The 1997 Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship was won by Alain Menu of the Williams Renault Dealer Racing team, driving a Renault Laguna. Menu dominated the year, setting a record of 12 wins during the season. The runner up was Frank Biela of Audi Sport UK in an Audi A4 Quattro. Third place was Menu's teammate, Jason Plato. In the independent class the championship was won by Robb Gravett in a Honda Accord.
Defending manufacturers champions Audi retained the same driver line up for 1997, with defending drivers champion Frank Biela again partnering John Bintcliffe. Pre-season was not without controversy for Audi as it had been announced that due to their dominance of much of 1996, a further weight penalty would be applied to both of their A4 Quattro's, a penalty that would subsequently be relaxed later in the season.
For BMW, 1996 proved to be their last year in the BTCC as a full manufacturer based outfit in the supertouring era, and their drivers Joachim Winkelhock and Roberto Ravaglia left the series to compete in the STW and the FIA GT Championship respectively.
Williams Renault, now into their third season running the Laguna, had a new driver in the form of future double BTCC champion Jason Plato, replacing 1991 Champion Will Hoy. Plato would drive alongside Swiss ace Alain Menu, three times a runner-up in the BTCC and now into his fifth year with Renault.
The TWR backed Volvo squad, after an ultimately disappointing 1996 despite 5 wins, introduced a new car for 1997, replacing the 850 model with the sleek new S40. Swede Rickard Rydell, who was 3rd in 1996, again drove alongside former Ford driver Kelvin Burt.
Honda, now having their pair of Accords run by the Prodrive team, had arguably the most exciting driver line-up for '97. Hard charger James Thompson, having joined from Vauxhall, and 1994 BTCC champion/ex-F1 driver Gabriele Tarquini would drive for the Japanese marque, who had had a resurgence towards the back end of 1996. They replaced experienced Scot David Leslie, who joined Nissan and 1992 Independent Champion James Kaye.
There was a new works-based team on the scene for this season. Nissan, who had contested last season under the guise of a semi-works effort run by Andy Rouse, fielded a pair of brand new Primeras for David Leslie and Anthony Reid, the latter making his debut in the championship.
Vauxhall, after a difficult 1996 with just a solitary win for James Thompson, replaced the outgoing Yorkshireman with Derek Warwick, who joined both as a driver and team manager of the new-look Triple Eight Vectras after a somewhat low-key first BTCC season with Alfa in 1995. Double champion John Cleland would drive for Vauxhall for the ninth straight year in the BTCC.
Ford elected to introduce the latest shape Mondeo, and the driver line-up looked formidable on paper, with ex-Renault, Toyota and BMW driver Will Hoy joining Kiwi Paul Radisich, Hoy having replaced Steve Robertson, who left the series. The cars were again built by Reynard Motorsport and run by West Surrey Racing.
Peugeot, now into their second season running the 406, maintained the experienced duo of Patrick Watts and 1992 champion Tim Harvey.
The independents championship was one of the most keenly contested for years. Defending independents champion Lee Brookes switched from a Toyota to a Peugeot, whilst rookie Jamie Wall drove the Mint Motorsport Vauxhall Cavalier used by Richard Kaye in 1996. Matt Neal would again enter in his family run Mondeo, however he would subsequently switch to a Nissan Primera mid-season. 1990 Champion Robb Gravett, having run selected rounds in 1996, returned with a Honda, whilst Colin Gallie ran a BMW 318i. Ian Heward and Jan Brunstedt also ran for selected rounds.