"Who is the greatest BTCC driver of all time?"
This is a question that over the years every BTCC fan has asked themselves and each other, with everyone having their own different opinion. Given it's sixty-five-year year history, I'm not even sure how - of even, if - we can find a definitive answer. But over the next few weeks, I am sure going to try!
This is one of my favourite discussions to have amongst followers of the tin-top competition, not only due to the wide variety of opinions that fans have as to who would be their choice (and the very valid arguments for and against) but because of the number of factors one must consider when trying to determine who can be crowned the greatest-of-all-time.
It's very tempting to simply go on championship wins as, surely, the very pinnacle of any competition is to be at the top of the tree and win that title? The easy answer is yes, as what is the point of competing if you aren't playing (or in this case, racing) to win? And it is also simpler to decide on this as you only have to go as far as the BTCC history books to find out.
However, by very nature the BTCC is hugely unpredictable and throws many different possibilities at us that we need to consider.
How about the driver who has the most race wins? The one with the highest points tally? Or even the best race-to-win ratio?
Or is it all of the above?
Already you can see the complexities that exist in picking out just one driver who claim the title of GOAT in a championship which has evolved year-on-year, decade-upon-decade during it's existence, providing us all with non-stop entertainment, but over the next few weeks I will explore all of these possible criteria in more depth to try and eke out an answer.
For each topic, I will highlight not only who the record-holders are but the other chief contenders who should also be given consideration.
To kick us off, this week I am looking at those who have already claimed the overall prize on the track - the BTCC Champions.
Throughout it's history, thirty-seven different drivers have claimed the BTCC's top prize, including a total of eight double-winners, seven 'three-peat'ers and two that stand a cut above them all.
The Record Holders
Andy Rouse (4 times)
Undoubtedly one of the top names synonymous with the history of BTCC is record-setting four-time champion, Andy Rouse. Debuting in 1973 (when the competition was known as the British Saloon Car Championship), it only took Rouse two years to bag his first overall title in 1975, behind the wheel of a Triumph Dolomite Sprint. After forming his partnership with Industrial Control Services, Rouse followed in the footsteps of BTCC greats Bill McGovern and Win Percy by winning three consecutive driver's championships between 1983 and 1985 in three different cars, becoming the first driver to win the title four times in the process - a record he would hold for twenty-five years.
Still within the age of the multi-class competition, Rouse was unable to add more championships to his name despite racking up an impressive tally of outright race wins over the next several years, topping the powerful Class A championship five out of six years between 1984 and 1989.
Andy Rouse is also credited as being one of the fore-fathers of the Super Touring era, being part of the group that decided on the formula that would put an end to the disparate class-related system and ushering in arguably one of the most exciting period in the competition's history.
Colin Turkington (4 times)
The modern-day era of BTCC boasts many potential legends in the making but Colin Turkington can happily walk amongst them knowing that although he is still very much active, his own name is already etched firmly in the history books.
Graduating from the Ford Credit Fiesta Zetec Championship, the Ulsterman debuted in BTCC back in 2002 in a West Surrey Racing-run MG ZS. After several years of bouncing between different machines, it was in 2009 that Turkington sealed his first overall BTCC title behind the wheel of a BMW 320si E90. He would then take a few years break from the British competition to compete in the World Touring Car and Scandinavian Touring Car equivalents, before returning to BTCC with WSR in 2013. It was as if he'd never been away, as he secured his second championship in 2014.
Back-to-back championships followed in 2018 and 2019, making him a four-time champion and equalling Andy Rouse's quarter-century-old record. Conversely to Rouse, all of Turkington's championship wins have come with the same team (WSR) and all in BMW's.
Even today, Colin Turkington finds himself in the championship mix and putting on legendary performances, like he did the last time out at Oulton Park back in June.
The Other Contenders
Although Rouse and Turkington hold the official records, there are other past champions we need to discuss, who could also be considered for our title of Greatest of All Time. I could easily sit here and talk about all of the other three-time champions, for example, and wax lyrical about their achievements and why they all deserve their place in this debate.
With that in mind, there are a couple which I do need to give an honourable mention to.
Ash Sutton (3 times)
Of course, no discussion about past or future BTCC legends would not be complete without talking about triple-winner and current championship leader, Ashley Sutton.
His record really does speak for itself. After winning the Renault Clio Cup in his debut season in the competition in 2015, Sutton was quickly granted an opportunity to perform on the grandest stage of all tin-top sport and made his debut in the BTCC in 2016. Making an impression that year and finishing a respectable 13th in the championship, Sutton went several steps beyond the next year and clinched his first BTCC driver's title in 2017 in the Adrian Flux Subraru Racing Subraru Levorg.
After Colin Turkington's back-to-back championships the next two years, it was time for Ash to reclaim his crown with his own double in 2020 and 2021.
Becoming a three-time champion within his first six years in the BTCC is a remarkable feat in itself but also consider that not only has As Sutton achieved this already but - given his current form - could join Turkington and Rouse as a four-time champion before his thirtieth birthday! Of all of the 'three-peaters', it is safe to say that Ash Sutton is more than deserving to be part of this conversation.
Matt Neal (3 times)
Whilst we are talking about three-time champions, we simply cannot ignore the accomplishments of one Matt Neal.
Taking nothing away from other triple-winners in BTCC's history - which include Bernard Unett, Frank McGovern, Win Percy and Neal's Team Dynamics team-mate, Gordon Shedden - it is Matt Neal's story that will forever live on within BTCC folklore.
Making his first few appearances during the 1991 season, Matt joined his father Steve's Team Dynamics outfit for his first full campaign in 1992, taking charge of the previous season's championship-winning BMW M3 from Will Hoy.
However, it was in 1999 that Matt made his biggest statement of all by becoming the first Independant's driver to win a BTCC race outright with a victory at Donington Park in his Nissan Primera, bagging himself a cheque for a cool £250,000.
Neal's first BTCC championship came in 2005, in the Team Dynamics-run Halford Racing Honda Integra, and he retained the title again in 2006. After a brief stint at VX Racing for the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Neal returned to the Team Dynamics fold in 2010, narrowly missing out on the title to his long-time rival, Jason Plato. Vengeance would come the following year, however, as Neal pipped team-mate Shedden to the post, securing his third and final title.
As if all of this is not enough, let's not forget that Matt Neal also holds the record for the most Independant's Drivers Championships with six in total between 1993 and 2006, two of which he won alongside his overall Driver's Championship wins!
Well, we have our first few names thrown into the ring but we have only just started to scratch the surface! Check out next week's article where we will be delving into the next category - the Race Winners.
Will we see a few of these names return again to stake their claim as the BTCC GOAT? Let's find out!
BTCC Journalist @ F1 Journal