Bathurst Legends Pt.7: Ford Sierra

By: Scott Newman, Photography by: Ellen Dewar, Nathan Duff

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Bathurst legends: Ford Sierra Bathurst legends: Ford Sierra Bathurst legends: Ford Sierra
Bathurst legends: Ford Sierra Bathurst legends: Ford Sierra Bathurst legends: Ford Sierra
Bathurst legends: Ford Sierra Bathurst legends: Ford Sierra Bathurst legends: Ford Sierra
Bathurst legends: Ford Sierra Bathurst legends: Ford Sierra Bathurst legends: Ford Sierra

Bathurst legends: Ford Sierra. Part 7 of our series on Mount Panorama hero cars

Bathurst Legends Pt.7: Ford Sierra
Bathurst legends: Ford Sierra

 

Ford Sierra

Unpronounceable drivers in unfamiliar cars with the cubic capacity of milk cartons - the introduction of the Group A touring car regulations in 1985 radically changed the face of Australian motor racing. Internationally-recognised, Group A offered Australia the chance to compete on a world stage and bring race cars back closer to their showroom counterparts.

Well, that was the idea, anyway.

Mount Panorama was changing, too. Following the tragic death of Mike Burgmann in 1986, a raft of safety upgrades were made to the track, including the installation of a chicane on Conrod Straight called Caltex Chase. Only at Bathurst could the introduction of a 290km/h corner be called a safety upgrade.

To comply with Group A regulations, 5000 production examples of a particular model had to have been built. However, manufacturers were permitted to race 'Evolution' models, provided 500 had been built and sold. The devastating effectiveness of these Evolution models became apparent at the 1987 Bathurst 1000.

Ford's new Sierra RS500 locked out the first five grid spots, pole-sitter Klaus Ludwig's time almost seven seconds quicker than the fastest Commodore of Allan Grice in seventh, and 0.2sec quicker than Gary Scott's pole time of 1986, despite the extra distance added by Caltex Chase.

Allan Moffat teamed with UK touring car superstar Andy Rouse and they found themselves second on the grid as the quickest local entrant using the same Eggenberger-built Sierra as the leading works Ford Texaco Racing Team. "In '87, you had to have a Sierra or you weren't in the hunt," explains Moffat. "That little thing went like a moon rocket at Bathurst."

The Texaco Racing Team finished one-two, Steve Soper/Pierre Dieudonne winning by two laps from Klaus Ludwig/Klaus Niedzwiedz. Yet the history books show that Peter Brock secured his ninth Bathurst win, having commandeered the VL Commodore of Peter McLeod and Jon Crooke (drivers whose car had failed were allowed to swap into another car in the same team then).

Welcome to the ugly side of Group A. The rot had set in earlier in the week, when the Texaco Sierras were found to have modified inner and outer guards that allowed the fitment of bigger tyres and more suspension travel. Protests were lodged and voices were raised, in particular by locals Larry Perkins and Fred Gibson.

They were outraged that they had been forced to follow the regulations to the letter when the Europeans had adopted a more laissez-faire approach to the rulebook. The Texaco team were allowed to race, then disqualified post-race for fuel irregularities, which they appealed in a legal process that lasted well into 1988, only to eventually be disqualified for their illegal guard measurements. The whole process was immensely damaging to the sport's reputation and caused long-time sponsor James Hardie to walk away.

But if the 1987 race was a shemozzle, then the '88 running descended into farce. Prior to qualifying, it seemed that everybody was protesting everybody else for over-sized turbos, illegal suspension, or just because. It was playground antics on a multi-million dollar scale.

While this was occurring, global governing body FISA decided - and due to the global regulations, they called the shots - that it wouldn't allow the traditional Top 10 shootout to alter the qualifying order and that a rolling start would be used.

In terms of pace, the Sierras were still miles in front - they filled the first seven grid spots - but by the time the race began, most people had given up caring, as half the field still had protests hanging over them.

In the end, the protests were dropped and Tony Longhurst/Tomas Mezera deservedly celebrated their first Bathurst triumph. Fans were turning off, though, unexcited about watching cars irrelevant to the local market battling for Australian motorsport's greatest prize.

It may have been unloved, but the Sierra makes an awesome sight gleaming in the Queensland sun. The colour scheme and race number may be identical, but this isn't the 1988 race-winning car - that sits in the Bathurst museum. This car was used for the 1990 season, and is thought by JB to possibly be the last racing Sierra built in the world. It broke George Fury's lap record from 1984 (set on the pre-Chase circuit layout) during qualifying for the 1990 Bathurst race and recorded a scorching 295km/h down Conrod Straight.

"We used to run 2.2bar of boost in qualifying and maybe 2.0bar in the race," remembers JB, who captured his first Bathurst win behind the wheel of a Sierra in 1989. "They were probably genuinely 560-570bhp as a race car, but the horsepower went down when the intercooler got too hot.

"You developed a driving style - as you turned into the corner, you put your foot flat on the throttle and nothing happened. By the middle of the corner it was beginning to get some boost and by corner exit it had too much boost so you were coming off the throttle. It used to burn the back tyres, you just couldn't not do it.

"[This car's] got less turbo lag than the Dick Johnson Sierras had but it's also got less boost. It's an absolute cracker of a car, though. I reckon it's probably the world's best Sierra. I'm really impressed with the build - I'd like to race this car!"

Thanks to the Bowden Family, Terry Ashwood, and Lakeside International Raceway

Career highlights: Ford Sierra

· 1988 Tooheys 1000 - 1st (Longhurst/Mezera)

· 1988 ATCC - 1st (Dick Johnson, 6 wins)

· 1989 Tooheys 1000 - 1st (Johnson/Bowe)

· 1989 ATCC - 1st (Dick Johnson, 4 wins)

 

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