Milestone 600 races for BTCC technical boss Peter Riches
One of the biggest milestones at this weekend’s Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship is TOCA’s chief technical boss Peter Riches’ 600th BTCC contest. This incredible figure comes in his 250th race meeting, and in a season that he’s also celebrating 25 years as chief scrutineer at the British Grand Prix, btcc.net spoke to the series stalwart ahead of the weekend to see how the championship has changed and to look ahead to the future…
Q: One thing’s for sure, with all those races behind you, you must have seen some massive changes over the years?
Yes, I joined when a lot of people will tell you that BTCC was going through its golden years, in ‘92 when all the manufactures were there and Super Touring was going from just a UK invention of a 2-litre formula to an FIA endorsed formula that then became global. Things are very different now, and I suppose the real question is, ‘Was it better then?’ or is that just people’s minds because things in the past often seem better than today – I think we are in a better time now.
Manufactures were spending an awful lot of money, up to ten million pounds for a three-car programme in the UK was not unusual. I think if you look back almost every year was dominated by one manufacturer – you would have an Audi year, a BMW year, a Volvo year, a Nissan year, a Renault year, and that at the time it seemed OK but the world changed. You can’t just dominate anymore, it’s not what people want to see and it’s not what the manufacturers or the sponsors want to see either.
In the mid-2000s we took on full S2000 rules, but it wasn’t long before the cost started to spiral again. It was at that point we said that this couldn’t go on, and NGTC was born.
Q: When we see you around the teams what are you doing – are you there to stop people from cheating?
The sport over the years has dramatically changed from that angle. In the early 90s, I think cheating was part of motor racing. You know, your engineers, some very famous names, pushed it to the limit and hoped they didn’t get caught. The rules were a lot less defined in those days.
That changed with the manufacturers coming in in the mid-90s. A lot of the teams had contracts where if they got caught deliberately cheating as opposed to making a mistake, they would have to repay the money that manufacturer had given them to run, so cheating disappeared.
Now the teams don’t have the freedom they once had. You can’t design your own gearbox; you can’t design your own suspension. So the opportunities to break the rules are a lot less and the scrutinising is different. Now, you’re checking that the bits in their car are the bits in the manual or in our spares box.
Q: It’s great to have these milestones at your local track. How has your role changed?
It’s 600 in race one this weekend. Back when I started we had one qualifying session of 30 minutes and one race on Sunday compared to what we have now – two 40-minute free practice sessions, a 30-minute qualifying and three races.
The other thing that has completely changed is monitoring systems. We didn’t have electronics in the same way in the early 90s. We didn’t run around with laptops and collect data and all those things so that side of the business has also developed. I’ve got help, I’ve got two assistants, we’ve got a Cosworth data engineer who works for us all the time as well because they run all our electronics.
After working for Lotus cars, the MSA asked if I wanted to be a scrutineer – I was a bit of a rat-turned-rat-catcher! I started off scrutineering the production sports car championship for them which rather frightened everybody because we found quite a lot of things. Then, I moved my way up. I did Formula Ford 1600, 2000, Fiestas, up to Formula 3 with the MSA and then BTCC came along and asked if I’d take over – and here we are today!
Hear Peter Riches describe his time in the BTCC: