At start of the 2000, the most exciting and spectacular class of motorsport ended after wowing pundits for just under 10 years. The class in question is the so-called 2,0-litre Touring Car class, or Super Touring as it became known amongst fans. The reason why Super Touring became such a success was the fact that the cars competing were based on “ordinary” normal family saloons but mainly because it happened at a time when there was money to burn and the auto market was growing after the recession of the early 1990s.
The Super Touring era was the years of factory supported racing, advances in technology, entertainment, massive crowds and of course the main drawing card; many spectacular crashes.
The Super Touring era came into power at the end of 1990, replacing the Group A class of touring cars used mostly in Europe. In actual fact, the Super Touring class was derived form the already hugely successful British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) that until 1989 ran in a class division based on engine size.
In short these four classes were class D (engine size up to 1 600 cc), class C engines up to 1 800 cc), class B (engines up to 3 000 cc) and class A (engines over 3 000 cc). By 1990, the BTCC ran only two classes of which class B, now known as the 2,0-litre class, would replace the Group A rules for 1991.
The reason Group A was replaced was that in form 1987, only one car had been dominating class A; the mighty 2,0-litre turbocharged purpose-built 500 hp Ford Sierra RS Cosworth. In fact by 1990, there was no other make of car competing in class A but Sierras. It was so dominant that it could not be challenged, hence the mass exodus of other makes out of the BTCC.
The motorsport governing body, the FIA, had to look for a new formula to attract manufactures back to saloon car racing and thus for 1991, it chose the BTCC derived 2,0-litre Super Touring format.
By 1992, the format had been an international success with countries like Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, France, the UK, Australia and even the USA having a Super Touring series.
Apart from the UK, the Super Touring formula struck gold in South Africa when it “landed” in 1993. The series was known as the South African Touring Car Championship or SATCAR and sponsored by bank group Stannic, thus commonly known as the Stannic SATCAR series.
The entries for that first race in 1993 may have been on the small side but the racing was exquisite and the crowds were massive. Immediately Motorsport South Africa (MSA) took notice. By 1995, the series now known as the AA Fleetcare Super Touring Car Championship consistent of nearly every car sold in the country like the (two of each) BMW 318i, Toyota Camry, Nissan Sentra, the Rothmans backed 4WD Audi 80 Quattro and the European-built Ford Mondeo and Opel Vectra.
The driver line up that year featured the best talent in the county: Terry Moss, Chris Aberdeen, Michael Briggs, Grant McCleary, Anthony Taylor, Sarel van der Merwe, Mike White, Shaun van der Linde, Deon Joubert, Nic de Waal and Giniel de Villiers, among others.
The racing was fast, action packed and notable for two massive accidents. The first was at Zwartkops between De Waal’s Nissan and Van der Linde’s BMW, which ended with the BMW rolling spectacularly but with no injury to Van der Linde. The second crash was at Kyalami when Briggs hit a pool of oil at the bottom of the Caltex mineshaft and spun his Opel at 200 km/h into the crash barriers before nearly being struck by De Villiers’ Nissan. Yet Briggs escaped the crash and won the title later that year at during the second last meeting at East London.
Sadly things started to go wrong from 1996. Whereas the BTCC continued to go strong, the South African series had already lost Ford at the end of 1995. Then, at the end of ’96 Opel left; a massive blow for the series.
Form 1997 to 2000 future Dakar hero Giniel de Villiers would rule the touring car scene in his BP Nissan Primera. But by that time, the popularity of touring car racing had ended and with new rules in the pipeline for the BTCC in 2001, the South African series along with many others folded before 2001.
The high costs of running a Super Touring programme with factory backing had become too much and thus the Super Touring era died at the end of 2000.
If we leave out the BTCC, which is still going in the UK, the Super Touring series was the golden era of modern SA motorsport. Today South African motorsport is more than just boring. The racetracks and cars are boring. The commentary is worse than terrible, the racing is monotonous and the television coverage is also dreary.
On a personal note, I continue to be a massive touring fan since watching my first BTCC race on television in 1995 that was held at a wet Silverstone (still have that race on VHS to this day). During that year, I can also remember going to the Aldo Scribante racetrack here in Port Elizabeth and, then as a four year old, watching my first ever-motor race live.
The atmosphere was electric and the crowds were huge. Back then you had to get up at five in the morning to guarantee a good viewpoint. The main attraction that day was the touring cars; in fact out of all the classes racing that day, everyone wanted to see the touring cars. Today, my love and passion for watching motorsport in South Africa has all but vanished.
In conclusion, the time has come where MSA either adopt the new NGTC rules, that will form the basis for the BTCC next year, or create their own rules and create a touring series that will re-ignite this countries love for motorsport and bring back the glory days of the Super Touring era.
Tags: Aldo Scribante, Anthony Taylor, BTCC, Chris Aberdeen, Deon Joubert, Ford Sierra, Giniel de Villiers, Grant McCleary, Michael Briggs, Mike White, Motorsport, MSA, Nic de Waal, Sarel van der Merwe, Shaun van der Linde, Silverstone, Terry Moss, Touring Car