team owner Andy Rouse and David Richards from Prodrive, pro­posed a 2-litre tour­ing car for­mula. En­gines would have no more than six cylin­ders, with drive sent to two wheels only. Tur­bocharg­ing was sug­gested, but op­po­si­tion from BMW nudged things in favour of nat­u­ral as­pi­ra­tion.

There was an 8500rpm rev limit and, ini­tially, stan­dard en­gine mount­ing po­si­tions were used. The choice of unit re­mained fairly free, how­ever, al­low­ing for a mo­tor from any­where within the same man­u­fac­turer’s range to be fit­ted to a car, pro­vided it com­plied with the 2-litre rule. ‘ The cars cost a sim­i­lar amount to build as those of the Group A era,’ ex­plains Rouse, ‘ but for man­u­fac­tur­ers it was much cheaper as they didn’t have to spe­cially ho­molo­gate a car.’

The new for­mula ran along­side Group A in 1990, and on its own from ’ 91. Early par­tic­i­pants in­cluded Toy­ota with its Ca­rina – built by Rouse – as well as BMW, Nissan and Vaux­hall, and the se­ries grew fast. By 1992 Peu­geot and Mazda were in (with BMW re­plac­ing its 2-litre ver­sion of the E30 M3 with the new E36 318is) and in 1993 Re­nault and Ford joined the fray.

Per­for­mance in­creased, too. ‘Ini­tially I wasn’t that im­pressed as a driver,’ Rouse re­calls. ‘Go­ing from a 500bhp rear-wheeldrive car to a front- driver with less than 300bhp was a step down… But the cars had bet­ter brakes, they were lighter, and had more grip.’ It wasn’t long be­fore they were achiev­ing lap times bet­ter than those of the old Cos­worths, and as the rules de­vel­oped, the new cars be­came faster and more so­phis­ti­cated still.

Alfa Romeo’s well-pub­li­cised dab­ble with ad­justable aero­dy­namic de­vices in 1994 (spurred by a rel­a­tively low min­i­mum ho­molo­ga­tion of 2500 cars, later raised to 25,000) opened the flood­gates to full aero, which be­came le­gal in 1995. That same year the FIA – which had taken on the for­mula for the Tour­ing Car World Cup in 1993 – adopted the term we’re fa­mil­iar with to­day: Su­per Tour­ing.

AUDI A4 SU­PER TOURER

Audi had been an early par­tic­i­pant in 2-litre se­ries through­out Europe with the 80 qu­at­tro, tak­ing three con­sec­u­tive driv­ers’ ti­tles in the French and Ital­ian cham­pi­onships, and scor­ing sev­eral

vic­to­ries in the ADAC Touren­wa­gen Cup in 1994 with Frank Biela at the wheel. With four-wheel drive per­mit­ted in the Euro­pean se­ries, pro­gres­sion to a qu­at­tro ver­sion of the new A4 for the 1995 sea­son was a nat­u­ral move, and the new car picked up where the 80 left off, se­cur­ing the Ital­ian ti­tle and tak­ing more vic­to­ries in the Ger­man and French tour­ing car cham­pi­onships, against strong op­po­si­tion from BMW and Peu­geot.

Dr Wolf­gang Ull­rich, then head of Audi Sport, made the de­ci­sion in mid-1995 that the com­pany should be rep­re­sented in the Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship – a se­ries rapidly de­vel­op­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for ex­cit­ing rac­ing and in­tense com­pe­ti­tion, with no fewer than nine fac­tory en­tries that year. Af­ter sev­eral av­enues had been ex­plored, David In­gram and Richard Lloyd formed Audi Sport UK with the bless­ing of Audi UK. Like all of Audi’s tour­ing car ef­forts, and in­deed its mo­tor­sport ac­tiv­i­ties to this day, the team would be run au­tonomously, but the cars them­selves would be de­vel­oped and built by Audi Sport at its base in In­gol­stadt.

John Wick­ham was drafted in to man­age the team, which for 1996 sec­onded the con­sid­er­able driv­ing tal­ent of Biela, along­side new­comer John Bint­cliffe, who had seen some suc­cess in sin­gle-make tin-tops. Cru­cially, the A4 would be al­lowed to keep its qu­at­tro all­wheel- drive sys­tem for the BTCC.

EN­GINE, SUS­PEN­SION, BODY AND AERO­DY­NAM­ICS

The A4 pro­vided Audi Sport with some im­me­di­ate ben­e­fits over the 80, in­clud­ing a shorter over­all body length, longer wheel­base and wider tracks, as well as a shorter front over­hang. Sus­pen­sion was sim­i­lar to the 80’s, with dou­ble wish­bones at all four cor­ners, while springs were pro­vided by Eibach, dampers by Koni.

Like its ri­vals, the A4 sported 8.2 x 19-inch forged mag­ne­sium wheels, with Audi opt­ing for tyres from Dun­lop. The bodyshell re­quired sig­nif­i­cant al­ter­ations to fit wheels of that size – plas­tic arch­lin­ers marked the bound­ary be­tween wheel wells and the en­gine com­part­ment – and the re­sult­ing stance was an iconic part of the Su­per Tour­ing era, with so lit­tle gap be­tween tyre shoul­der and arch lip that you’d strug­gle to slip a credit card be­tween them.

