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  Nissan Primera GT BTCC
 

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Country of origin:Japan
Produced from:1997 - 1999
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:April 14, 2008
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Click here to download printer friendly versionIn the 1990s the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) far outgrew it status as a national racing series with its spectacular races reaching massive audiences around the globe. The 'Super Touring' two-litre regulations made the BTCC a very attractive prospect for many of the major manufacturers, who could race their top selling four-door models against their direct competitors. Vauxhall, Audi, BMW, Renault, Honda, Volvo and Peugeot were but a few of the manufacturers that lined up for BTCC races. Quite often the cars were piloted by top of the line racing drivers including former F1 pilots and Le Mans winners. With the original Primera, Nissan first entered the BTCC in 1991. After one win, high hopes and many disappointments, the Japanese manufacturer withdrew at the end of the 1994 season.

Nissan was only gone for a season and then returned to support the Andy Rouse Engineering team on the background. They raced the Primera in the privateer cup, although with the amount of assistance they received from Japan, they really should not have. However, the results throughout the 1996 season really did not give the other teams any reason to complain about Nissan's involvement. The various drivers entered by ARE only managed to score five points in the championship. Nissan realised that supporting a small team was not going to cut it against the strong competition like the Williams prepared Renault Lagunas. For 1997 Nissan contracted specialist company Ray Mallock Limited (RML) to build new Primera racers from the ground up.

Even though the regulations allowed for limited modifications, there were still plenty of areas for RML to work their magic on. The production car shell was stripped completely and reinforced with a steel roll-cage. Although adapting the production car layout, the front and rear suspension was lowered and stiffened considerably. RML equipped the exterior with aerodynamic aids like a front splitter and a rear wing. Nevertheless, the racing car was still easily recognizable as a Primera. Nissan supplied the 'SRD20E' four cylinder engine. Displacing just under two litre, it produced in excess of 320 bhp; twice as much as the engine in the top-of-the-line Primera GT. Mounted transversely in the nose of the Primera, the 'four' was mated to an Xtrac built six-speed sequential gearbox.

Taking no chances, RML contracted the highly experienced and very quick David Leslie and Anthony Reid. Even though the RML built Primera was the last car ready for the 1997 BTCC season, the car was right on the pace. Leslie scored a fourth place finish during the season opener and stepped on the podium in round three. The Nissan Works team finished the season fifth in the manufacturer and team championships. Over the winter the Primera was further developed and turned into a race winner. Nissan won nine races out of a possible twenty-six in 1998; four more than any other manufacturer. Needless to say they clinched the manufacturer's title quite easily. Despite his seven victories Reid fell just short of winning the driver's title. His 239 points were not enough to beat the more consistently scoring Rickard Rydell, who won five races in his Volvo S40.

Reid's performance in 1998 earned him a seat in the Works Ford team for 1999, but that did not prove to be a very successful move. His place in the Nissan team was taken by Frenchman Laurent Aiello, who had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1998 for Porsche. The Leslie / Aiello partnership took even more victories, winning thirteen races out of a possible twenty-six. With ten races victories Aiello was crowned champion and the team again took the manufacturer's title. Nissan also supplied equipment and support to Team Dynamics, who ran one car for Matt Neal in the independent cup. Neal not only won his championship, but also became the first independent driver to win a BTCC outright, which earned him a £250,000 bonus. He was successful again in 2000 with his private Primera, repeating his championship winning performance.

Having achieved their goals, Nissan left the BTCC at the end of 1999. At the end of 1998 Audi and Peugeot had already withdrawn and Nissan were joined by Renault and Volvo in their post 1999 departure. While the BTCC still exists, it has lost much of the glory that made it the prime touring car championship in the 1990s. The RML prepared Nissan Primera was the last of a great generation of BTCC winners and the first Japanese car to win a BTCC championship. One of the successful 1999 Primeras is pictured above at the 2007 Goodwood Festival of Speed, where it was driven up the hill very quickly by Anthony Reid.

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