Farewell to S2000: A Retrospective for a Super Specification
This weekend at Brands Hatch is very likely to be the last time we see S2000 cars driven in the BTCC. The cars, originally inspired by FIA World Touring Car regulations, bridged the gap between the only moderately successful BTC class and the current-generation NGTC specification.
BTC had been a radical cost-saving effort from ToCA in a bid to allow smaller teams to produce competitive machinery following the manufacturer exodus of the late 90s and the year 2000. While the purpose of BTC-spec was eventually fulfilled by giant killers Team Dynamics and Matt Neal in 2005 and 2006 – beating the formerly-dominant Vauxhall to two championships – the BTC spec cars weren’t a lot of use anywhere else, being a specification unique to the BTCC.
It was time for a change, and ToCA began to allow entry for FIA S2000 specification cars beginning in 2004.
At the end of 2005, it was announced that S2000 would be the new specification for the BTCC from 2007, giving teams 18 months to prepare their wallets as well as their cars.
Producing some exceptionally close racing and some truly great looking cars, it’s worth celebrating these machines as they pass into the annals of history. Here’s a few of the best-performing S2000-spec cars from years gone by.
SEAT Toledo – First seen in 2004
SEAT got the ball rolling early with their SEAT Toledo. The manufacturer-backed RML outfit entered three S2000 cars that season, with Jason Plato taking a highly impressive seven victories in 30 races. He finished the championship 3rd while Luke Hines and James Pickford never quite reached his dizzying heights. Other S2000-spec cars entered in 2004 including a very early example of a Honda Civic, an Alfa Romeo 156 and a BMW 320i.
2005 once again saw the same trio racing the Spanish machines, but their second season was a tougher affair.
The SEAT Toledo finished fourth in the championship in the hands of Jason Plato, taking three victories over the course of the season. The cars would make appearances for many years to come under the hands of various teams including David Bartrum’s Motorbase Performance and Chris Stockton’s BTC Racing and would be driven by the likes of Tom Ferrier, Gareth Howell and truck racer Stuart Oliver.
SEAT Leon – First seen in 2006
After two years with the Toledo, SEAT upgraded to the chunkier Leon. Jason Plato put in a genuinely thrilling challenge for the championship, but couldn’t put together a consistent season. He won eight races to Matt Neal’s seven, but also retired eight times. He was joined that season by James Thompson and Darren Turner for selected rounds. Thompson was never due to drive for the whole season due to other racing commitments, but having won the first two races of the season, he might have regretted that choice.
The Leon raced in 2007 and 2008, with Jason Plato consistently coming frustratingly close to the championship both times. In 2007, Plato finished every single race in the top ten, scoring six victories and 11 additional podiums a stellar record.
The Leon could still be seen up until the mid point of 2013 with Warren Scott behind the wheel. Other Leon shells were also driven by Tom Boardman, Rob Collard, Gavin Smith and Adam Smith.
Vauxhall Vectra – First seen in 2007
After two highly unsatisfactory years of racing the Astra Sport Hatch, Vauxhall and Triple Eight switched back to the venerable Vectra, last seen in Super Touring spec in the year 2000. The Vectra had never performed particularly impressively since its inception in 1996, but S2000 regulations and a new-shape Vectra coupled with a certain Fabrizio Giovanardi would see this car performing well by the second meeting of 2007.
Giovanardi raced alongside Tom Chilton that year, thoroughly eclipsing his young teammate. “Fab” racked up 10 wins in 2007, with the aforementioned Jason Plato by his side the whole way. Giovanardi eventually won the championship by three points at the series finale at Thruxton.
With Tom Onslow-Cole and Matt Neal as teammates for 2008, Giovanardi took another championship, with his closest rival come the season’s end being Mat Jackson.
The car raced under the VX Racing banner in 2009, with Andrew Jordan taking the place of “TOC”.
Vauxhall pulled out of the BTCC at the end of 2009, leaving Giovanardi without a drive after the first meeting of 2010. The Vectra will continue to race until the final meeting of 2013 with Lea Wood taking the the Jack Sears Trophy for S2000 cars in dominant fashion. Most notably, the car was driven by current championship leader Andrew Jordan, who took his first ever BTCC victory at Croft in 2010.
