TOP 10: RANKING THE GREATEST BTCC DRIVERS NOT TO BE CHAMPION

The British Touring Car Championship has been one of the most competitive and popular series in the UK since it began in 1958.

In the six decades since, many fine drivers have appeared – and won – in the championship. And, as part of our series of BTCC Top 10s, we’ve put together a list of the greatest BTCC racers who never quite managed to win the outright crown.

Top 10: Ranking the greatest BTCC cars

For this ranking, we’ve looked at the amount of success the drivers had in the BTCC, how close they got to the crown, the nature of their defeats, and other factors such as their impact and how they stacked up to their team-mates.

We’ve placed an emphasis on outright success, but class titles have been considered.

As ever, some strong contenders missed out. Honourable mentions go to double Formula 1 world champion Graham Hill and Mike Parkes, who both starred in the early days of the series aboard the pacesetting Jaguars, and spectacular Mini ace John Rhodes, who was a major title threat throughout the second half of the 1960s.

We’ve also excluded those still active in the BTCC. Jake Hill and Josh Cook will surely get their chance at some point…

10. Jeff Allam

Hard charger Allam wasn't quite the force in the sprint-format races of the early 90s that he had been in the previous decade

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Years: 1977-83, 1986-87, 1989-95

Wins: 17

Class titles: 1 (1982)

Allam first made an impact with his own cars, initially a Vauxhall Firenza and then a Ford Capri in which he took his maiden series wins in 1978. He was usually a frontrunner during the competitive Capri years, but could never quite defeat era benchmark Gordon Spice in the standings.

That was until he became part of the Rover V8 onslaught that ultimately usurped the fast Fords. Allam took more wins than Tom Walkinshaw Racing Rover team-mate Pete Lovett in 1981 only to miss out in the points race, but turned the tables the following year.

Allam and Vince Woodman’s Capri both scored four wins and 60 points in 1982, with Allam crowned class champion. But that was still only good enough for fourth overall as both were defeated by drivers in other classes.

Allam was incredibly consistent in 1983 but the arrival of RWD rookie Steve Soper moved the goalposts. Allam was beaten in the points by team-mates Soper and Lovett before all three were excluded months later for technical irregularities.

Attention then turned to the European and World stages with TWR and, aside from some successful ad-hoc appearances, Allam didn’t fully return to the BTCC until 1990 in a Vic Lee Motorsport-run BMW M3.

More at home in the longer races of the European Touring Car Championship, Allam found the going tough in the cut-and-thrust of the sprint events of the early 1990s. He spent four years supporting John Cleland in the factory Vauxhall team, his best year coming in 1992 when he took a string of podiums, including his final two BTCC wins, and finished fourth in the standings.

PLUS: Jeff Allam reflects on his BTCC career

There was just one podium in his final full season in 1994, though Vauxhall called upon him one more time the following year after rising star James Thompson’s crash at Knockhill.

Until recently, Allam served as the driving standards advisor in the BTCC.

9. Richard Lloyd

Latterly known for his successful exploits as an entrant in sportscars, Lloyd was a handy pedaller of Golf machinery in the 1600cc division

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Years: 1973-80, 1983

Wins: 15

Class titles: 3 (1977-79)

Several drivers in this top 10 were kept off the BTCC champions list by the idiosyncratic class structure that existed prior to 1991. But Lloyd managed to be on both sides of the fence at different times and still missed out.

Unusually, Lloyd’s first forays into the BTCC – then known as the British Saloon Car Championship – came in the biggest class. He hauled his Simoniz-liveried Chevrolet Camaro to seven wins across 1974-75, each time finishing second in the fastest class to V8 pacesetter Stuart Graham.

A season in an Opel Commodore was unproductive but for 1977 Lloyd switched to the front-wheel-drive Volkswagen Golf GTI in the 1600cc class, run by his own team. It proved a revelation, Lloyd charging to three class titles and even eight more outright wins when the smaller-engined cars were given separate races to the big bangers.

Despite his success, he was invariably beaten by those dominating other classes, most notably finishing second in the overall standings to Richard Longman’s Mini 1275 GT in 1978.

Lloyd remained a class contender in his final full year in an Audi 80 in 1980, but his attention soon switched to GT and sportscar racing with his successful operation.

