BTCC History

BTCC History: Triple Eight Race Engineering

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Fabrizio Giovanardi in the Triple Eight-built Vectra VXR at Oulton Park in 2008. Image thanks to Vauxhall Motorsport.

When you think about some of the greatest touring car outfits they don’t come much greater than Triple Eight Race Engineering. Formed in 1996 to design, build and race Vauxhall’s BTCC race cars, the team went on to become one of the most successful BTCC teams of all time, winning six drivers and teams championships, and nine constructors titles along the way. Following the announcement in November 2018 that the team is no more, I’ve looked back at Triple Eight’s BTCC years in the latest edition of BTCC History.

The Super Touring Era (1997 – 2000)

Triple Eight made their BTCC debut at the start of the 1997 season. Following a tough transitional year with the new Vauxhall Vectra in 1996, Vauxhall switched from RML (who went on to build the Nissan Primera) to Triple Eight in a bid to improve their fortunes. Two-time BTCC champion John Cleland was joined by team owner and Triple Eight co-founder Derick Warwick for 1997 running two Vauxhall Vectras under the Vauxhall Sport banner. With the cars numbered #8 (Cleland) and #88 (Warwick), 1997 was a tough year for the team who went winless and finished 8th out of eight in the constructor’s championship and 7th out of 15 in the team’s championship. Cleland finished 12th in the driver’s standings with a best result of 5th and Warwick ended the season in 14th, again with a best result of 5th.

With the Vauxhall Vectra being homologated across all Super Touring championships, Triple Eight found the Vectra unsuited to British race tracks at a time where its European counterpart the Opel Vectra enjoyed success in Germany, France and Italy. The rules were relaxed slightly for 1998 when Triple Eight were allowed to homologate a different aerodynamic kit compared to Opel’s, and the following year bought greater success.

The look of the team remained the same for the 1998 season, with Cleland and Warwick remaining as drivers. With the new aerodynamic package on board, and a year’s experience with the Vectra, 1998 was a much better year for Triple Eight and Vauxhall and Cleland scored the team’s first race victory in race five of the season at Donington Park. He followed it up with a podium finish in race six. The victory was Cleland’s first for almost two and half years and Vauxhall’s first since 1996. Cleland would go on to win again at Donington later in the season and Warwick would take his first and only victory for Vauxhall in the BTCC in race two at Knockhill.

With results on the up, Cleland and Warwick finished 8th and 9th in the 1998 standings with Triple Eight/Vauxhall finishing 5th in both the constructor’s and team’s standings. Cleland missed races 17 and 18 of the season at Thruxton through injury after a heavy crash with Alain Menu at Snetterton.

john cleland 1999, btcc blog, thehairpincorner
John Cleland in the #8 Vauxhall Vectra, Triple Eight’s car for the 1997 – 2000 BTCC seasons. Image thanks to Vauxhall.

It was all change at Triple Eight for 1999 as Derick Warwick retired from driving to focus on managing the team and Yvan Muller arrived from Audi in his place. Future championship-winning DTM and V8 Supercars race engineer Ludo Lacroix also joined the team at the start of the season. Despite hoping to push on from a positive 1998, 1999 was less successful and Triple Eight won just one race all season, courtesy of Yvan Muller’s sensational overtake in the sprint race at Brands Hatch Indy. Muller ended the season 6th in the table scoring four other podium finishes but Cleland struggled all season long and finished 13th with a best finish of 4th in the feature race at Donington Park. Vauxhall finished 5th again in both the constructors and team’s standings.

2000 marked the final season of the Super Touring era and featured the biggest shake-up at Triple Eight yet since they joined the BTCC. Muller stayed and Cleland departed the team, whilst Jason Plato joined from Renault and Vincent Radermacker joined from Volvo as Triple Eight expanded to a three-car outfit. 2000 was the Vectra’s final season, and in a year dominated by the Prodrive Ford Mondeos, Triple Eight/Vauxhall finished 3rd and last in the constructor’s championship and 2nd in the team’s championship. Muller scored three race wins at Thruxton and Silverstone whilst Plato won at Brands Hatch Indy and Snetterton on their way to 4th and 5th in the standings. Radermacker struggled and would end the year 10th with just one podium finish to his name.

