Who was Tom Oliphant's racing hero and what did he achieve in the BTCC?
Everyone has an idol or someone to look up to when they are younger. For racing drivers, they have racing hero's as someone who they aspire to be or to achieve the success that they had. In this series, a couple of British Touring Car drivers will reveal who inspired them when they were younger. First up, Tom Oliphant.
In an exclusive interview with Pitlane to Podium, Team BMW and BTCC race winner Tom Oliphant revealed his racing hero was Sweddish racing driver and 1998 British Touring Car Champion Rickard Rydell.
Oliphant said: "My racing hero, obviously you’ve got the classic ones in Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher and people like that but my racing hero was Rickard Rydell. He drove the Volvo estate and saloon series of cars that they produced and the reason for that is because I loved TOCA 2 the racing game."
"My dad and I used to play on it a lot and he was always Alain Menu and I was always Rickard Rydell. That’s where my love of Touring cars first started."
"My dad went to Oulton Park, which is just down the road from where I grew up, he got an signed autograph from Rickard and his team-mates at the time. That stayed on my wall in my bedroom above my bed and I’m pretty sure it’s still there at home."
"It’s kind of funny now because I’m signing stuff for kids who might be racing in the future."
Who was Rickard Rydell?
Born on the 22nd of September 1967 in Vallentuna, Sweden, Rydell trained and became accountant at AB Rydell, his family's flower boutique business. However, he was bitten by the racing bug which started his career.
In the late 1980's, he competed in the likes of the British F3 Championship, Swedish F3 Championship and the European F3 Cup. In 1992, he made his debut in the All-Japan F3 Championship.
The early 1990s the Japanese single seater scene was very competitive and proved to be a good route onto the F1 grid. This championship was a popular series which drivers including Mika Salo and Eddie Irvine competed in.
Finishing in third in the championship, Rydell went onto win the prestigious Macau Grand Prix in 1992.
A second place finish just behind Tom Kristensen in 1993 in the Japan F3 showed that Rydell had potential but then, he was dealt a set-back.
Rydell suffered a spontaneous lung collapse which the Swedish driver put down to the stress he had at the end of 1993. He had an offer to compete in the Japanese F3000 in for 1994 but he then got a call from Tom Walkinshaw Racing team about competing in the BTCC instead.
So instead of travelling from Sweden to Japan, Rydell opted that the shorter travels between Sweden and the United Kingdom would be simplier. Allied with Volvo, Rydell would end up driving one of the most iconic Touring car ever.
Making his debut in 1994, Rydell would end the season in 14th place with 27 points and four fastest laps to his name.
ICONIC: Rydell leads the field of chasing cars at Donnington Park in 1995
For 1995, the team switched to the more traditional saloon version of the 850, which was much more competitive than the ’94 car and Rydell would enjoy more success. That season, he would be a front-runner in the championship and secure his first win. He would end the year in third with four wins and an incredible 13 pole positions.
Another third place finish and a slip to fourth would follow in 1996 and in 1997 but the 1998 Championship would prove to be his year.
1998: The Greatest Touring Car Season of all time and Rydell's time to shine
Rydell admitted early that in Pre-Season Testing that this was his best shot for a full-on championship challenge and the year started well as he won the opening race. Reigning Champion Alain Menu won the second at Thruxton but Rydell would have to wait until Round 4 at Brands Hatch to win again.
Rydell dominated the weekend taking wins in both of the races. After Brand Hatch, three consecutive secon place finishes followed at Outlon Park and at Donnington. The eleventh race of the season would be won by Rydell's closest championship challenger, Nissan's Anthony Reid.
From Snetterton onwards, Reid would take victory at least once a weekend to keep his fight alive. The big talking point came at Brands Hatch, the second visit of the year, where the two rivals on-track came to blows off it.
On the 31st of August, the second race of the day, Rydell was leading until Reid behind, pushed the Swedish driver wide at Druids and slipped through on the inside to take the lead of the race. Reid would hold the lead until the chequered flag.
Normally a very laid back and calm character, Rydell angrily confronted Reid in parc ferme, grabbing him by the collar of his race suit before he’d even had time to get out of his car.
The incident, filmed on camera, led to Rydell receiving a fine of £2,000 but after reviewing the race footage, the stewards decided to penalise Reid with Rydell promoted to first.
The championship went right down to the wire with the final race of the season being held at Silverstone. A second and third place finish across the two races ensured that Rydell was crowned champion with 254 points. Eight Pole Positions and Seventeen Podiums capped-off a great year which fans consider the greatest season in the history of the sport.
Across the 26 races, Rydell would end up winning five races whereas Reid ended the season with seven.
Rydell finished third in the 1999 Season in Volvo's last season of racing in the championship. Rydell moved to the Ford Team Mondeo where again he finished third. That was to be his last season in the British Touring Car Championship.
Rydell became synonymous with the Volvo brand, competing with the manufacturer for six straight seasons, one of the longest driver-team associations of the Super Touring era of the BTCC. It was one of the most successful too, with 18 victories and a further 37 podium finishes accrued during one of the most competitive eras in the championship’s history.
Rydell tried his hand in various other Touring Car Championships around the world and in 2011, he won the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship. In early 2016, Rydell announced his retirement from Motorsport.