Updated: Sep 5, 2020
The eleventh installment looking at each driver who competed in my first BTCC race as a spectator at the season opening round at Brands Hatch in 2002.
For my next feature I am going to look at every driver who 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 fourth driver to retire from the race was MG driver Warren Hughes, who retired due to a puncture on lap 12.
Hughes made his debut in the championship the year before as MG entered the series with the introduction of the new BTC regulations, aimed at being much more cost effective than the previous SuperTouring era.
Hughes’ motor racing career started in 1989 however, beginning in British Formula Ford Junior 1600 championship, also competing in the Formula Ford festival. He immediately impressed behind the wheel, his first appearance seeing him finish third, beating future F1 star David Coulthard in the Formula Ford Festival, the Scotsman going onto win at Macau that year.
His success continued into 1990 as he won the Junior 1600 season before moving up to Formula Vauxhall Lotus for 1991, driving for Team JLR. It proved to be another successful season as he won three times. Hughes’ rise up the series’ did not stop as he entered British Formula 3 in 1992, ending the year an impressive seventh.
Hughes continued in the series in 1993 and also entered events in the German F3 championship as well as Macau at the end of the season in which he found himself on the same entry list as future teammate Anthony Reid as well as other BTCC stars including Rickard Rydell, Tom Kristensen and Kelvin Burt.
He competed for March Racing, his teammate being none other than 1997 F1 Champion Jacques Villeneuve. Despite this, neither he nor Villeneuve fared well at Macau, as they struggled for pace against their rivals.
1994 saw Hughes switch to the Japanese F3 championship, also contesting in two British rounds alongside his Japan commitments. 1994 also included a test in an F1 Lotus, the team’s final season in Formula 1 before their sad demise. Hughes returned to the British F3 championship in 1995 and once again finished fourth, ending the year by coming eleventh at Macau.
For 1996, Hughes took a sabbatical from single seaters as he competed for Ford in the German STW series, the predecessor of the DTM, which used SuperTouring regulations. The grid was littered with the biggest names in the history of touring cars such as Steve Soper, Jorg Muller and Laurent Aiello. Anthony Reid was once again present in the series as a rival for Hughes. Hughes contested in four rounds of the series in 1996 and struggled to come to terms with Touring Cars at first, with reliability also hampering his progress.
He also tested the BTCC SuperTouring Ford Mondeo during the 1996 season.
It ensured that for 1997 he returned to single seaters, again in the British F3 championship with Piers Portman Racing in which he contested eight rounds before returning for a full season with the same team in 1999, again finishing fourth in the championship.
1999 was Hughes’ last season in the British F3 as the turn of the millennium saw Hughes graduate to the Italian Formula 3000 championship with Arden, finishing second in the standings only finishing off the podium on three occasions, winning twice. Hiss fine form earned him a test with Williams however the team chose to pick Marc Gene as their test driver over Hughes, which proved to be his last single seater experience. As well as his Italian Formula 300 commitments, Hughes also made his British GT debut in 2000 in a Porsche 911 GT3-R at Thruxton for Cirtek Motorsport alongside John Cleland, finishing fifth.
2001 was when Hughes began his BTCC career, signing for MG as a factor driver alongside Anthony Reid in a pair of BTC spec MG ZS’.
MG did not enter until the eleventh round of the thirteen event season and were not eligible to score points. Despite Hughes and teammate Anthony Reid’s illegibility to score points, the duo displayed some promising pace, challenging the dominant Vauxhall Astra quartet. Hughes achieved a best result of fifth in only his second BTCC race.
Results could have been much stronger in 2001 however the car’s reliability was still in its early development stages although the signs to challenge Vauxhall heading into 2002 were promising.
Hughes and Reid remained with MG for the British brand’s full time return to the series and were joined by Gareth Howell and Colin Turkington from the second round of the season onwards, the duo driving for satellite outfit Team Atomic Kitten.
MG faced further competition in 2002, as they and Vauxhall were joined by debutants Proton and the returning Honda, who took a year satirical to focus on development of their new BTC Honda Civic Type-R.
Despite the increased grid MG still fared well and proved to be Vauxhall’s sternest competition throughout the season. Hughes was immediately on the pace and finished second at both races at Oulton Park behind Yvan Muller and Paul O’Neill respectively, before winning his first BTCC race at Silverstone two rounds later.
Hughes would win again at Brands Hatch later in the season as he ended the season sixth with 110 points.
Hughes remained with MG for 2003 once again being partnered by Anthony Reid, however Colin Turkington was promoted to the factory team after an impressive debut rookie season.
Although the MG was still a competitive car, it was slowly starting to fall behind the ever developing Vauxhall team and Honda, who entered 2003 in a feisty manor, with Matt Neal spearheading the Japanese manufacturer’s title assault.
Hughes won once as he finished the season seventh, with 98 points in what would prove to be his final season in the British Touring Car Championship.
Sadly for Hughes, MG withdrew their manufacturer program and WSR could not to afford to keep him for the 2004 season with the independents limited on budget.
After leaving the BTCC Hughes competed in selected rounds of the British GT Championship, taking overall victory in a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR at Oulton Park. Hughes continued his part time appearances in the British GT Championship in 2005, driving a TVR Tuscan in the GT2 category, with a best result of second at both Donington Park and Thruxton.
It would be his last outings in the British GT Championship until 2012, when he partnered Jody Fanin in a Ginetta G50 in the GT4 category. The duo won all bar two races in their class on their way to a dominant championship win, Hughes’ first title triumph.
This was his first full season back in full time racing since 2003, other than a single season in the FIA GT1 World Championships, where he contested the 2010 season in a Nissan GT-R. Although only finishing sixteenth, it was a successful season for Hughes who won at Silverstone, ending the year on 52 points.
Away from GT racing, Hughes also competed at Le Mans each year from 2005 through to 2012, excluding 2009 where he was unable to secure a drive. During this time, Hughes partnered drivers such as Olivier Pla and Brandon Hartley in the LMP2 category, where he achieved a class victory in 2005.
Hughes’ final outings were in 2013, again in the British GT Championship, racing an Audi R8 for M-Sport, competing in four races with a best result of second.
Since then Hughes has not been back behind the wheel, for me he was always a driver who never got the chances in the BTCC his driving ability deserved. On his day he was dominant and it would have been fascinating to see how he would have developed as the seasons went on.
Currently, Hughes is an ARDS instructor at Thruxton in which he helps budding racers pass the tests, allowing them to race. In addition to this, he is a driver and performance coach, working with some of the biggest manufactures and teams in British Motorsport.
I remember watching Hughes at Brands Hatch at the penultimate round in 2002 and along with Anthony Reid they got the MG looking unbeatable. Indeed it was as they claimed a one-two in qualifying with Turkington fourth in the other MG team.
I also remember his 2003 triumph’s in the BTCC alongside Reid and Turkington, again on his day he was unbeatable and showed that he could have been a real star for the future, had he been able to find a suitable drive.
It always fascinates me how a motorsport career can turn on a sixpence, and Hughes’ time in the BTCC is a prime example.
Pictures: www.motorspot.com, www.flickriver.com, www.flickr.com