BTCC History: Alfa Romeo 155

Image thanks to Autosport.

1994 marked the beginning of the heights of the Super Touring era of the BTCC. With a grid 10 manufacturers strong, the series fielded drivers who were widely regarded as some of the best in touring car racing and many of the world’s biggest car companies had a presence on the grid. One team and car who made its BTCC Super Touring debut in 1994 was Alfa Corse and the Alfa Romeo 155 TS, running Alfa Romeo’s official factory team. The Alfa Romeo brand was no stranger to top-level touring car racing in the UK, with Andy Rouse having won the 1983 British Saloon Car Championship title in an Industrial Control Services Ltd Alfa Romeo GTV6 however 1994 would mark the first season that the manufacturer competed in the BTCC in an official works capacity. I’ve taken a look back at the Alfa Romeo 155 TS’s time in the BTCC in this edition of BTCC History.

The Alfa Romeo 155

Produced between 1992 and 1998, the Alfa Romeo 155 was launched to the public in March 1992 at the Geneva Motor Show and over 192,000 cars were produced over a six-year production run. Built as a replacement for the Alfa Romeo 75, the 155 was larger than its predecessor and was built in a front-wheel-drive layout as opposed to the 75’s rear-wheel-drive.

With previous championship winning success in the Italian Super Touring Championship and the DTM (with a V6 TI) in the hands of Nicola Larini, Alfa Romeo decided to turn their attention to the BTCC with a uniquely homologated 155 complete with wings and spoilers for 1994. The 155 was set to revolutionize the Super Touring era.

Known as the “Formula” in Europe, but the Alfa Romeo 155 Silverstone in the United Kingdom, this version of the 155 was one of the most notable special edition versions of the car produced and enabled the 155 to become homologated for the BTCC after 2500 units were produced. Featuring a bolt-on aero kit, adjustable rear spoiler and an extendable front splitter the 155 Silverstone was only ever available in Alfa Romeo red or black.

1994 – Immediate Success For The Alfa Romeo 155

The 155’s were the class of the 1994 right from the outset. Image thanks to Motorsport Images.

The Alfa Romeo 155 made it’s BTCC debut at the start of 1994 with Gabriele Tarquini and Giampiero Simoni behind the wheel of cars #55 and #56 respectively. With a background in Formula One and the Italian Superturismo Championship, Tarquini was bought over by Alfa Corse from Italy to spearhead their BTCC campaign after finishing 3rd in the 1993 Italian Touring Car Championship with five race victories to his name. Simoni arrived as a touring car rookie with a Formula 3000 background and would complete an all-Italian lineup for the BTCC’s new all-Italian team.

From the outset, it was clear that the Alfa Romeo 155 was at an advantage. Tarquini won the first five races of the season at Thruxton, Brands Hatch Indy, Snetterton and Silverstone whilst Simoni would score a 2nd at Brands Hatch and a 3rd at Snetterton to underline the 155’s scintillating start to the 1994 campaign. Whilst the extra aerodynamic additions to the road-going 155 Silverstone made little difference, at high-speed in the BTCC they gave the Alfa Romeo 155 an aerodynamic gain over the rest of the field. Rules stated that wings could be used, provided that wings were fitted to a limited number of road cars, hence the 2500 production run of the Alfa Romeo Silverstone. As rival teams lodged protests, at Oulton Park in 1994 Alfa Romeo were asked to run the 155 without the aerodynamic attachments fitted. The team refused and instead left the circuit and didn’t compete in race seven of the season resulting in some of the most iconic images of 1994 with the Alfa Romeo trucks leaving the circuit.

One of the most vocal teams in challenging the Alfa Romeo 155’s advantage was Ford, and pre-Oulton Park the team lodged an official protest stating that the additional aerodynamic features on the 155 were against regulations. Ford were successful in their protest and Alfa Romeo lost their points from two earlier rounds of the season at Silverstone and Snetterton, a move which left Ford’s Paul Radisich at the top of the championship standings. Pre-Donington Park, Alfa Romeo appealed and agreed a comprise which resulted in their championship points being reinstated.

Tarquini in his early 1994-spec Alfa Romeo 155. Image thanks to BTCC.

However, the Alfa Romeo 155’s advantage in the 1994 BTCC didn’t solely come from its aerodynamic aids. Built in Italy at Alfa Corse’s Turin HQ the cars featured a different engine layout, based more on a FIAT rally car than the 155 road car. It aided engine cooling whilst giving the car a lower weight base, too.

