Updated: Sep 5, 2020
The seventh part of my series.
For my next feature I am going to look at every driver which started my first ever British Touring Car Championship race and what they have achieved in their careers, both before and after.
As some of you may know, my first BTCC race was on the 30th March 2002 when my Dad and I went to the “Super Sunday” event at Brands Hatch, in which the touring cars were joined by the British GT championship as well as Formula 3.
I was only seven when I attended and immediately fell in love with touring cars, a passion which has failed to die down yet nearly eighteen years later!
The order I will be looking at the drivers will be the finishing positions of that race.
The next touring car driver who finished was Proton driver Phil Bennett who was making his debut for the Malaysian manufacture.
Bennett made his BTCC debut a season earlier, driver a factory backed Vauxhall Astra Coupé alongside James Thompson in an Egg Sport liveried car, in the first season of the new BTC regulations. Despite a small field of BTCC cars, Bennett faired well, finishing fourth only behind his three much more experienced teammates.
The signs were immediately promising as he achieved two podiums in his first four races, however it took Bennett until the final three rounds of the season to really shine, where he won three of the last six races.
Having watched my first race in 2002 I immediately became interested in the history of the BTCC, something my family picked up on and bought be the 2001 review video, where I first saw Bennett.
It would prove to be his only season in factory backed Vauxhall as he switched to Proton for their debut season in the BTCC partnering experienced teammate David Leslie. In a new team and a new car, the duo initially struggled for reliability, however as the season went on results started to improve, with Bennett achieving consistent top ten results by the second half of the season.
Bennett finished the season sixteenth with 9 points however this was not entirely representative as he had a 25 point penalty applied for changing an engine.
Bennett remained alongside Leslie for 2003 in what would prove to be his final season in the BTCC. Sadly for the duo, the car could not keep up with the likes of Honda, Vauxhall and MG and neither driver could replicate their 2002 results.
This would be Bennett’s last season in the BTCC as he left the series at the conclusion of the year to race in other series’ around the world. It was a shame to see him leave so quickly as I always found him pleasant when asking for an autograph, as I was only eight at the start of the 2003 season when I first started attending more events.
For 2004, Bennett moved to the Le Mans European Series (LMES) driving a Saleen S7-R, in my opinion, one of the smartest GT cars of all time. Bennett’s first race was the 1000 km of Nurburgring partnering Gian Maria Gabbiani for Graham Nash Motorsport in which he finished tenth overall and third in class.
His next race was the 1000 km of Silverstone, parenting ex Proton teammate David Leslie and Paul Wright again finishing third in class. The trio would race the final round at Spa however they were not able to hit the heights of the previous two meetings.
This was Bennett’s only season in the Saleen as he moved to sportscars for 2005, driving a Courage C65 LMP2 at the Le Mans 24 hour, his first appearance at the great race. Bennett finished the race twenty-fourth overall and fourth in class, partnering Tim Mullen and Ian Mitchell.
As well as Le Mans, 2005 saw Bennett compete other classic races around the round such as the Sebring 12 hour and Petit Le Mans. This also saw him return to the LMES, finishing second in class and eighth overall at the 2005 1000 km of Silverstone.
This was Bennett’s last full season of car racing as since then he has raced in the occasional race here and there, however these tend to be blue ribbon events, such as the 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours. Bennett once again competed in the LMP2 class alongside Juan Barazi and Stuart Moseley, finishing fourth in class, repeating his 2005 result.
Other than Le Mans, Bennett also competed in the 2010 Silverstone 24 hour, however sadly he failed to finish despite completing 178 laps.
Sadly, this was the last time Bennett competed and is now a qualified flying instructor, owning his own business, Gyrocopter Flying Club based at Silverstone.
Images: www.crash.net, www.motorsportimages.com