Tin-top Tomfoolery: Silverstone 1992

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Not only is Silverstone playing host to the penultimate round of the 2012 British Touring Car Championship this weekend, but it is also twenty years ago to the day that it witnessed one of the most exhilarating end-of-season finales in tin-top racing history.

Some may call this a coincidence. I, on the other hand, like to think of it as a great opportunity to remind you all of this door-banging, paint-trading – not to mention highly controversial – touring car classic.

Cleland and Soper duking it out for fifth position in the 1992 BTCC finale

Three drivers were in with a shout of winning the title as the BTCC entered its final round in 1992, with John Cleland leading the championship on 145 points, Tim Harvey on 144, and Will Hoy on 143.

So, in order to win his second championship, Cleland had to finish ahead of his title rivals – simple as that. There were no other permutations.

A wet qualifying session helped produce one of the more interesting grids of the season, with the three title contenders languishing in the middle of the pack – Cleland in seventh, Hoy ninth, and Harvey twelfth – while the front of the field was top-heavy in support drivers, as Jeff Allam took pole, followed by David Leslie, Andy Rouse and Steve Soper.

Both Hoy and Harvey – a great solicitor firm name if ever there was one – started well, with Hoy managing to pass Cleland on the opening lap. Less fortunate at this early stage was Soper who, while trying to pass Leslie for third at Club corner, was tapped into a spin by the Vauxhall driver, before being rear-ended by Rob Gravett.

Despite incurring heavy damage to his BMW, Soper was able to rejoin in last place and began a spectacular drive through the field and, by the penultimate lap, found himself in seventh place behind Hoy, Harvey and Cleland.

A small – minuscule even – opportunity presented itself to Harvey at Copse when he went to the inside of Hoy, before drifting wide and putting himself on the kerb and Hoy on the grass. This gifted Cleland and Soper a couple of places and provisionally moved the former back to the top of the championship table.

And then, within no time at all, Soper utilised his incredible pace to move past Cleland who, on the run down to Abbey, showed his displeasure by giving him the middle finger.

Cleland gives Soper a piece of his mind

Worse was still to follow, however, as Harvey also managed to squeeze past Cleland on the inside of Bridge, before being promoted to fourth when team-mate Soper dived out of the way.

The trio then went through Priory line astern, but things were about to take a controversial turn for the worse when they arrived at Brooklands…

Having dived to the inside of Soper with a two-wheel manoeuvre James Bond would be proud of; Cleland was momentarily ahead of Soper who, after taking to the grass, then harpooned into the side of the Cavalier, sending both into the barriers and into immediate retirement.

Harvey, meanwhile, cruised to fourth and was crowned the new champion, with Hoy finishing three seconds behind in fifth and second in the drivers’ standings, while a no-points scoring Cleland dropped to third and was left fuming after his altercation with Soper.

“I just have to say, the man chopped me a couple of times and then takes me straight into the barriers,” he told reporters after the incident. “I mean, what are we doing here? Is this stock car racing or is this motorsport? He might get away with that in Germany where he might be Mr. Superstar, but this is clean. The man is an animal!”

And Soper’s response?

“He is not happy, but I am not very happy with him either.”

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