Somebody was criminally negligent enough the other week to let me have a go in a touring car, which you can watch here. As you might expect, it was just about the best working day of my life to date, but what surprised me most was how easy the BTCC Vectra was to drive fast.
On a spot of reflection, I'm beginning to wonder if this is because of the FIA's Super 2000 Regulations. These seemed eminently sensible to me: a set of loose regs dictating what you can and can't do to a road car to make it go racing, or rallying.
I remember reading a feature a few years ago where a journalist was allowed to drive a Renault Laguna touring car. Don't let it rev below 3000rpm or it'll break, he was told. Don't do this, don't touch that, be careful of the other. Because it'll break.
None of that wtih the Vectra, which starts on a key and, with no throttle, settles to an idle. Okay, it's grumbly, but by racing standards, is very tractable. The engine's location and most of the components within it are regulated; the injection system has to be the one from the road car. Besides, there's an 8500rpm rev limit - a Honda S2000's is higher - so there's just no point - almost no way - of developing a massively peaky engine. The suspension has to derive from the road car's, too.
This is all meant to reduce racing costs, level the field and attract more manufacturers to the sport, with cars at a price that privateers can afford, too. And theoretically, a manufacturer's basis for a Super2000 car could be easily tweaked to go touring car racing, or rallying.
Largely I think it's been successful but, typically, not wholly. 'Ah, don't pay too much attention to those regs,' said our chief sub John McIlroy, who's forgotten more about motorsport than most will ever know. 'They might change again soon anyway.'
Seems that some engineers don't like Super 2000 regulations because they end up spending loads of time and money trying to fathom the loose regulations, then try and make a set-up that wasn't built to go racing in the first place, go racing. Some would rather have a set of tighter regulations, designed with specific racing components in mind, so they can get on with building something that goes fast, and lasts, without compromise. These loose regs reward those with more cash.
But isn't that always the way: those who can, spend, those who can't, don't. Leave a set of regulations alone for ten years, I say; that way everybody understands them and exploits them as well as each other, so a privateer with a two year-old car will be that much closer to a manufacturer-backed front runner, and all the cars are on a similar pace, which is what we want, right? A return to Cleland vs Hoy vs Soper vs the car on its roof is a Toyota?