BTC-Touring Era & Championship Success

The BTCC underwent a radical shakeup prior to the start of the 2001 season as the Super Touring regulations ended in favour of lower cost BTC-Touring regulations. Ford and Honda left the series leaving Triple Eight as the only factory-backed entry until the arrival of Peugeot and then MG ( who joined later in the season). Muller and Plato stayed on with the team which continued as Vauxhall Motorsport but now fielding the BTC-T Vauxhall Astra Coupe. Triple Eight also ran a second team under the egg:sport banner with James Thompson and Phil Bennett driving two egg-liveried Astra Coupes.

2001 proved to be one of the most dominant seasons in British touring car racing as Triple Eight won all but one of 26 races. Jason Plato won the title in an epic season-long battle with teammate Muller, which would end in Plato leaving the series and team at the end of the year. Thompson finished ahead of Bennett in the standings as Triple Eight locked out the top four in the driver’s championship. Triple Eight/Vauxhall swept the floor with Peugeot in the constructor’s title winning by 615 points, and Vauxhall Motorsport led home egg:sport in the team’s standings with Peugeot a distant third.

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Jason Plato in the Snetterton night race in 2001. Image thanks to PSP Images

It was more of the same in 2002 as Triple Eight stormed to the drivers, constructors and teams titles. James Thompson replaced Plato at Vauxhall Motorsport and egg:sport featured an all-new driver lineup of Matt Neal and Paul O’Neil. Thompson won the title by 20 points from Yvan Muller with Neal in 3rd whilst O’Neil finished the season in 8th. Triple Eight had stiffer competition from MG and Honda in 2002, and the Astra Coupe suffered a number of reliability issues during the course of the season.

Triple Eight’s look changed radically in 2003, as the team was rebranded to VX-Racing and expanded to three cars with the closure of egg:sport. Muller and Thompson remained with the team as Paul O’Neil moved over from egg:sport as Neal left Triple Eight for Arena Motorsport/Honda. Despite not enjoying the dominance of previous years, Triple Eight once again claimed a clean sweep of all three championships with Muller finally winning the drivers title from Thompson, and Triple Eight and Vauxhall winning the constructor’s and team’s titles for the third year in a row.

In 2004 Triple Eight’s driver lineup changed again, as Luke Hines replaced the departing Paul O’Neil. In the Astra Coupe’s final season as Triple Eight’s challenger, it won another clean sweep of drivers, teams and manufacturers titles as Triple Eight secure all the available championships for a record-breaking fourth year in a row. Prevailing in an epic season-long battle, Thompson beat Muller to the title by just one point but for the first time in the BTC-T era Triple Eight faced serious competition from SEAT led by the returning Jason Plato, MG, Team Dynamics and Honda. Triple Eight retired the Astra Coupe from BTCC duty at the end of the 2004 season, and it remains one of the most successful BTCC cars of all time.

Astra Sport Hatch

Staying as VX Racing into 2005, Triple Eight-built three brand-new Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch cars for the new BTCC season. With James Thompson departing for the WTCC, Triple Eight’s lineup featured Yvan Muller who was now into his seventh season with the team, Colin Turkington and Gavin Smith. For the first time in five seasons, the team were beaten to the BTCC Drivers title by BTCC History: BTC-T Honda Integra Type R Matt Neal and the Halfords Honda Integra, and Team Halfords also beat Triple Eight/Vauxhall to the team’s championship. The team prevailed in a season-long battle with SEAT for the constructors crown, but it was a shock year for a Triple Eight team who had become so accustomed to dominating the BTCC.

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Fabrizio Giovanardi joined Vauxhall in 2006. Image thanks to Vauxhall Motorsport.