The A4 was also aero­dy­nam­i­cally ef­fi­cient, and Audi Sport’s ho­molo­gated aero pack­age was ex­tremely ef­fec­tive. Roger King, Biela’s race en­gi­neer dur­ing the 1996 and 1997 sea­sons, de­scribes the A4’s aero­dy­nam­ics as ‘ per­fect’, adding: ‘It re­acted to the small­est changes – we’d no­tice a dif­fer­ence with a 3mm ad­just­ment of the front split­ter.’

The ad­vanced aero helped over­come one of the car’s weaker ar­eas: its en­gine. Based on the same in-line, 16-valve four­cylin­der used in the 80, it was al­ways un­der­pow­ered next to the com­pe­ti­tion. ‘ We were lim­ited by the size of the

‘WHAT THE A4 LACKED IN STRAIGHTLINE SPEED IT MADE UP FOR IN RE­LI­A­BIL­ITY’

valves com­pared with the cylin­der bore,’ ex­plains King, ‘and probably never made more than about 290bhp in 1996.’ While that’s more than the 255bhp be­ing pro­duced early on in 1993, Audi still lagged be­hind on power dur­ing its dom­i­nant sea­son – Re­nault was mak­ing 300-plus bhp and Ford’s V6 was ru­moured to put out over 310bhp.

Like other en­gines of the era, it still rep­re­sented the peak of nat­u­rally as­pi­rated tun­ing for the time, out­fit­ted with in­di­vid­ual 44mm slide throt­tle bod­ies fed by an enor­mous car­bon­fi­bre in­take, upgraded with 85mm Mahle pis­tons and util­is­ing dry-sump lu­bri­ca­tion. Some sources quoted power as high as 296bhp at 8250rpm, and 188lb ft of torque at a scream­ing 7000rpm. In 1997, fur­ther mod­i­fi­ca­tions lifted power to around 316bhp – though some ri­vals were by then es­ti­mated to have more than 320bhp.

The po­si­tion of the en­gine proved dif­fi­cult too. The four was mounted as far for­ward as in the road cars, a symp­tom of the all-wheel- drive lay­out. In con­trast, it wasn’t un­known for ri­vals to fit their en­gines as low as pos­si­ble and right against the cabin bulk­head. The Mondeo’s Mazda-sourced mo­tor was fa­mously mounted so low that the en­gi­neers ran the drive­shafts through the V of the V6.

What the A4 lacked in straight-line speed it made up for with its four-wheeldrive trac­tion, ease of use and re­li­a­bil­ity. The Audi Sport fac­tory tightly con­trolled the de­vel­op­ment of the car through­out its life, and while this de­nied lo­cal squads the op­por­tu­nity to change the car to suit na­tional cir­cuits ( be­yond sus­pen­sion or dif­fer­en­tial set­tings), it meant no competitor could match the A4’s longevity.

‘ We fin­ished every sin­gle race in the 1996 sea­son’ says King. ‘Not a sin­gle break­down. It was our fun­da­men­tal ad­van­tage, and the A4 was beau­ti­fully

en­gi­neered – every com­po­nent was “lifed”, so af­ter a set mileage it would be changed re­gard­less of con­di­tion.’ A sus­pen­sion up­right would last 3000km, en­gines would be re­built af­ter two races.

The qu­at­tro sys­tem gave the A4 as­ton­ish­ing trac­tion, brak­ing sta­bil­ity and bal­ance, though the en­gine lay­out did make it slightly nose-heavy, tend­ing to­wards mild un­der­steer. Driv­ers did ex­pe­ri­ence over­steer at Snet­ter­ton’s dra­matic Co­ram curve, but King says this was quickly di­alled out with toe ad­just­ments. Vis­cous front, cen­tre and rear dif­fer­en­tials al­lowed the team to vary the torque split, send­ing more power to the rear on cir­cuits with faster cor­ners and even run­ning a locked rear diff where trac­tion was a pri­or­ity. Un­like its front­drive ri­vals, the Audi ran sim­i­larly sized brakes at both ends to take ad­van­tage of its even bal­ance, with 343mm discs at the front, 330mm at the rear.

Biela has to take some credit for Audi’s

1996 dom­i­nance, too – his sig­nif­i­cant qu­at­tro ex­pe­ri­ence made him a nat­u­ral choice to lead the UK team’s BTCC charge.

‘Frank was a ma­chine,’ re­calls King. ‘ We did some test­ing one week­end at Knock­hill. We ran the car for eight hours, non-stop, and he just kept go­ing.’ Biela was per­haps the per­fect driver for the car: King tells of his abil­ity to drive to 9095 per cent of the car’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties for lap af­ter lap, but never over- driv­ing like some of his con­tem­po­raries.

Biela’s ex­pe­ri­ence with the car gave him an un­doubted ad­van­tage over Bint­cliffe, and King notes that while the A4 would nat­u­rally wear its front tyres a lit­tle more heav­ily, in- cock­pit ad­just­ment of the front and rear anti-roll bars meant the Ger­man ace would fin­ish a race with per­fectly equal wear lev­els all round.

