The Volvo S40 was one of the most popular and iconic cars of the Super Touring era of the BTCC. Built and run by Tom Walkinshaw Racing in the BTCC from 1997 – 1999, the Volvo S40 is one of my favourite BTCC cars of all time and eventually carried Rickard Rydell to the 1998 BTCC drivers title. I took a look back at the history of the Super Touring Volvo S40 in the BTCC in this edition of BTCC History.
Volvo S40 BTCC Key Specifications
Engine Location: Front, transversely mounted
Cylinders: 5 with 4 valves per cylinder
Drive: Front-wheel drive
Transmission: Six-Speed Sequential (TWR & X-Trac)
Brakes: Brembo 8 Piston (front) and Brembo 4 Piston (rear)
Wheels: 19-inch Alloys
Chassis: Volvo S40 First Generation
1997: All New Car For The BTCC
Following two seasons campaigning with the 850 saloon, Volvo introduced the S40 to the BTCC in time for the start of the 1997 season. Produced by Volvo, but designed by British designer Peter Horbury the first generation S40 which competed in the BTCC was in production from 1995 to 2004 and sold over 1 million units during its production run. Homologated for competition at the start of 1997, it was hoped that the S40 would bring Volvo the BTCC championship in a time when the series had a reach all over the world.
Rickard Rydell who had joined Volvo on their BTCC debut in 1994 drove car #3, and had finished 3rd in the standings the previous year whilst the other S40, car #11 was driven by Kelvin Burt who had finished 11th for Volvo the season before. Now called Volvo S40 Racing, the team were confident that the car could challenge for BTCC honours.
The car was quick out the box, and the Volvo S40 would go on to score podiums in its first four BTCC races. Burt finished the first race of the season in 3rd, and Rydell followed-up with three 2nd place finishes at Donington Park and Silverstone to prove the pace in the car.
Despite a strong start to the season, Burt didn’t make the podium again in 1997 but finished 4th twice at Silverstone and Knockhill on his way to 10th place in the final season standings. Teammate Rydell however, fared better and he went on to finish 3rd again at Croft and Oulton Park before taking the Volvo S40’s first BTCC race victory at Brands Hatch Indy late in the season.
In a year which was dominated by the Williams Racing Renault Lagunas who won 12 out of 24 races, Rydell finished a credible 4th in the championship race with 137 points. Volvo finished 4th in the both the team’s and manufacturer’s championship and the scene was set for a classic BTCC season the following year.
1998: Title Success For The Volvo S40
Heading into 1998, Rickard Rydell remained with Volvo for the fifth straight season but Burt was replaced by former Formula One driver Gianni Morbidelli in the second S40. Rydell campaigned with #4 on the car with Morbidelli racing with #14 as Volvo started the season with a star-studded driver lineup.
Sporting the classic blue and silver Volvo colours, Rydell began the 1998 season with a victory in the opening race at Thruxton before winning twice at Brands Hatch Indy in round four to make it three race wins and two further podiums from the opening eight races of the year. Three 2nd place finishes followed at Oulton Park and Donington and Rydell won twice more at Croft and Brands Hatch GP to secure the 1998 BTCC drivers title by 15 points from Nissan’s Anthony Reid. The title was Volvo’s first in the BTCC and it ensured that one of the Super Touring era’s most popular cars won an overall driver’s title in its time in the BTCC.
Teammate Morbidelli wasn’t so fortunate, and struggled with poor reliability and getting to grips with the BTCC as he drove to 11th in the overall standings. He registered a season-high finish of 4th at Thruxton later in the year but failed to make the finish six times in 26 races.
Volvo finished the 1998 season 2nd in the manufacturer’s title, missing out on overall honours to Nissan by 28 points. The team finished 3rd in the team’s championship which Nissan yet again won.
1999: Best Of The Rest In The Title Defence
Fresh from securing his and Volvo’s first BTCC title, Rydell stayed on to defend his championship in 1999 but was joined in the second S40 by Belgian Pro Car driver Vincent Radermacker who replaced the outgoing Morbidelli. Rydell drove with #1 on the car and Radermacker #11 as the team began the campaign keen to retain their crown.
Soon after the season began it was clear that it would be a challenge for any manufacturer to wrest the title from Nissan’s Laurent Aiello or David Leslie given the strength of the Nissan Primera. Despite scoring podiums at Silverstone and Thruxton, it wasn’t until race 14 of the season at Croft that Rydell took Volvo’s first victory of 1999. Hampered by poor reliability and stronger competition, Rydell finished the season as best of the rest in 3rd, 52 points behind champion Laurent Aiello. After a poor opening half of the year, Rydell did recover to take three race wins and two 2nds in the final six races of the season but by then it was too late to prevent Aiello securing the crown.
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. His promising early season form was hampered by six retirements in the first eleven races of the year, which without, he would have undoubtedly given the
Rookie and teammate Radermacker wasn’t so fortunate in 1999 but still managed four podiums all scored at Thruxton and Snetterton to finish a respectable 8th in the standings.
Volvo and the Volvo S40 finished 3rd in both the manufacturer’s and team’s standings behind Nissan and Honda and at the end of 1999 the announcement came that both manufacturer and car would be leaving the BTCC.
The Volvo name, and the name of the team’s owner Tom Walkinshaw racing haven’t been seen in the BTCC since, and the death of touring car legend Tom Walkinshaw means that we are unlikely to see either name return to the BTCC in the near future.
The Volvo S40 remains one of the most iconic and most loved cars of the Super Touring era of the BTCC, and it’s fantastic engine sound and brilliant livery ensured it was a fan favourite from the moment it hit the track. It did what it was built to do, win Volvo a BTCC title and although it didn’t manage to secure Volvo the manufacturer’s crown it was still a formidable car in 1997, 1998 and 1999.
What are your Volvo S40 memories? Let me know in the comments below and in the meantime click the links below to discover more about the history of the British Touring Car Championship and some of it’s most iconic cars.