PLUS: Remembering racing pioneer and deal-maker Richard Lloyd

8. David Leslie

Leslie was capable of mixing it with the very best of the Super Touring era, and finished second to team-mate Aiello in 1999

Photo by: Malcolm Griffiths / Motorsport Images

Years: 1987, 1990-2000, 2002-03

Wins: 9

Class titles: 0

The mild-mannered Scot was a BTCC stalwart for much of the Super Touring era and, on his day, could mix it with the best talents in the series.

After a handful of sporadic outings, Leslie joined the privateer Ecurie Ecosse team run by RML for 1992. He was a consistent thorn in the side of the bigger outfits and took his Cavalier to victory at Thruxton in 1993, as well as winning the non-championship TOCA Shootout at the end of the year, a race famous for Nigel Mansell spectacularly crashing out.

After an unsuccessful campaign with Mazda, Leslie joined the Motor Sport Developments factory Honda operation. He resurrected his career in the Accord, finishing the 1996 season strongly with three wins and taking fourth in the table, comfortably beating team-mate James Kaye.

Leslie joined the new RML Nissan team for 1997 and initially outperformed team-mate Anthony Reid. But as the car improved Reid came on strong and it was he who put together a championship challenge in 1998, taking seven wins and the runner-up spot in the table, while Leslie finished sixth with two victories.

Friday favourite: Anthony Reid on David Leslie

The Primera GT maintained its momentum into 1999. Leslie won three races and was second in the standings but was overshadowed by new team-mate Laurent Aiello, who stormed to the crown with 10 victories. That was really no disgrace, given Aiello’s status as one of the standout tin-top drivers of his generation.

There were no more wins after that, but Leslie did manage to haul the mediocre Proton Impian to four podiums during the early days of the cut-price BTC-T era.

Leslie, who also assisted the careers of other Scottish talents, last competed in the BTCC in 2003 but was still an active racer when he died in the same plane crash that killed Lloyd in 2008.

7. Paul Radisich

When the Mondeo made its arrival late in 1993, Radisich was supreme but never managed to scoop the BTCC title

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Years: 1990, 1993-98

Wins: 6

Class titles: 0

If the Andy Rouse-prepared Ford Mondeo had been ready for the start of the 1993 season, Radisich might have become champion. He missed the first seven races but managed three wins from his 10 starts to storm to third in the points, beaten only by BMW twins Joachim Winkelhock and Steve Soper.

To underline his and the Mondeo’s pace, Radisich also won the FIA Touring Car Challenge at Monza that October, beating the cream of European tin-top racers.

The Mondeo was often quick in 1994 and Radisich again comfortably beat four-time champion team-mate Rouse, but there was no answer to the bewinged Alfa Romeo 155 of Gabriele Tarquini, which took the crown. Thanks to engine failures and some clashes with the second Alfa of Giampiero Simoni, Radisich was pushed down to third in the table by Renault’s Alain Menu.

Radisich nevertheless again won the FIA Touring Car Challenge, this time at Donington Park, and took the TOCA Shootout the same weekend.

Thereafter, the Mondeo became less and less competitive, though Radisich beat his team-mates (Kelvin Burt in 1995, Steve Robertson in 1996 and Will Hoy in 1997) every year. There was only one victory in 1995 and Radisich went winless over the next two seasons as West Surrey Racing took over the Ford programme.

Archive: The World Cup winner left floundering by Ford's BTCC nadir

Radisich maintained his record of always beating his team-mates in the BTCC points by defeating 1992 champion Tim Harvey at Peugeot in 1998, but the 406 was uncompetitive and the affable New Zealander moved to Australian Supercars for 1999.

6. Brian Muir

Muir again finished second in the 1973 British Saloon Car Championship aboard his BMW 3.0L CSL

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Years: 1966-82

Wins: 22

Class titles: 2 (1968, 1971)

Rarely the outright pacesetter, Australian Muir was a regular feature at the front of British Saloon Car fields in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He scored a second and a first on his arrival with a John Willment Ford Galaxie in 1966 before switching to a Ford Falcon.

Muir twice won the top class with V8 machinery, in 1968 (with a Falcon) when he was beaten to the overall crown by Frank Gardner’s Alan Mann Ford Escort Twin Cam and in 1971 (with a Chevrolet Camaro) during Bill McGovern’s golden era with the George Bevan-prepared Imp.

When Gardner was in the top category, Muir usually had to play second fiddle, but he was often the main challenger. His Camaro was the only car to beat Gardner’s Ford Mustang to an outright victory in 1970, Muir’s three wins including the Silverstone Tourist Trophy against ETCC opposition.

