I’m sure most people have a favourite touring car, or one which they would love to go back in time to see race again, and for me it’s the Volvo S40, run in the BTCC from 1997 -1999 by Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR). I’ve decided to do something a little different today and start a new occasional mini series where I’ll look back into the history of some of my favourite touring and formula one cars, so without further ado, read on to find out a little more about one of the last great cars of the BTCC’s super touring era.
The S40 BTCC featured a standard first generation Volvo S40 chassis with a reinforced safety roll cage, and was powered by a five cylinder, two litre unit producing in excess of 290 BHP. The transmission was a six speed, sequential shift gearbox developed by TWR and Xtrac with Brembo 8 piston callipers for the front brakes and Brembo 4 piston callipers for the rear. The S40 had a 40 litre fuel cell and ran 19 inch alloys with Michelin tyres.
1997: Volvo finished 4th in their debut season with the first generation S40. Driven by Rickard Rydell and Kelvin Burt the S40 would go on to score podiums in its first four races of the 1997 season, with Burt finishing 3rd in the opening sprint race at Donington Park before Rydell would go on to score a hat-trick of 3rd place finishes in race two at Donington and the following two races at Silverstone. Whilst Burt didn’t make the podium again in 1997 on his way to 10th place in the championship, in the hands of Rickard Rydell the Volvo S40 showed glimpses of its great potential as it went on to score another two 3rd place finishes at Oulton Park and Croft before taking the S40’s maiden BTCC victory at Brands Hatch near the seasons end. In a season which was dominated by Alain Menu in the Renault Laguna (12/24 race wins) Rydell finished the year in 4th with 137 points.
1998: Former F1 driver Gianni Morbidelli replaced Kelvin Burt for 1998 and Rickard Rydell collected five race wins on his way to the 1998 BTCC title, which he won at Oulton Park with a round to spare. With an all new livery for 1998 Rydell won races at Thruxton, Croft and Brands Hatch to finish just 15 points ahead of Anthony Reid in the Nissan Primera, the cars which would go on to dominate the BTCC in 1999. Morbidelli finished the 1998 season in 10th place in the championship, mirroring where Rydell’s teammate Kelvin Burt had finished the year before. His highest finish was at Thruxton towards the end of the season where he followed Rydell home in 4th place. To win the championship in a car which was just two years into it’s development cycle was a great achievement and testament to the great work done on the S40 by TWR, after all Menu won the 1997 in a Renault Laguna which had been in development for four seasons!
1999: Fresh from securing the 1998 title, Rydell was joined at Volvo/TWR by Vincent Radermacker, who arrived the BTCC from the Belgian Pro Car Championship. 1999 is synonymous with Nissan in the BTCC. In a year where Laurent Aiello and the late David Leslie took 13/26 race victories on their way to lock out the top two in the championship and secure Nissan the manufacturers title by 168 points from Honda, Volvo finished in 3rd place just one point behind Honda in what was to be their final season in the BTCC.
Rydell was unable to match his championship success in 1999, largely due to the sheer speed of the two Nissans who were often the class of the field however he duly backed up his 1998 form with a fine best of the rest 3rd place finish scoring four victories over the course of the season, including a memorable double at Silverstone in the final two rounds. For the first time since the S40’s debut in 1997 Rydell suffered his fair share of reliability problems and retirements in the first half of the 1999 season, and his promising early season form was hampered by six retirements in the first eleven races of the season, which without, he would have undoubtedly given the Nissans a much stronger challenge.
Vincent Radermacker enjoyed a more fruitful campaign in the second Volvo than his predecessors Burt and Morbidelli and whilst unable to match Rydell’s pace, he enjoyed three podium finishes on his way to 8th place in the championship, including a memorable double podium finish for Volvo at Thruxton early in the season.
Volvo announced their withdrawal from the BTCC at the end of 1999 and the TWR run squad wouldn’t be seen again the BTCC. The tragic death of touring car legend Tom Walkinshaw in 2010 means that we’re unlikely to see the Walkinshaw name back in the BTCC any time soon however it’s a fitting tribute for the man who gave so much to motorsport that the Volvo S40 remains one of the most well liked cars in BTCC history. Ford’s buyout of Volvo cars in 1999 is among the reasons believed to have contributed to Volvo’s departure from British Touring Cars, and indeed Rickard Rydell made the switch to the newly expanded Prodrive Ford Mondeo squad alongside Alain Menu and Anthony Reid for 2000, before Ford too announced their withdrawal from the sport at the end of the Super-touring era.
Volvo, S40 and Tom Walkinshaw remain names closely intertwined in BTCC history and it will be interesting to see over the coming years if Volvo decide once again to make a foray into the BTCC. They certainly seem to be expanding their motorsport program once again with factory involvement in V8 Supercars, STCC and World Touring Cars and so the wait goes on to see if they’d like another crack at regaining their 1998 BTCC crown.