A cup of tea with some BTCC Legends
We have another epic edition of Test Track for you, following a month behind the monstrous blog at the end of January. 2017 has already thrown up so many different pieces of news that we’re a little concerned whether we’ll be able to keep up! However, we’ll be doing our best and, fingers crossed, we’ll get all the things you want to hear about with Scalextric.
What do we have for you this month then? Well we have a couple of BTCC interviews, as we start getting excited for the new season. Simon, our Head Researcher, was able to grab some time with two legends of the British Touring Car Championship, speaking with Andy Rouse at the beginning of February, whilst catching Tim Harvey just in time to make this edition of Test Track, right at the end of the month (thanks Simon!).
We were also lucky enough to have Andy and Tim sign a few of their Scalextric cars which we’ll be giving away in this edition of Test Track too! All the information on how to win these truly fantastic and special prizes can be found after the interviews.
Oh, for those of you keen on the 60th Anniversary Collection, we also have some news for you (as we mentioned at the end of the last blog). Many of you will be pleased to hear that the whole collection is now available to pre-order, both with various Scalextric retailers and here on the Scalextric website. While each car will be revealed over the coming months, for those of you who don’t want to miss out on any part of the collection, you can pre-order them all now to avoid any potential disappointment (and they’re going at a rate of knots!).
It’s definitely a bit of a leap in the dark right now, but all will become clear soon (and if you decide any of the cars aren’t for you, it’s easy to cancel too). Of course we will be sharing all the 60th Anniversary news here in Test Track too, so you won’t miss out on any of the juicy info with this truly unique collection.
Anyway, let’s have a sit down and a cuppa with two gentlemen who know a thing or two about the British Touring Car Championship.
It just wouldn’t be an edition of Test Track without a lucky member of the Scalextric team travelling and doing something fantastic (and that lucky person not being me!). On this occasion it was Simon who was out and about, casually meeting some childhood heroes of his and undoubted legends of the BTCC. Fortunately, Simon was good enough to write up his visits, with Andy Rouse the first on his agenda. Take it away Simon (you lucky devil…)
It can’t have escaped the notice of regular Test Track fans that in recent years Scalextric has looked to branch out into various forms of historic motorsport. One area that has seen this has been historic touring cars, notably the Group A formula of the 1980s and very early 1990s. One car dominated this period of motorsport, at least in the top class, the Ford Sierra RS500. And one man was, in the UK at least, synonymous with the development, preparation and success these cars enjoyed. Andy Rouse.
Recently Andy agreed, very kindly, to not only sign some samples of our Touring Car Legend Box Set, featuring his 1990 Sierra RS500, but also to have a sit down and a chat with me about Scalextric, Ford RS500s, the BTCC and motorsport in general.
It was a bitterly cold day in February that accompanied my visit to see Andy Rouse, but the greeting upon my arrival could not have been warmer. It is always slightly nerve wracking presenting a model of a racing car to its famous and knowledgeable driver, but thankfully Andy was very pleased with the representation of his 1990 RS500 that we have produced. After he signed some models, (which I understand you’ll have a chance to win) we sat down and had a chat.
I began by asking if he had played with Scalextric himself as a child but sadly (for us) that wasn’t the case. “Not really, I built my first racing car when I was still at school, for use on grass tracks up in Gloucestershire, so I sort of bypassed Scalextric really!” I had to admit that even for the most diehard of Scalextric enthusiasts a chance to race a real full size car while still at school would have been hard to ignore. “The car itself was a special – a sort of stripped down little sports car. I was fortunate really, my father was a market gardener so my workshop was a chicken shed with a dirt floor and that’s how I started. But my son Julian did have one as he grew up, I don’t remember much about it but he had one!” Julian Rouse now works for Arden, running cars in GP2 and GP3, so here I feel while his father probably had the most influence in this career choice at least another world motorsport figure started out with the familiar black plastic track we all know and love.
Rather awkwardly I did have to come clean and admit to Andy that this Sierra is actually the first Rouse RS500 Scalextric have ever done, despite his success in the 1980s, our original Sierra never came in either Kaliber or ICS colours! However, we both agreed that this wrong had now been satisfactorily rectified.
The RS500 was a tremendous car both in its day and on historic tracks now, Andy has some fond memories of them; “it was a great car, a great touring car, with a real excess of power over grip. Which did make them quite tricky to drive, but really exciting cars. We were doing around 185mph down the Conrod straight at Bathurst, and similar speeds at other circuits with long straights, 160mph at Silverstone.” Would reducing the rear wing not have helped this I wondered? The iconic rear spoiler creates a huge amount of drag as well as downforce, “the rear wing does give drag, but its downforce round the corners and the grip is really the key to success, so it was a fair trade.” And what about the tracks of the period? Birmingham Superprix stands out for us here at Scalextric as a great place to try and tame the RS500…. “it was a tricky track, you couldn’t make mistakes with the walls and barriers all the way round, but I suppose the most impressive track was Bathurst. The Bathurst 1000 was the biggest touring car race in the world, with stars like Peter Brock, and we put it on pole position twice. The first with Allan Moffat in the ANZ Sierra where we put it on pole.”
After the demise of Group A a new set of rules came into force, the Super Touring era. This saw Andy move away from Ford for the first time since the early 1980s, to instead develop and race a team of Toyota Carinas, paired with the legendary Will Hoy, I asked if the switch from FWD to RWD was a difficult one, “Yeah it was really, I sort of had to learn how to drive the cars all over again, you have to be very specialised in one or the other and it wasn’t really my favourite time, having been driving rear wheel drive cars my entire career before then. But the new front wheel drive cars were surprisingly quick, it only took a year or two before they were as fast on a lap as the old RS500s. They were half the power but were a lot lighter of course! While we were developing the Mondeo for Ford in 1993 we did build a rear wheel drive Mondeo, based on the floor plan of the 4x4 model, but it had a transverse engine, so this was something of a handicap. As well as being too heavy. So it wasn’t until we built the light weight front wheel drive Mondeo the car became competitive, doing well in the latter half of 1993 and winning the world cup.”
Andy hung up his helmet in 1994, retiring from driving duties after 30 very successful years and 4 Championships racing in the BTCC. I asked him about the cars he drove before the RS500, the early days of Group A, the Rover SD1, Alfa Romeo GTV and the Sierra XR4Ti, did any of those really stand out in his memory? “The early Sierra was good, it was our first turbocharged car, a forerunner to the RS Cosworth and RS500, that was a really good car. But probably one of my favourites was the Rover SD1. It was a really nice chassis, you could run it really low and it had a longish wheelbase. It was genuinely a nice car.” And one that due to its size could survive the physicality that sometimes goes along with Touring Cars? “Well it wasn’t so bash and crash in those days!”
The Scalextric Touring Car Legends Box Set sees you paired up with Frank Sytner, what was it like to race against him, albeit in a different class? “Well Frank was always good to watch! He was controversial but a great competitor [interestingly just down from Andy’s house is a Sytner BMW garage, so even now the two rivals are not a million miles apart!]. The whole class system was very much a compromise, and one that had to change when TV audiences became bigger and Grandstand came along. Although in the early days of the TV coverage when the Capris and SD1 Rovers were at the front the cars did look great. Running on Crossply tyres they were always spectacular. Looking back on those films now the cars do look really good. And there were always lots of cars on the grid.”
The size difference and different styling between the M3 and RS500 is readily apparent in this set, and you will be pleased to know we think the RS500 is a bit quicker in a straight-line and the M3 faster in the bends! We hope you can try them for yourself later.
When was the last time you drove a RS500 in anger? “Well we stopped racing them in 1990, so it would be then! There’s going to be a demo run I believe at the Members Meeting at Goodwood. But historic racing doesn’t really interest me. I spent 35 years in the pit lane. So I have done all I have needed to do really!” Which included going up against (and beating) the works Eggenberger Sierras! “They were pretty hard to beat, but they ran their cars differently to ours as they were set up for long distance racing rather than the shorter BTCC affairs, so in a sprint race we had the upper hand. Although we did beat them in the 1987 Silverstone TT ETCC race which affected their championship rather badly in the end!”
That is of course just one of the many race wins Andy Rouse enjoyed, and I implore you to check out some footage of him hard at work in the RS500, either at the Birmingham Superprix or the Bathurst 1000, on YouTube.
A big thank you goes out to Andy Rouse for giving me some of his time, as well as signing my much watched and much loved 1988 BTCC VHS!
All of us here in the Test Track team would like to echo Simon’s comments and thank Andy for talking to us (plus, even going near one of Simon’s old tapes…). This Legends Box Set (C3693A) will never be far from our hearts as it was these cars that kick started Test Track, and being able to chat to the man whose name is on the side of the car is truly something very special. Thanks again Andy.
As we’ve mentioned a couple of times now, three of the Box Sets Andy signed are being given away by us here right in this edition of Test Track. However, that’s not all! Another signed car will be up for grabs too so keep reading for all the details on how to win one of these fantastic prizes.
Simon (like all of us at Scalextric) is always keen to get more of a good thing and decided that one interview wasn’t enough. After a few emails and phone calls, he found himself chatting to Tim Harvey towards the end of February. Just like with Andy Rouse, some teas were made and questions asked. Time to hand over to Simon once again.
Along with Andy Rouse, I had the great pleasure, and honour, of spending some time with another Group A, supertouring and all round BTCC legend, Tim Harvey.
I went to see Tim at his beautiful home in Oxfordshire, to not only get him to sign a very special prize (more about this later), but also to chat to him about his experiences behind the wheel of the iconic Labatt’s Sierra RS500, his 1992 BTCC championship win, his drives for Renault, Volvo and Peugeot, and the modern BTCC for which he is the voice for motorsport fans up and down the UK.
— TIM HARVEY (@timharvey7) February 17, 2017
First of all, I presented Tim with a pre-production model of the RS500 he himself raced in 1990 (well his was a little bigger). Thankfully, once again, the driver of the car we had modelled was pleased with our attempt to recreate it in miniature, even comparing it to some handmade models that were produced when the car raced. Tim then kindly signed this pre-production sample which will be available to win. A very special prize indeed as we only produce three pre-production samples and they generally never leave the building!
So I began by asking Tim what he thought of the car, “It’s absolutely fantastic, I mean you know my first impression was that it was a model, not a Scalextric car! It’s absolutely brilliant, the detail in it is far better than I ever remember the Scalextric cars that I used to play with having.” So you used to play with Scalextric yourself as a child? “Yeah very much, a hell of a lot. My brother and I were absolutely mad on it. But we used to heavily modify the cars, cutting the wheel arches out of AC Cobras and putting wide tyres on them and all sorts of silly things! Yeah, we played it a lot. And my son had a set as well, but he was actually more into Hornby Railways!!”
Brilliant, well now you have your own car to modify! What are your memories of driving the real car? “Well an iconic car, it was 560BHP, it did 175 mph and ate its rear tyres up very quickly, but it was one of those cars that when the crowd were watching them race they had real respect for the drivers as it was very obvious the drivers were driving things that were difficult and fast to drive. And that is missing a little bit now. But the cars were absolutely incredible, they were brutal cars but great, great fun to drive.” More so than the cars that followed it, the Supertouring Lagunas and the like? “I think it’s a different type of driving. I’ve always enjoyed powerful rear wheel drive cars and you know mastering that was a great pleasure for me. The super tourers were technologically far more advanced, they were obviously mostly front wheel drive but due to the technical advances, the cornering, the braking and the handling was much, much better. The Sierra was always a ‘point and squirt it’ car and it depended on the tyres what sort of lap time you got.”
Absolutely, what were your favourite circuits to race on? There is some amazing footage of you at the Birmingham Superprix fighting it out with Andy Rouse! “Yeah I mean unfortunately there’s not a lot of footage of them but we raced them all over the place. But to be fair the best circuits were the ones where you could really stretch their legs. Like Silverstone GP, places like that, I can remember testing at the old Grand Prix circuit at Silverstone where you had Stowe and Club, fast 5th gear corners and having wheel spin coming out of Stowe in 5th gear! Abbey was a fast left hand kink that you were trying to take flat at 150mph, it was a big corner! And Woodcote was a big corner coming onto the start finish straight and if you stood on the pit wall people would take a step back because it looked frightening watching the cars coming through. So definitely the fast circuits were the best ones.” But of course you won the Macau Guia Race as well in 1989, another street circuit? “That was a terrific event as well, I love Macau and that is an iconic circuit. It was great to win there. But again, with concrete walls everywhere and an Armco as well, a Sierra that wanted to step out sideways, as people have seen, it was quite a tough track but so much fun!”