The 155s would return to the grid for the next round of the season at Donington Park after Alfa Romeo accepted to run their car with the rear spoiler retracted but the front spoiler still extended. Tarquini scored a 3rd place at Donington that weekend after John Cleland won both races but it wouldn’t take long for Alfa Romeo to return to the top step yet again. The 155 scored two one-two finishes at Brands Hatch Grand Prix two weeks later with Tarquini leading home Simoni in both races. The cars continued on a run of podiums towards the end of the season with Tarquini winning once at Silverstone and Simoni winning at Donington in the final race of the season.

At the end of 1994, Gabriele Tarquini had stormed to his first and only BTCC drivers title with 298 points and eight race wins. Simoni finished 5th with one race win to his name and Alfa Corse/Alfa Romeo had taken the manufacturers title ahead of Renault. It had been a tumultuous year for the BTCC and for the Alfa Romeo 155, but it had succeeded in its aim to take the BTCC title. However as the rest of the field developed strongly over the 1994 winter break, Alfa Romeo’s fortunes in the BTCC were about to change for the worse.

The Alfa Romeo 155s BTCC glory days would last just one season. Image thanks to Drivetrive.

1995 – Struggles For The Reigning Champion Car

After their title victory in 1994, Alfa Corse ceased running Alfa Romeo’s BTCC works programme and returned to Italy to content the Italian Touring Car Championship. Control of Alfa Romeo’s works team moved to Prodrive and the team name changed to Alfa Romeo Old Spice Racing running cars #5 and #55 at the start of the season. Simoni remained on board, but Tarquini left the BTCC and returned to the Italian Superturismo Championship. Tarquini was replaced by Derek Warwick who had a background in Formula One and Endurance racing.

Dereck Warwick in 1995. Image thanks to Classic BTCC.

Following the controversies of 1994, TOCA announced that wings and spoilers were eligible on all cars for 1995, wiping out the Alfa Romeo 155’s advantage almost overnight.

At the first round of the season at Donington Park, where Simoni had won the final race of the previous year, the Italian could manage a best result of 9th courtesy of Simoni with Warwick retiring from both races. The lowly results would set the tone for the rest of the season and not even the return of Tarquini for an appearance at Oulton Park would improve results. Over the opening half of the campaign, Simoni’s 5th place finish at Oulton Park would be the 155’s best result whilst Warwick struggled with the car.

Prodrive were unable to replicate Alfa Corse’s success in running the Alfa Romeo in the BTCC. Image thanks to PSP Images.

At the end of July, Tarquini returned to the BTCC replacing Simoni ahead of the round at Knockhill. Despite the return of their former champion, Tarquini wasn’t able to inspire 1994-like performances in the 155 and whilst he did secure the cars best results of the season (4th place finishes at Brands Hatch, Snetterton and Oulton Park) he was unable to return to the podium.

It was a disappointing title defence from the team which had dominated the previous year and all three drivers would finish outside the championship’s top ten. Tarquini finished a team-highest 16th despite only featuring in less than half of the races, Simoni finished 17th and Warwick in 19th with a season-best finish of 8th. After winning the previous year, Alfa Romeo finished 8th in both the manufacturers and the team championships and at the end of the season, Alfa Romeo left the BTCC.

The Alfa Romeo 155 continued to race on post-1995, winning in Spain, Italy and France before being replaced by the 156 in 1998. Alfa Romeo did attempt to return to the BTCC grid midseason in 1998 with the all-new 156 in another Italian lineup featuring Nicola Larini and Fabrizio Giovanardi, intending to run a small programme before a full-scale assault in 1999. However, the move never materialised as Alfa Romeo turned their attention to other European championships.

The Alfa Romeo 155’s BTCC Legacy

The 155’s dominance of the 1994 season will remain a huge talking point of the BTCC’s Super Touring era. Image thanks to BTCC.

The Alfa Romeo 155’s legacy in the BTCC is a fascinating one, and it’s BTCC story is one full of controversy. Alfa Romeo stretched the regulations as far as they could, and for 1994 at least it resulted in the 155 dominating one of the most prestigious touring car championships there was to compete in. The history of motorsport is dominated by teams engineering cars to the absolute limits of regulations and often, it’s those which push the boundaries to the extremes that can be credited with bringing about some of the most significant regulatory change. The Alfa Romeo 155 was a car which would change the shape and the story of the Super Touring era of the BTCC, and to this day it’s still one of the most talked-about cars of the series’ history.

Check out the history of more of touring car racing’s most iconic cars by clicking here.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here