Ul­ti­mately the A4’s dis­ad­van­tages be­gan to over­whelm its in­her­ent ben­e­fits. It was hit with sig­nif­i­cant weight penal­ties from the start, car­ry­ing 95kg more than the 975kg front- driv­ers, and the amount of bal­last grew fur­ther in 1997 un­til Audi de­cided it was be­ing un­fairly pe­nalised. ‘In 1997, John Wick­ham fi­nally went to [BTCC director] Alan Gow to con­test our weight penalty,’ ex­plains King, ‘ and we scored five wins in the last five rounds.’ The or­gan­is­ers had given the A4 a 30kg respite and Biela fin­ished the sea­son se­cond to Alain Menu’s Re­nault La­guna.

By the time all-wheel drive was banned in 1998, Audi had en­tirely lost its ad­van­tage. Biela had gone, and Yvan Muller scored the now front- drive A4’s best re­sult that year with a se­cond place at Knock­hill. ‘ We had so much weight over the front wheels in 1998 that the car would lift its rear tyres un­der brak­ing,’ re­marks King.

But the A4 had done its job. By the time it was re­tired in 1999, it had 15 global driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship vic­to­ries to its name, tak­ing seven in 1996 alone in Aus­tralia, Bel­gium, Ger­many, Great Bri­tain, Italy, Spain and South Africa.

THE FALL OF SU­PER TOUR­ING

Su­per Tour­ing lasted 11 years in the BTCC. What had started as an in­clu­sive, uni­form set of reg­u­la­tions to en­cour­age man­u­fac­tur­ers to com­pete had grown so so­phis­ti­cated and ex­pen­sive that few could stom­ach the bud­gets re­quired to put their cars on the top step of the podium.

‘It started with Volvo,’ opines Rouse. ‘ TWR dis­cov­ered that they could mount their en­gine pretty much against the bulk­head, en­tirely be­hind the front axle, and ev­ery­one else fol­lowed. In 1995 Wil­liams turned up with F1-scale re­sources and by the late ’ 90s Prodrive was re- en­gi­neer­ing the cylin­der heads of the [Ford] V6 at huge cost to con­vert them from di­rect-act­ing cams to rock­ers.’ Ford won the driv­ers’ ti­tle with Menu in 2000, but re­port­edly spent more than £10mil­lion on its three- car at­tack.

From a peak of ten fac­tory-sup­ported squads in 1994, par­tic­i­pa­tion fell to six teams by 1999. In 2000, Su­per Tour­ing’s fi­nal year in the UK, just three man­u­fac­turer teams – Honda, Ford and Vaux­hall, plus a hand­ful of in­de­pen­dents – made up the pack. So short on num­bers was the se­ries that grids had to be bol­stered by over a dozen ‘Class B’ cars run­ning to Su­per Pro­duc­tion regs, sim­i­lar to ral­ly­ing’s Group N specifications.

It was out of this en­vi­ron­ment that the sub­se­quent BTC reg­u­la­tions grew. The cars were slower, but the for­mula was much bet­ter at keep­ing costs in check. A typ­i­cal BTC car cost un­der £100,000 to build, a third to a quar­ter of the cost of a late 2000s Su­per Tourer. This brought back some of the va­ri­ety that had dis­ap­peared to­wards the end of Su­per Tour­ing, with works teams from Vaux­hall, MG, Peu­geot, Honda and even Pro­ton over the first few years.

By 2002, how­ever, the writ­ing was on the wall even for BTC, as the Euro­pean Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship de­buted the Fia-sanc­tioned Su­per 2000 for­mula. The BTCC sol­diered on with a mix of BTC and Su­per 2000 cars from 2004, and some BTC cars lasted un­til 2011 in the hands of pri­va­teers – the first year that the cur­rent Next Gen­er­a­tion Tour­ing Car ( NGTC) cars hit the track. Stan­dard­ised com­po­nents and tight cost con­trol mean NGTC will never have the me­chan­i­cal in­trigue we en­joyed in those glory years of Su­per Tour­ing. Given all-wheel- drive re­mains il­le­gal, it’s un­likely we’ll ever see dom­i­nance on the scale of Audi’s re­mark­able A4 Su­per Tourer, ei­ther.

Above left: nat­u­rally as­pi­rated and lon­gi­tu­di­nally mounted four-cylin­der en­gine was down on power com­pared with ri­vals and sat a long way for­ward. Above: Frank Biela won the 1996 BTCC driv­ers’ ti­tle from this chair. Right: brake bal­ance and anti-roll bar set­tings can be al­tered from inside the car

Right: the A4 had su­perb aero­dy­nam­ics that re­sponded very well to ad­just­ment; big (back then) 19-inch wheels stuffed the arches and helped cre­ate the dis­tinc­tive Su­per Tour­ing ‘stance’

Be­low: a 4.2-me­tre min­i­mum length rule was in­tro­duced by the time the A4 ar­rived; the Audi’s com­par­a­tively long wheel­base and qu­at­tro four-wheel drive gen­er­ally gave it a good han­dling bal­ance

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