The fallout of Super Touring: the 2002 European Touring Car Championship season

September 06, 2022

by Maciej Hamera

If you ask any touring car fan to name the golden era of the category, they will no doubt quickly converse in great detail about the Super Touring years of the 90s. However, by the early 2000s, the manufacturers who were once so prominent on the scene had all but pulled out due to the massive costs of competing in the category. This meant that new touring car regulations were needed to keep the automotive marks in the sport. And they were needed fast.

The planning of the new regulations was carried out throughout the year by the FIA with a board of manufacturers providing input on the rules. Members of the board included Volvo, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Nissan, Honda, and Volkswagen.

The new regulations would be called S2000 and would come into play for the 2002 season. These revamped regs took on many of the requirements of the popular Super Touring category but with a particular focus on reducing the cost of building a car.

Details such as a rev limit of 8500 RPM, a maximum engine capacity of 2 litres, and the banning of four-wheel-drive machinery would all be carried over. However new elements would be introduced such as an adjustable rear wing and front wings that would be allowed to be enlarged by 3%.

These rules were given the final green light in October of 2001 which gave the teams plenty of time to study and adapt to the new regulations. However not all the manufacturers were happy, notably BMW so the FIA decided to adopt a set of interim regulations for 2002 before S2000 was introduced properly the following year.

Unsurprisingly, this was met with outrage from manufacturers such as Volvo who supposedly already had S2000 prototype cars ready for the following season. 

The interim regs were aimed to be closer to the Super Production regulations that had shared the grid with the Super Touring cars during the 2001 season. This meant that the cars would now have a H-box gearbox, instead of the sequential 'box that was originally planned. The cars would also now have around 270 HP, a lower target than before.

Now it should be remembered that the pioneers of the Super Touring rules, the British Touring Car Championship, had introduced its version of the replacement to the popular class the previous year. While S2000 wouldn't be too dissimilar in the end compared to the BTC-Touring rules of the BTCC, there were still differences meaning that manufacturers couldn't build one car to compete in both championships. This led to some aggravated views from various paddock members including drivers such as Matt Neal

"The [BTCC] formula was dead on," explained Neal when speaking to Autosport last year. "It worked and if the FIA had followed that formula then it would have been totally different.

"[Super 2000] was almost identical in philosophy, but everything was different just for the sake of it," Neal said. "They sort of copied it but wanted to be different, and that immediately doubled the price of the cars overnight. The rules the BTCC had come up with then, they worked. They were cost effective. To build a car, it was £100,000, which was dead on. S2000 cars were two or three times that in the end."

Possibly as a result of the regulation chaos, there were only three manufacturers who properly committed to the new style ETCC for 2002. Volvo would field their S60 model, Alfa Romeo their 156, and BMW their 320i. Honda and Nissan would appear on the grid too but these were strictly independent entries with no financial input from either company.

At the beginning of the season, the Alfa's clearly had the edge over the field and it took until the 10th race for BMW to stop the Alfa onslaught. It therefore shouldn't be surprising to find out that the title race wasn't close, with Fabrizio Giovanardi taking the title by 29 points from BMW driver Jörg Müller.

While BMW and Alfa fought for race wins, the Volvo team had a troubled time. Even though Rickard Rydell often piloted his S60 to the front of the field and led races, the engine was seen as a weak point of the program. Ultimately several podiums would be achieved but no outright victory. At least it was a better situation than the independent Nissan and Honda squads, who stuggled to score points throughout the year.

The S2000 regulations would come into play properly for 2003 and would be revised several times until the TCR regulations took over in 2018 which coincided with the World Touring Car Championship, which replaced the ETCC in 2005, rebranding to the World Touring Car Cup.

While ultimately manufacturer interest for touring car racing wasn't as high as during the Super Touring era, the regulations still provided memorable moments which don't deserve to be forgotten in the pages of the history books.

Image credit: ETCC


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