BMW 320si – First seen in 2007
The BMW 320si consistently found itself as a front runner from the moment it first turned a wheel in 2007. Colin Turkington took the car to a pair of podiums at the opening round, going on to take three victories and 5th in the overall championship while team mate Tom Onslow-Cole taking a victory of his own, and tenth in the series.
Always quick off the line, the 320si was the only rear wheel drive S2000 car to find itself scoring regularly. Other BMW efforts fell by the wayside, as did independent Lexus attempts.
Following two years of relative dominance by the works SEAT and Vauxhall teams, Turkington took a famous championship win at the most thrilling BTCC finale to date. In spite of Jason Plato – now driving a Chevrolet Lacetti – winning all three races that day, the Northen Irishman took his first and only championship win to date, sealing his and the Beemer’s place in history.
The cars continued to be raced by WSR and Motorbase Performance, with both teams taking a handful of victories in later years.
Chevrolet Cruze – First seen in 2010
Another year, another car for Jason Plato. The manufacturer-backed Chevrolet Cruze was quick straight out of the box when it arrived on the scene at Brands Hatch taking a pair of podiums. It wasn’t until the mid point of the season that Plato looked like he might seal his second championship victory, with a run of podiums and victories towards the end of the year securing him the title.
2011 looked like more of the same for Plato, picking up where he left off with a pair of victories. However, as Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden began to pick up the pace in their turbo-powered Honda Civics (see below), he fell behind. The infamous barrel-rolling crash at Donington certainly put a dent in the team’s season, but Plato still scored an impressive eight victories. Once again, it was inconsistency which seemed to cost him a third championship victory.
Honda Civic – First seen in 2004
As mentioned above, the first S2000-spec Honda Civics actually appeared for a few rounds in 2004. Entered by Mardi Gras and Team Varta, the cars only raced during selected events, scoring no points. It wasn’t until 2007 that we would see the Honda Civic we’re all more familiar with.
Following two highly successful years in the BTC-spec Honda Integra, dragging themselves away from a car many considered to be an indestructible tank must have been tough for Team Dynamics. They returned in 2007 with the Civic (they had raced a BTC-spec Civic in 2004) which performed admirably with Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal taking 4 victories between them.
Various drivers, including Johnny Herbert and Dave Pinkney, would drive for the team in the ensuing years, but the car would never quite have the performance of the better-funded manufacturer entries.
It wasn’t until Honda reappeared as a manufacturer entry in 2010 that the car would show its true potential. Matt Neal finished second in the championship in 2010, and finished one higher in 2011 following a thrilling battle with team mate Gordon Shedden and Jason Plato.
Ford Focus – First seen in 2009
The Focus was first introduced in 2009 (ignoring its appearances as a production machine in 2001) under the banner of Team Aon. Tom Chilton would be joined by Alan Morrison and Tom Onslow-Cole during the season. The Focus was pretty uncompetitive during its first year, only coming of age at the final rounds of the season with a trio of podiums for Tom Chilton.
2010 was a much better year for the Arena-run team, with Tom Chilton and Tom Onslow-Cole taking a victory apiece when the series reached its third event at Brands Hatch. The pair would go on to score another five victories between them, although without some very conspicuous team orders at Silverstone, TOC would have had a genuine chance to win the overall title.
The 2011 season saw Chilton paired with Andy Neate and, later, Tom Onslow-Cole. Chilton would only take two victories during the season before departing for the WTCC. Motorbase-run Airwaves Ford Focus’ saw much more success in 2011, with Mat Jackson taking four victories and 4th in the championship.
Motorbase achieved more victories in the S2000 Focus in 2012, but its attention had already turned to NGTC regulations, with Mat Jackson being switched into a new-spec Focus towards the end of the season. The Ford Focus has the honour of taking the last ever overall race victory for an S2000 specification car. The win came in the penultimate race of 2012 at Brands Hatch, with Aron Smith at the wheel.
The S2000 Focus continues to make appearances at BTCC rounds under the Motorbase banner, with Liam Griffin finding himself the closest challenger to the all-dominant Lea Wood in the Jack Sears Trophy.
So, the S2000 class is soon to be no more, but it has proved to be a hugely important chapter in the BTCC’s history. Huge grids towards the end of the last decade proved its success, and NGTC certainly has a lot to live up to.
Article originally written on Saturday, 12 October 2013. Read more articles from the BTCC Crazy Archive.