Of all the cars that came close to challenging Vauxhall in the early days of the BTC-Touring era, the MG ZS was one which challenged the earliest. Present in the BTCC for eight seasons from 2001 through to its eventual departure at the end of 2008, the MG ZS won a legion of fans in its early years as part of MG’s official factory representation in the BTCC. It became noted later in its BTCC lifespan for being a car powered by biofuels, but as the series evolved and S2000 regulations took over, it never quite managed to replicate the same levels of success as it did in its earlier years. I looked back at the MG ZS’s time in the BTCC in this edition of BTCC History.
The Car: MZ ZS EX259
Officially dubbed the BTC-T MG ZS EX259, the chassis was based on the road going MG ZS built produced from 2001 – 2005 by MG Rover. Closely related to the Rover 45, which was in fact facelifted from the Rover 400 in late 1999, the MG ZS’s longevity in the early 2000s was helped by the ceasing of Rover’s RD/X60 project which was based on a Rover 75 floorplan with help from Tom Walkinshaw Racing.
BTC-T MG ZS EX259 Car Specifications:
Chassis: MG ZS
Length: 4,650 mm
Width: 1,700 mm
Axle track: 1,860 mm
Wheelbase: 2,620 mm
Engine: AER KV6 1,997 cc 270 hp V6 NA front-mounted,
Drive: Front wheel drive
TransmissionXtrac 6-speed Sequential
Source: BTCC Pages.
The MG ZS In The BTCC
MG’s works BTCC program was run by West Surrey Racing who had competed in the BTCC since 1996, first running Ford’s factory team from 1996 – 1998 and then Honda’s Honda Accord cars in the final seasons of Super Touring regulations (1999 – 2000).
2001 – A Glimpse Of What Was To Come
Entering under the name MG & Sport Racing, the MG ZS would make its BTCC debut at round 11 of the 2001 season at Silverstone after making a track testing debut in July of that same year. Envisioned as test-run before a full-scale BTCC assault in 2002, MG fielded serial BTCC winner and 2000 runner-up Anthony Reid behind the wheel alongside Warren Hughes, who came off the back of a strong 2nd placed finish in Italian Formula 3000. In its distinctive black and green livery, the car was an instant fan favourite.
Reid finished 12th and Hughes failed to finish the MG ZS’s first race at Silverstone but Hughes’s 5th place in race two gave a glimpse of the pace the car had to offer. Whilst both drivers would each retire three times in six races in the final part of the 2001 campaign, Reid picked up the MG ZS’s first BTCC victory in just it’s fifth race, the opening race of the final weekend at Brands Hatch Indy. After a season where Vauxhall dominated in every aspect of the championship, hopes were high that MG could at least challenge the dominant Astras in 2002.
2002 – MG ZS Expansion
Anthony Reid and Warren Hughes both remained behind the wheel for 2002 in cars #11 and #12 and would be joined by an Independent WSR-run satellite team called Team Atomic Kitten from round two of the season onwards. Aimed at helping young talent make a mark in the BTCC, Team Atomic Kitten fielded Colin Turkington and Gareth Howell, two promising young drivers.
Much like 2001, 2002 proved to be a year dominated by the supreme Vauxhall Astra Coupe as the car won 15 out of 20 races. However the MG ZS did enjoy some success in 2002, with Warren Hughes taking his first BTCC race victory at Silverstone early on in the year and the MG taking a popular double-victory at Brands Hatch Indy late in the season, with Reid and Hughes scoring one win apiece.
Reid would end the 2002 season 4th in the standings, finishing on the podium a further five times to end the year on 136 points. Hughes came home in 6th, also scoring an additional five podiums to add to his two race wins.
Howell and Turkington didn’t enjoy the same successes as their MG ZS stablemates as Howell finished 12th and Turkington 14th. Turkington did, however, score his maiden BTCC podium with a fine 3rd place finish at Croft. MG & Sport Racing finished the season 2nd in both the team’s and constructors championships whilst Team Atomic Kitten would finish 6th.
2003 – Another Chance To Topple The Mighty Astra
2003 marked a year of change as Team Atomic Kitten disbanded after just one season and Turkington joined Reid and Hughes in an expanded three-car factory lineup. Hopes were high of taking the fight to Vauxhall in the MG ZS’s 2nd full-season of BTCC competition but it proved to be a testing year for the popular car and team.
Reid, Hughes and Turkington would each win just once all year with Reid taking victory at Croft before Hughes and Turkington won twice at Brands Hatch Indy, a circuit which was fast becoming the MG ZS’s standout track. It was a season littered with DNF’s and mechanical issues for all three cars as Reid, Hughes and Turkington finished 6th, 7th and 8th in the championship standings. The team dropped to 3rd, below Honda in both the constructors and teams championship but financial troubles at manufacturer MG Rover meant that factory funding was pulled at the end of the season and MG withdrew from the BTCC as a constructor team.
2004 – An Independent Effort
As MG left the BTCC, so did Warren Hughes with just Reid and Turkington staying on at WSR for the 2004 campaign. With MG-backing now gone, the distinctive green and black livery which had adorned the cars also disappeared with a silver and black colour scheme taking its place. The team reverted to be called West Surrey Racing and now competed in the independents class with cars #6 and #8.
Despite the loss of MG backing, the WSR MG ZS’s fared better than the previous years winning four times as WSR proved to be a real threat all season long. Reid would finish the year 4th in the overall standings and 1st in the Independent championship winning at Croft and then twice at Knockhill alongside a further six podium finishes. Reid’s Independent championship victory marked a historic first title for the MG ZS as he beat teammate Turkington by 12 points.
Turkington took his first ever BTCC race win at Mondello Park on his way to an impressive 6th in the championship standings, as WSR finished behind the manufacturer Vauxhall and SEAT outfits in the teams table. It was an impressive, trophy-rich year for the MG ZS but WSR would look very different the following year.
A third MG ZS appeared on the grid in 2004, run by Jason Hughes and Kartworld Racing. Hughes finished the season 17th in the overall standings with a season-high result of 7th at Mondello Park.
2005 – Rob Collard Behind The Wheel
2005 marked a significant change in WSR’s BTCC program as the team slimmed down to fielding just one MG ZS, with Rob Collard behind the wheel as a second driver with sufficient budget was unable to be found. Part of the team since MG’s return to the BTCC, Anthony Reid left the series and Turkington switched to Vauxhall.
Jason Hughes’s MG ZS also disappeared from the BTCC grid for the first half of the season, returning for three rounds later in the year at Mondello Park, Knockhill and Brands Hatch GP.
The season proved to be more testing than 2004, and Collard finished the year 7th in the overall standings and 3rd in the Independents championship. He won twice, once at Knockhill and once at Brands Hatch GP but the MG ZS wasn’t as competitive as the rival Honda Integra Type Rs or Vauxhall Astras. However WSR’s fortunes with the MG ZS were about to change for the better, and the team would undergo another large transformation in time for the following season.
2006 – Turkington Returns To The MG ZS
With new backing from RAC, WSR expanded back up to fielding two MG ZSs as Colin Turkington returned to the team. Collard remained on board and the cars now sported a popular orange RAC livery for the 2006 campaign.
The year proved to be a strong one and the MG ZS was fast right from the outset. Turkington would finish on the podium twice on the opening weekend of the season, and went on to win two races at Thruxton and Oulton Park on his way to 3rd in the overall standings and 2nd in the Independents championship. Collard wouldn’t enjoy the same success as his teammate in 2006, and went winless finishing 9th in the overall standings and 4th in the Independents with his best result of 3rd coming at Thruxton early in the year.
Despite contrasting fortunes for their drivers, the WSR MG ZSs helped the team to 4th in the overall teams championship and 2nd in the Independent teams championship.
Jason Hughes also returned to the grid in 2006 in his Kartworld Racing MG ZS. He would finish the season 15th in the table with his best result of 4th coming at Knockhill. All three MGs would switch to bio-ethanol fuel later in the 2006 season with WSR switching before the round at Knockhill and Hughes making the move before the round at Donington Park.
At the end of 2006 WSR announced the move to field BMWs in the BTCC from 2007 onwards, bringing a six-year association with the MG ZS to an end. Although the car would appear on the grid for a further two seasons, 2006 marked the final year of any major success.
2007 – Double Bio-Ethanol Lineup For Kartworld
With the accolade of being the sole MG ZS team on the grid, Kartworld Racing expanded to a two-car lineup ahead of the 2007 season with Fiona Leggate joining Jason Hughes at the team. The season would be a struggle for both, as Hughes and Leggate finished 16th and 31st in the standings respectively. DNFs plagued the team and Kartworld finished 10th in the teams championship and 6th in the independent teams championship.
2008 – Final Year For The MG ZS In The BTCC
Kartworld remained the sole team fielding the MG ZS in what would be its final BTCC season as the team scaled back to just one car once again. Jason Hughes remained on board but the year would prove to be another one of struggle and Hughes finished the year 20th in the standings with a best finish of 10th. They would finish 11th in the teams championship and the car and team left the BTCC at the end of the year.
Strong BTCC Legacy For The MG ZS
After a BTCC run spanning eight years, the MG ZS sits safely in its place as one of the BTC-Touring era’s more popular and memorable cars. Eventually made obsolete in the BTCC by S2000 regulations, the MG ZS took a while to establish itself as a serious BTCC contender, taking until 2006, some five and a half seasons after its debut. For many, it’ll be remembered as the car which Anthony Reid saw out his career in, and the one which gave future BTCC champion Colin Turkington his first taste of BTCC action and silverware. The MG ZS will be remembered fondly and remains one of the most iconic cars of the BTC-T era.