Yvan Muller left the team before the start of 2006 and was replaced by Italian touring car legend Fabrizio Giovanardi. Turkington also left the team and was replaced by Tom Chilton whilst Smith stayed with Triple Eight for a second year. Remaining with the Astra Sport Hatch and the VX Racing name, the cars featured a new splash of green courtesy of new title sponsor Holiday Inn. 2006 was Triple Eight’s least successful season since 2000, and the team failed to win a title for the first time in six seasons. Matt Neal and Halfords/Team Dynamics doubled up once again with the drivers and teams titles, whilst SEAT won their first manufacturers crown beating Vauxhall/Triple Eight by 44 points.

BTC/S2000 Era

The BTCC changed dramatically again in 2007 as the series adopted S2000 regulations alongside the BTC ones. Triple Eight retired the Astra Sport Hatch after two disappointing seasons and bought in the new BTC-T Vauxhall Vectra to try and return the team to the top of the BTCC. The team was downsized to two cars with Giovanardi and Chiton staying on as drivers. For the first time since 2004 Triple Eight won the drivers title as Giovanardi beat Jason Plato by just three points, despite being one point behind going into the final race of the season. Chilton finished the year 9th, whilst Triple Eight/Vauxhall won the constructors title after missing out in 2006. The team failed to win the teams championship, which went to SEAT.

Vauxhall vectra btcc, motrosrpot blog, btcc blog, thehairpincorner
Fabrizio Giovanardi driving the BTC-T Vectra in 2009. Image thanks to Touring Car Times.

Triple Eight’s success continued into 2008 as the team took their first clean sweep of drivers, constructors and teams titles since 2004. Giovanardi entered his third season with the team and won his second title, and he was joined by Matt Neal and Tom Onslow-Cole as Triple Eight grew to three cars. Neal would finish the season 5th and Onslow-Cole 6th.

Triple Eight’s driver lineup changed again in 2009 as Onslow-Cole was replaced by Andrew Jordan. Despite continuing with the successful-championship winning Vectra, the team was beaten to the BTCC drivers title by Colin Turkington but did retain the teams crown. Being the only factory-backed team in the 2009 championship, Triple Eight won the manufacturers crown from Team Dynamics and Team AON who were included in the standings. Giovanardi finished the season in 3rd, Triple Eight’s highest placed driver as Neal finished 4th and Jordan 10th.

Independent Era

Seismic change occurred at Triple Eight over the 2009/2010 offseason. Vauxhall withdrew from the BTCC ending a 13-season association with Triple Eight, and for the first time since they made their BTCC debut, the team were without manufacturer support. Amidst much uncertainty, the team appeared on the entry list at the season launch with the intention of running two Independently-backed Vectras for Glew and Giovanardi. Uniq, WD40 and Dunlop were signed as major sponsors and the opening round of the season saw the Vectra win the first two races of the year. However shockwaves were sent through the team post-Thruxton as Uniq withdrew sponsorship and Giovanardi left the team along with Glew. James Nash joined the team as the car ran one full-time Vauxhall Vectra and Nash was occasionally joined by an extra car driven by Sam Tordoff, Dan Lloyd and Jeff Smith.

2010 was a tumultuous year for a team so used to winning titles, and Nash finished the season 12th in the standings and Triple Eight 7th in the team’s championship.

Independent Success

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James Nash in the 2011 Triple Eight Vectra. Image thanks to Jacob Ebrey

After a season acclimatising to their newfound Independent status, 2011 marked a return to success for the BTCC most successful team of the previous decade. With James Nash continuing with the team as a full-time driver, Triple Eight ran two Vauxhall Vectras in 2011 with backing from Collins Contractors. Nash would be joined in a second car throughout the season by Tony Gilham, Aron Smith and Ollie Jackson who all campaigned in the second Vectra at select races. Nash got his breakthrough win in race three at Rockingham and was on the pace all season long as he fought for the title. He would eventually finish 5th, but Triple Eight won both the Independent teams and drivers titles after a titleless year in 2010.