Moving to today you are the lead BTCC commentator, the voice of the BTCC for many, what do you think of today’s series? If you were a young man would you want to race in it? “Yeah I would, I mean it is a very different formula because in the late 80s and throughout the 90s it was a manufacturer based formula so the companies would come in, spend millions and race against each other. At one point we had nine manufacturers all employing professional drivers, so that is 18 professional drivers. More than in Formula One at the time! Nowadays manufacturers don’t tend to put as much money into motorsport so we have a different dynamic, so the championship has to be attractive to privateers, independents and even the manufacturer teams are supported. There are no blank cheques like there were, so I think the formula now fits perfectly with the economy and what we have to offer now provides great racing! The regulations of ballast weight, reverse grids means you are always going to get some great races.” And of course the line-up this year is fantastic with some top drivers in some of the very top teams! “Yep, with the news that Colin Turkington is going back to WSR and the BMW you know it sort of fills all the seats out now doesn’t it? There’s only a couple more to be announced now. The line-up looks absolutely fantastic, and all the cars will be on the full RML suspension, no hybrids or carryovers, the new TOCA engine will be in all the TOCA cars. So it really will be a fantastic year again!”
So, difficult question, you have to put £5 on somebody to win…who’s it going to be? “I have to say Turkington or Shedden, each way!” Brilliant! We do plan to bring some of our modern BTCC range on the road to the fans at some BTCC meetings this year, because the sport is just so fan friendly, “that’s the whole point about British Touring Cars. The accessibility has always been a key point of it, there’s no other sport that is on live television that at 8am on a Sunday morning you could decide ‘I’m going to go along to that.’ You can pitch up, buy your ticket, meet Matt Neal or Jason Plato, and get their autographs - there is no other TV sport you could do that at. The accessibility is key and the average crowds of 30-40,000 people is as much as a Premier League football match, and the whole family is welcome, kids with autographs and giveaways and all sorts!” As well as a fine job being done on ITV4 by the commentary team! “Well I would say that! But I’m passionate about British motorsport and I’m passionate about British Touring Cars, I had my first race in the BTCC in 1987 and I don’t think there is a race I haven’t been in, commentated on or haven’t watched since. So it is part and parcel of my DNA and I hope that my passion comes across, it is great to be involved! But the real stars are the editing people at ITV4 who sort out 4 hours of coverage!”
I think it’s obvious to see Tim’s passion coming through, both talking about his model Sierra and the BTCC as a whole. A big thank you to him for welcoming me into his home and signing the model which you can now win! Stay tuned for more BTCC updates in next month’s Test Track as we’ll be reporting back from the BTCC Media Day at Donington.
Well then, it’s about time we told you how you can win some of these amazing prizes! One lucky Test Track reader will win both an Andy Rouse signed Touring Car Legends Twinpack (C3693A) AND the Decoration Sample Tim Harvey signed of his Ford Sierra RS500 (C3867) (which isn’t even out yet)! We’ll then have another two of the signed Legends Twinpacks for two runners up.
Grand prize for one lucky winner!
Two runners up will be bagging the signed Twin Pack (C3693A)
All you need to do to enter the competition is head over to the Competitions page and answer the question there (plus fill out a few other bits so we know who you are). The winner and runners up will then be picked at random (from the correct answers) and announced in March’s Test Track. This means the competition closes a couple of days before the next edition at the end of March. These prizes are truly special and we hope we can find some BTCC-friendly homes for these models to go to. Good luck everyone!
Time flies when you’re having fun and so does the length of a blog! We do have a fantastic story from our Development team to share with you but, alas, we’ve run out of room. Not to worry though! We’ll be sure to include it at a later date so please don't be strangers and come back for future editions. We do love to get you the most up-to-date news, and all the interesting stories, with our Development team but we’re happy to make room for Andy and Tim in this edition and we hope you’ve enjoyed this, slightly different, blog (plus it makes a great introduction to the new BTCC season, which is rapidly approaching). Do keep your ear to the ground, or more specifically, your eyes on our Facebook and Twitter pages as we are prone to going live from these events and showing you some of what goes on (it’s all hard work … honest!). However, if you miss us, we’ll have all the details for you right here in Test Track.
Remember that we want to make 2017 the biggest year for Test Track, and for Scalextric as a whole. We’re celebrating being 60 years young and have some great things coming up (like this competition, which you should definitely enter, if you haven’t already).
Please tell your friends, share Test Track on Facebook and get tweeting using #TestTrack, and/or please join in (or start) the conversation over on the Scalextric Forum. Test Track goes live the last Friday of every month but if something comes up, we do love telling you about it right away in our special ‘Stop Press’ editions (and we do like being dramatic).
We’ll see you again soon and as always,
The Test Track Team
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