Vauxhall Astra Coupe - the Most Successful Vauxhall in the BTCC
The Vauxhall Astra Coupe, built according to BTC-T specifications, is one of the most successful race cars in the history of the British Touring Car Championship.
The car was a victorious weapon in the hands of Triple Eight Racing team, which operated Vauxhall’s touring car program, winning four consecutive championship titles in all categories (driver, manufacturer, constructor) from 2001 to 2004. BTCC drivers’ champions with Vauxhall Astra Coupe were Jason Plato (2001), Yvan Muller (2003) and James Thompson (2002 and 2004).
Vauxhall was ready for new regulations in 2001
At the end of 2000, the spectacular but expensive Supertouring class was dismissed, with a new set of regulations being introduced for the 2001 BTCC season. The field was divided into two classes: the BTC-T (Touring) and BTC-P (Production). While some manufacturers left the championship (Ford) or took a break to develop a new car (Honda), Vauxhall was ready to replace Supertouring Vectra with BTC-T Astra Coupe.
Astra Coupe was one of five first-generation BTC-T cars
The car was built by Triple Eight Racing, which was Vauxhall’s factory team since 1997. The race car was based on the second generation of Vauxhall Astra. The coupe-styled race car featured a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine with 275hp. The weight was limited to 1,150 kilograms. All the power and torque were transferred to the front wheels via the 6-speed sequential gearbox.
Other new cars that entered the 2001 BTCC season under BTC-Touring class regulations were factory entries of Peugeot (406 Coupe) and MG (ZS EX259), but also the independent entries of JS Motorsport (Alfa Romeo 147) and ABG Motorsport (Lexus IS200).
Absolute domination of Vauxhall in 2001
Vauxhall Motorsport entered the 2001 BTCC season with four Astra Coupes, two with factory sponsorship and two with Egg Banking sponsorship. Factory-backed cars were driven by Jason Plato (#5) and Yvan Muller (#4). Egg Sport’s drivers were James Thompson (#9) and Phil Bennett (#27). Bennet was replaced in one round with Andy Priaulx.
Since MG entered only three closing rounds in preparation for a full campaign in 2002, Peugeot Sport UK was the only proper rival in the first season of BTC-T cars. At least on a paper. On the race tracks, Astra Coupe scored 25 victories in 26 races.
Maiden BTCC title for Jason Plato
A three-way battle for the championship lasted throughout the season, with Jason Plato, Yvan Muller and James Thompson collecting 22 wins between them. Although Yvan Muller scored most wins (10), a retirement in the last race cost him a title, so Jason Plato, who was the winner 8 times, took his maiden BTCC title. James Thompson won four races and finished third in the points. In the Manufacturers’ championship and Teams’ championship, Vauxhall had no proper opponent and it took all titles.
2002 – clean sweep of titles again
Jason Plato left the team in 2002 and Astra Coupe proved to be less reliable, with multiple problems and failures throughout the season. However, the final results were the same and Vauxhall won a clean sweep of the titles again.
James Thompson, who was driving Vauxhall Motorsport’s #3 Astra, became a champion, ahead of Yvan Muller in the #2 car. Egg Sport’s drivers were Matt Neal (#0) and Paul O’Neill (#29). They finished third and eighth in the points.
Barwell Motorsport was also running Astra Coupes
In 2002, Astra Coupe won 15 of 20 races while MG ZS and Honda Civic Type R were taking the rest. Besides four manufacturer-entered cars, two cars were fielded among independent entries by Barwell Motorsport.
The 17-year old rookie Tom Chilton was driving the #17, Aaron Slight was in the #111 car. In his first and only full-time BTCC season, the New Zealander Aaron Slight finished as a runner-up among independent drivers.
2003 – Yvan Muller finally on the top
For the 2003 BTCC season, Triple Eight Racing lost the Egg sponsorship, so the team was running three cars under the VX Racing banner. James Thompson and Yvan Muller were defending titles in the #1 and #2 cars, with Paul O’Neill as a third driver in the #8 car.
After losing a title for two years in a row, Yvan Muller finally climbed to the top, winning his first and only BTCC title. He won six times, against four wins of James Thompson, who finished second in the points. Paul O’Neill added one victory and finished fourth in the final standings.
Rob Collard was Independent champion with Astra
In the Manufacturers’ and Teams’ standings, Vauxhall was again on the top, taking both titles ahead of Honda. In the 2003 season, three teams were running Astra Coupes as the Independent entries – GA Motorsports, Collard Racing and Team Dynamics. Rob Collard participated full season in the #21 Astra and won the Independents’ title.
2004 – fourth season of dominance
One more clean sweep of titles followed in 2004. Vauxhall was facing a strong competition not only from Honda and MG teams but also from Seat, which entered the championship with S2000-spec Seat Toledo Cupra, driven by Jason Plato and Rob Huff.
Plato was the main rival of Vauxhall driver, finishing third behind James Thompson and Yvan Muller. Thompson won four races and took his second title with a one-point advantage over Muller, who was the race winner five times. VX Racing’s third driver was Luke Hines in the #57 Astra. He finished tenth in the points, winning one race.
Astra was popular choice for independent teams
Vauxhall Astra Coupe was a popular choice amongst the independent teams. Rob Collard continued to drive Astra for his own team, finishing sixth in the independents’ standings.
Michael Bentwood finished seventh, driving the #14 Astra for the VXR Junior team, prepared by Tech-Speed Motorsport. GA Motorsport (now under the ‘Team Sureterm’ banner) continued to run a pair of Astra Coupes, with seven drivers trying a car during the season.
Astra Sport Hatch replaced Astra Coupe in 2005
For the 2005 BTCC season, Vauxhall Motorsport and Triple Eight Racing introduced a new car, the Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch. After four years of dominance, Vauxhall lost drivers’ and teams’ titles, taking only manufacturers’ title against Seat.
Astra Coupes were used sporadically by several independent teams and driven by Mark Proctor, Fiona Leggate and Andy Neate, but without any success. Tech-Speed Motorsport continued to run Astra Coupe in 2006 for Fiona Leggate and Paul O’Neill, while Nick Leason participated in two rounds with Daniels Motorsport’s car.
Astra Coupe disappeared from the championship, returning again with Martin Johnson in 2009. He spent a full season in the #63 Astra Coupe, scoring points in two races. The final appearance of the Vauxhall Astra Coupe in the BTCC was in 2010, again with Martin Johnson as a driver. He managed to score points in one race.
BTC-T Vauxhall Astra Coupe specifications
|Engine||2,000cc inline 4-cylinder|