Up until now, Steve Soper was listed in the history books as a ‘retired racing driver’, having hung up his helmet in 2001 following a heavy crash at Brands Hatch while competing in the British Touring Car Championship.
Soper was an accomplished sports car and touring car racer, having won the 1987 Nürburgring 24 Hours, 1995 Spa 24 Hours and almost won the 1983 British Touring Car Championship in a Rover Vitesse. He rose to international prominence when competing in the 1989 German Touring Car Championship (pictured above).
But he’s perhaps best known for the famous incident with John Cleland, which saw Tim Harvey claim the 1992 BTCC title.
Soper (in the BMW 320iS) and Cleland (in the Vauxhall Cavalier GSi) collide turning into the right-hander at Silverstone’s Luffield complex, letting Harvey through (in the other BMW) to clinch the driver’s championship. Cleland was furious (wasn’t he always?) and Soper’s reputation was forever tainted by accusations of un-sportsmanlike driving.
Now, more than 20 years later, 61-year old Soper returns – to Silverstone no less – to compete in a Ford GT40 in the World Sportscar Masters.
It’s part of the annual Silverstone Classic (26th-28th July), which will feature a full 58-car grid of glorious Le Mans-style sportscars from the 1962-1974 era.
Voted ‘the greatest saloon car driver of all time’ by an panel of experts in a poll conducted by Motor Sport magazine, Soper attributes his imminent return to a combination of worsening health and medical advances.
“After the accident I was told to totally change my lifestyle, so that’s what I did. I totally stopped racing and concentrated on my BMW dealership in Lincoln,” he explained. “But last year I started getting pins and needles in my fingers, so I went back to see the specialist. To cut a long story short, he insisted I had an operation on my damaged neck which, thanks to today’s technology, has replaced three of my discs and two vertebrae with carbon cages.”
“The surgeon tells me that, after the three and half hour operation in January, my neck is now as strong as it was when I was 21 and therefore has cleared me to start competing again.”
Soper has been a frustrated spectator ever since his retirement 12 years ago. “I’m still a petrol head and I find it difficult to be at a race meeting and not to be involved. More so recently as I’ve seen so many of my old friends having such fun in these fabulous historic events like the Silverstone Classic and Goodwood Revival. Now I’m back and really looking forward to doing a few selected meetings such as those, when lucky enough to be invited.”
You can find out more about the Silverstone Classic on their website, where you can also book tickets for the event. Adult admittance is from £35, which includes access to the circuit, grandstands and live music.
Images: Steve Soper, Coolamundo