Return To Manufacturer Status

After so many years spent dominating the BTCC with Vauxhall, it took some time to adjust to seeing Triple Eight fielding MG’s official works program in 2012. MG returned to the BTCC in 2012 as a manufacturer with the MG6 GT built to NGCT specifications with Jason Plato and Andy Neate at the wheel. With backing from Tesco via their KX Momentum Fuel brand, Triple Eight were once again a powerhouse team in the BTCC and the team would win six races in 2012, all with Plato on their way to 3rd in the driver’s standings. Despite a return to works status and winning ways, Triple Eight/MG were beaten by Honda in the manufacturer’s championship and Team Dynamics and eBay Motors in the team’s championship.

Triple Eight remained with MG for 2013 as Sam Tordoff replaced Andy Neate. Plato won eight races and Tordoff, one, on their way to 3rd and 6th in the championship respectively as once again Triple Eight were beaten to all three available titles. Plato would finish 17 points off championship winner Andrew Jordan as the MG6 GT entered the second year of its development cycle.

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Jason Plato on his way to 3rd in the 2013 drivers standings in the Triple Eight MG6 GT. Image thanks to MG Motors

Plato and Tordoff remained for 2014 as Triple Eight entered the third year with the MG6 GT. The team expanded to run a third car for Marc Hynes under the Quantel BiFold Racing banner which ran as an Independent entry. Plato won six races and Tordoff won one as Triple Eight secured the manufacturer’s title for the first time since 2009, and their first with MG. Plato finished 2nd in the championship with Tordoff in 7th and Triple Eight finished 2nd in the team’s championship behind eBay Motors. MG/Triple Eight’s manufacturers championship ended a four-year period of dominance for Honda/Team Dynamics who had won the title every year since 2010.

The Beginning Of The End

It was all change in 2015 as Plato and Tordoff departed, and were replaced by Andrew Jordan and Jack Goff. Jordan and Goff finished 5th and 9th in the championship, with Triple Eight winning just once at Snetterton with Jack Goff. Jordan failed to win a race despite being in championship contention up until the final race and the team now known as MG Triple Eight Racing missed out on the manufacturers title to Honda/Team Dynamics. The team finished 3rd in the team’s championship behind Team BMR and Team Dynamics.

After a tough 2015, Triple Eight rebranded to MG Racing RCIB Insurance for 2016 and Ash Sutton and Josh Cook joined as drivers. It was another tough year for the team as for the second season running they won just one race, which came courtesy of Ash Sutton at Croft. Despite featuring a talented and young driver lineup, Triple Eight/MG  finished 4th and last in the constructor’s championship and 5th in the team’s championship. Cook and Sutton finished 12th and 13th in the driver’s standings.

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Sutton won Triple Eight’s only race in a tough 2016. Image thanks to BTCC.net

Triple Eight’s struggles continued into 2017 in an ageing MG car which was outpaced by many of its on-track rivals. Aron Taylor-Smith and Dan Llyod were signed as drivers before Llyod was replaced by Cook midseason. In their worst season since they joined the BTCC, Triple Eight failed to register a podium finish all year long and finished 5th out of five in the constructor’s title. They recorded a 16th place finish in the team’s standings with Cook their highest placed driver in 18th.

Triple Eight Race Engineering didn’t enter the 2018 BTCC championship and AMDTuning.com purchased the two ex-works MG6’s run by the team. The news came in late November 2018 that Triple Eight had ceased to operate as a company bringing to an end an illustrious 20-season run in the BTCC.

From their debut in 1997 to the end of 2017 so many championships later ,Triple Eight will go down as one of the most successful BTCC teams in history having run the works programs of Vauxhall and MG. As the curtain closes on an immensely successful BTCC run there will be plenty of other teams hoping to emulate Triple Eight’s BTCC success, but Triple Eight have set the benchmark since the turn of the century. It’s sad to see the name leave British Touring Car racing, but we’ve been treated to some sublime performances over the years which will long live in the memory.

Like this edition of BTCC History, or a favourite Triple Eight memory? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook.

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