Muir switched his distinctive Wiggins Teape livery to a Ford Capri RS2600 for 1972, picking up another couple of wins, then drove a BMW 3.0 CSL the following year. For the fourth time in his BTCC career, Muir was second in his class, again beaten by Gardner.

Success was harder to come by in the second half of the decade, but Muir still took two wins during the competitive Capri era and was second in his last two championship outings driving a Rover 3500S in 1982. Muir died on his way home from the 1983 Silverstone TT, aged 52.

5. Mat Jackson

Jackson's privately run BMW 320si was a thorn in the side of works operations in the late 2000s during the Super 2000 era

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Years: 2001, 2007-17

Wins: 31

Class titles: 0

Jackson was a frontrunner in the Production class in 2001 but properly became a part of the championship in 2007, after winning the SEAT Cupra crown. He immediately made his mark in a BMW 320si, brilliantly beating Jason Plato to second in the 2008 standings with three wins in the last four races.

A switch back to front-wheel-drive as Plato’s RML Chevrolet team-mate the following year failed to halt his progress. Jackson added four wins to his seven scored in the BMW to finish fifth in the championship after missing several races, albeit behind Plato.

Back in a BMW for 2010, Jackson won once and was often a threat over the next few years with Motorbase Performance (now Alliance). Between 2011 and a sudden parting of the ways with the team before the 2018 season, Jackson steered various iterations of the Ford Focus to 19 victories, including storming from 17th on the grid at Silverstone in 2012.

His best championship finishes in that time came in 2011 – when he beat James Nash to fourth in the overall contest but somehow lost out to the Vauxhall driver in the Independents table – and 2016, when he finished third.

It wasn’t always clear whether the inability to go all the way and take the crown lay with Jackson, the team or a combination of both, but Jackson remains the most successful BTCC driver in terms of wins without a title to his name.

4. Stuart Graham

Former bike racer Graham was no less spectacular in Capris than in the Camaro

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Years: 1974-75, 1977-81

Wins: 19

Class titles: 2 (1974-75)

Ex-motorcycle racing star Graham’s time in the series was brief compared to some on this list, but he was one of the best in the big V8s of the mid-1970s. His Faberge Racing/Brut 33-liveried Chevrolet Camaro remains one of the championship’s iconic machines.

Graham was a winner straight away, taking eight victories from his 12 starts in 1974 and taking the class crown. As was the norm for the period, he missed out on the overall title to competitors in the smaller-capacity classes.

It was a similar story in 1975 and few got as close to winning the title without doing so. Graham again topped Class D, this time finishing on the same number of points as Rouse and Win Percy but losing out on countback.

The last king of the V8s, Graham skipped 1976 when the Yank Tanks were outlawed, but returned in a Ford Capri in 1977. He was never as dominant but scored three more outright wins over the next three seasons.

His final outing was in 1981, but he underlined his status as one of the V8 aces by instantly proving competitive when returning to competition in historics in his old Camaro.

3. Anthony Reid

Reid came close to the title in 1998 with Nissan, and again in 2000 with Ford - losing out to Rickard Rydell's Volvo and team-mate Alain Menu respectively

Photo by: Gavin Lawrence / Motorsport Images

Years: 1997-2004, 2009

Wins: 15

Class titles: 1 (2004)

Most of the stars of the Super Touring era were rewarded with a BTCC crown, but Reid narrowly missed out twice.

Following a successful career in Japan and a season in the German Super Tourenwagen Cup, Reid arrived in the BTCC with Nissan. After a learning year, the RML squad came on strong in 1998 and Reid’s Primera GT was the pacesetter.

He took his first win in round 11 of 26 at Donington Park and added six more (plus one lost following a post-race penalty) to narrowly fail to stop Volvo’s Rickard Rydell becoming champion.

Reid then gave up what was then the best seat in the BTCC for a lucrative Prodrive Ford deal for 1999. The first year was tough, but the sophisticated Mondeo was the car to have in 2000 as the era came to an end.

Though not as comfortable in the Ford as he had been in the Nissan he’d helped develop, Reid put together a consistent campaign. Although only winning twice, Reid lost out to six-time victor and team-mate Menu by just two points – and beat third Ford driver Rydell.

Unlike many of his rivals, Reid stayed in the BTCC for the early days of the low-cost BTC-T era. Armed with the WSR MG ZS (first as a works car, then as a privateer), Reid was often the main challenger to the pacesetting Triple Eight Vauxhall Astra Coupes.

