The BTC-T Peugeot 406 Coupé is one of the most interesting cars of the BTC-T era of the BTCC. Despite its lack of success in the series, largely down to the strength of Triple Eight and Vauxhall, the 406 Coupé remains one of the most iconic body shapes to enter the BTCC in recent years. With a roster of drivers which included Steve Soper, Dan Eaves and Tim Harvey during its time in the series, the 406 Coupé struggled to make an impact at the top end of the BTCC even with manufacturer support. I’ve explored the history of one of the BTC-T touring era’s more unusual cars in this edition of BTCC History.
BTC-T Peugeot 406 Coupé was based on the production Peugeot 406 Coupé which was launched at the 1996 Paris Motor Show and designed by Pininfarina, the Italian company with clients ranging from Peugeot to Maserati and Ferrari. Bought into the BTCC in 2001 for the first year of the new BTC-T regulations, the 406 Coupé was initially run by Vic Lee Racing with manufacturer support from Peugeot UK.
Chassis: Peugeot 406 Coupé
Engine: 2000cc, inline four-cylinder front mounted
Transmission: X-trac 6-speed sequential
Following a successful run to the Class B title in 2000 with Alan Morrison and the Peugeot 306 GTi, Vic Lee Racing was chosen as the team to spearhead Peugeot’s return to the BTCC proper. With 1993 series runner-up Steve Soper, Independents title winner Matt Neal and BTCC rookie Dan Eaves behind the wheel, the team had a strong driver lineup and was expected to challenge Vauxhall for the manufacturers crown.
However, it soon transpired that the Peugeot 406 Coupé would be no match for the mightly Vauxhalls of Triple Eight. The opening race of the season at Brands Hatch Indy saw the cars finish bottom of the touring car class with Steve Soper’s 4th place finish in the feature race being the team’s best result. Despite starting the season as a three-car outfit, the number of 406 Coupés on the grid was soon reduced to just two, as Matt Neal left the team after Brands Hatch and moved to the Supertouring category of the European Touring Car Championship.
The rest of the season was a struggle for Peugeot as poor reliability and a general lack of pace compared to the Vauxhall’s meant it wouldn’t be until the feature race at Oulton Park, 20 races in that the car scored its first BTCC podium. Dan Eaves finished the race in 3rd, whilst Soper would retire for the third race in a row. The poor run of form continued for the rest of the year, though Eaves would finish on the podium once more in the final race of the season at Brands Hatch Grand Prix. New Zealander Aaron Slight joined the team in a third car for the rounds at Donington Park in July but would score just a 7th and a DNF in his two races.
The Peugeot 406 Coupé ended its first season back in the BTCC with just two podium finishes, and Eaves and Soper the last of the factory drivers in 5th and 6th in the championship table respectively. Peugeot finished 615 points behind Vauxhall in the manufacturer’s standings, and Peugeot Sport UK finished the year third and last out of the manufacturer-backed teams in the team’s championship.
Following a disappointing year, Peugeot withdrew their support from Vic Lee Racing at the end of 2001 meaning that the cars dropped into the returning Independent class for 2002. Steve Soper announced his retirement from the BTCC and he was replaced by 1992 title winner Tim Harvey in a strong driver lineup which included Dan Eaves. 2001 Formula Renault UK champion Carl Breeze also joined the team from round 4 onwards.
With Peugeot money now gone, the brand was replaced on the car by Halfords, who would go on to back one of the most iconic BTCC cars in history with Team Dynamics, the Honda Integra Type R. As the BTCC’s popularity began to grow again, 16 cars began the season in the touring class.
2002 started well for the team, and Eaves put the 406 Coupé on the podium with a fine 2nd placed finish in the opening race of the year at Brands Hatch GP. However as the season went on, the 406 Coupé’s lack of pace began to rear its head yet again and the car would reach the podium just once more, again at Brands Hatch Indy at the tail end of the year courtesy of Tim Harvey.
Eaves and Harvey finished the season 10th and 11th in the standings level on 43 points as their campaigns were tainted by the car’s poor reliability. Harvey failed to reach the finish in 8 out of 20 races, whilst Eaves would retire 6 times. In contrast, championship winner James Thompson registered just 3 DNF’s all season. Team Halfords finished 5th out of 8 in the overall touring class team’s championship.
However, for all the 406 Coupé’s struggles in the overall championship race, Dan Eaves prevailed in a nail-biting Independents championship battle with Aaron Slight to win the title at the final round of the season. Eaves beat Slight by just 3 points, with Harvey finishing just 16 points further back. Success had eluded the team and 406 Coupé’ for two seasons in the main BTC-T touring class, the but Independents title win was a fitting reward for the car as it completed its final full-time BTCC campaign.
With the 406 Coupé’s time coming to an end in the BTCC, Vic Lee Racing switched to the Peugeot 307 for 2003 and the 406 Coupé didn’t feature all season. The car made a brief reappearance in 2004 with Mardi Gras Motorsport and John George in the BTC-T Independent class but failed to achieve any further success.
At the end of 2004 time was up for the Peugeot 406 Coupé in the BTCC. After 55 races, four podiums and one Independent title the car’s history doesn’t glitter in the same way as the Vauxhall Astra Coupe or the Honda Integra Type R does in the BTC-T era, but its unique body shape makes it one of the more memorable cars of the early 2000s.
What was your favourite Peugeot 406 Coupé memory? Remember watching them race? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!