The Early Battles. 1980 – 1989.
The early eighties saw Steve continue with the one make theme. He entered the Ford Fiesta Cup and won the championship at his first attempt. Steve then returned to the Rover marque in 1981, racing in British Touring Cars and the MG Metro challenge. He gained class wins in Touring Cars and won the MG Challenge outright. Interestingly though Steve would also compete in the STP Championship driving a Dallara built and Radbourne Racing prepared Fiat X/19 in the same season, often using a helicopter to get over to another circuit in the same day. This enabled the determined racer to quickly develop the skills to be competitive in different types of race car.
1982 was again Touring Cars and class wins against the experienced Richard Longman, coupled with Division 1 class wins in races which were part of the European Touring Car Championship caught the attention of the bosses at Austin Rover. In 1983 when a hungry Steve Soper was given the opportunity to race a Rover Vitesse he won his first race at the Silverstone opener and went on to win another four, took two second places, a third and a fourth. The championship was his, until the hydraulic tappets fitted to the V8 engine were deemed illegal.
There were other noteable highlights in ’83 though. A RAC Tourist Trophy race at a wet
Silverstone against the mighty Jaguar XJS’s and the BMW 635′s in which he won with
Rene Metge. Qualifying 5th ahead of many BMW 635′s at Nurburgring at his first attempt.
His British Saloon Car Championship performance and 2nd in class at Le Mans driving a Mazda 717c with Jeff Allam and James Weaver. All of this made him the winner of the prestigious Grovewood Award.
Equally as important though was interest from none other than BMW. International stardom?? Not yet, but one thing was plain to see, Soperman had arrived on the scene.
Steve stayed with the Rover marque for 1984, but it was a disaster. There was only a single race finish for the entire season due to mechanical unreliability. And then for the 1985 season Jaguar had withdrawn from the championship so TWR could now concentrate on preparing the Vitesse and improving reliability. Tom Walkinshaw and his driving partner Win Percy were successful from the start with wins at the first 3 rounds. Steve joined the championship from round 3 at Donington and was a regular visitor to the podium in the races he was entered in, however this wasn’t enough. Ford’s new challenger appeared towards the end of the season and looked very much like the immediate future. An opportunity arose and Soper signed for Ford.
The 1986 Sierra XR4 Ti wasn’t a great car, but at the Brno round Steve was able to put the car on pole and with a qualifying lap record, there was a fastest lap at Silverstone, and to finish the season at Estoril there was Steve’s first international win. And with the promise of Cosworth Turbo power the next year things were looking well and truly up.
So then in 1987 came the first World Touring Car Championship and an entry with Eggenberger in the then new Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth.
The racing would now become harder against the more experienced and tougher opposition, but disappointment was to return during the season. At the first race, at Monza, the Eggenberger Sierra’s were excluded from the event because of its fuel injection system was deemed illegal. Then after some reasonable results there was a win at Mount Panorama, Bathurst, or so they thought. The winning car of Steve Soper and Pierre Dieudonne, and the second placed sister Eggenberger entry of Klaus Ludwig and Klaus Niedzwiedz were disqualified months after the teams had celebrated, packed up and shipped back to Europe. There was a win at the Nurburgring 24hr race with the two Klaus’s, a win at Calder Park, and some other decent finishes which earned Steve a 6th place in the championship standings and some satisfaction. But it was the next season when he would shine.
In 1988 Steve raced in two rounds of the BTCC. Winning at Thruxton, and coming second to Andy Rouse at Brands Hatch after what can only be called ‘an epic battle’.
The European Championship was now the World Championship and with five wins from nine races Soper and the Sierra RS500 were championship contenders. But curiously at the penultimate round at Silverstone, and with Roberto Ravaglia leading by 18 points after a double win at Spa and a win at Zolder, Ford bosses allowed the privately entered RS500 of Rouse to win. Steve then won the last round at Nogaro and came 2nd in the championship by just 7 points. Ford secured the manufacturers championship but it left a sour taste as BMW would not have let this happen, and they had shown interest 4 years earlier. Pen was put to paper for the 1989 season. All that hard work and disappointment had been worth it. Steve Soper now had the contract he deserved with a prestige company.
After years of watching the German marques race team trucks taking pride of place in paddocks around the world, Steve was now part of the ‘M Team’ and driving a BMW M3 in the highly rated and competitive DTM. He had already made guest appearances for Ford during the DTM’s 1987 and 1988 seasons in supporting roles but now he could properly attack on these new circuits and with the might of BMW support in the form of the Zakspeed team. Immediately there were results. 2 podiums and a win from the first 3 races made the Germans realise that the Englishman wasn’t there boost the championship’s international appeal. Along came more decent finishes and some not so decent finishes but the result was a 5th place in the championship standings.