Highlights included preventing a Vauxhall clean sweep of the season by winning at the Brands Hatch finale in 2001, leading team-mate Warren Hughes in an MG 1-2 at Brands the following year, and finishing as the top non-Astra driver in the 2002 and 2004 standings.

PLUS: When a new car interrupted a perfect season of dominance

Reid’s final full BTCC season was arguably one of his best. He took three wins in the ageing MG, showed the way to rising star team-mate Colin Turkington, and became Independents champion.

2. Gordon Spice

Spice's Capri leads the pack into Druids - Dolomite driver Rouse, right, won four outright titles to Spice's zero

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Years: 1965-70, 1974-84

Wins: 27

Class titles: 7 (1968, 1975-80)

Perhaps more than any other driver in the history of the championship, Spice suffered from the championship’s pre-1991 scoring system that allowed those in the smaller-capacity classes to score as highly as those battling for outright victories.

Spice first appeared with a Mini in 1965 and was a 1000cc class champion in 1968 but really made his mark with the Capri. Spice took the Class C crown in 1975 before the famous coupe became the car to have after the American V8s were regulated out of the series.

Spice became the benchmark in both the Mk2 and Mk3 models, winning nearly four times as many races as any other Capri driver and taking another five class titles, each time being denied by drivers in the slower classes. In other words, he topped his part of the table for six consecutive seasons.

Along the way there were some epic scraps with drivers of the calibre of Tom Walkinshaw, Rouse (for a time Spice’s team-mate), Woodman and Allam. Spice’s own immaculately prepared cars continued fighting a rearguard action as the Rover V8 got into its stride in the early 1980s and Spice’s last series win came at Oulton Park in 1982.

Aside from sporadic outings in Rover and Toyota machinery, that was it as Spice successfully turned his attention to world sportscar competition. But there is little doubt that he was the master of one of the championship’s most-famous cars during a competitive era.

1. Steve Soper

Soper was stripped of the title he won in 1983 the following year

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Years: 1982-85, 1988-89, 1991-94, 2001

Wins: 14

Class titles: 0

Statistically, Spice should beat Soper in this contest, but two things put ‘Soperman’ ahead. First, he actually won the title on-track only to lose it months later and, more importantly, it’s the high regard in which he is held by all those who raced against him or saw him in his pomp.

Initially branded an FWD expert, Soper really made his mark in the championship the moment he stepped into the RWD Rover Vitesse in 1983. Against expectations, Soper led the way against the more experienced Lovett and Allam, taking five wins and outscoring Class B pacesetter Rouse to become champion.

So why’s he on this list, then? Along the way TWR had upset various rivals, including former driver-turned-BMW-exponent Frank Sytner. Protests flew and eventually – in mid-1984 – the engine-rocker assembly on the Rovers was found to be illegal and all three were thrown out of the championship, though kept their wins.

Despite losing the title to Rouse, Soper had made his name. Much of the next few years were spent abroad, first with TWR, then with the works Eggenberger Ford squad and finally BMW. During that time Soper occasionally made raids on his home series, always running at the front. Three epic BTCC contests with Rouse in Ford RS500s, which ended 2-1 in the privateer’s favour, were the highlights of the 1988 season.

After three wins in a part-campaign in 1991, Soper supported Vic Lee Motorsport team-mate Harvey’s title bid the following year. The clash with Cleland’s Vauxhall in the infamous 1992 finale wasn’t Soper’s finest moment, but the incredible recovery drive to get back into the fight after a clash with Leslie was the sort of performance that few others in the history of the championship could have managed.

PLUS: The real story of the BTCC’s 1992 season decider

Aside from 1983, Soper’s best chance to take the BTCC crown came in 1993. The Schnitzer Motorsport BMW 318i set the pace for much of the year, but Soper narrowly lost out to on-form team-mate Joachim Winkelhock.

Soper scored his 14th and final BTCC victory in 1994 before heading off to win the Japanese Touring Car Championship and then endurance racing. He made a return in 2001 with the uncompetitive Peugeot 406 Coupe, but a crash at the end of the season ended his front-line career.

Many regard Soper as one of the all-time tin-top greats. Harvey describes him as a “stupendous talent, one of the kings of touring car racing”.

PLUS: The touring car great who never won the BTCC

Like the late Spice, Soper isn’t bitter about not being a BTCC champion. “I had two good shots,” he said in 2018. “Through no fault of my own, one was taken away, and the other time Jo was a good driver. I can't blame anyone but myself. It doesn't bother me I don't have a title.”

Soper played the team game to help Harvey in 1992, but isn't bitter about not being champion himself

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