Anyway, the final rounds of the Australasian season pretty well tracked the World Touring Car Championship, as it thundered towards its dramatic, controversial, extremely bitter finale.
Bob Jane T-Marts 500
It would be easy to dismiss this as a race of convenience – you know, we've come all this way, spent 20+ hours on a plane, might as well get another race in before we go home, yeah? But I think that does a huge disservice to the passion and determination of its owner, Bob Jane. He'd spent a fortune turning the mickey-mouse Calder circuit into a top-tier motorsport venue, and he was determined to host something significant there. He'd tried to get the Australian Grand Prix, but lost it to Adelaide; he'd tried to get the World Motorcycle Grand Prix, but lost it to Phillip Island. So when the World Touring Car Championship came to town, Jane had pulled out the stops to ensure he got a round after Bathurst, making Australia the only country on Earth to host more than one round of the WTCC.
It was a spectacularly daft circuit as well, combining the existing Calder Park road course with the brand-new NASCAR-oval Thunderdome into what the Americans would call a "roval." Cars came blasting down the front straight as normal, but then braked hard well before the first turn and instead nipped left, through a narrow opening onto what was about to become the back straight of the Thunderdome. From there they tore the wrong way around the Thunderdome in what was basically one huge right-hand turn, before pulling up again to nip through another small opening in the concrete barriers to rejoin the road course just before Turn 1, completing the rest of the lap as normal. The full lap was now 4.2km, and the race distance was set at 120 laps.
It was probably the only time road-oriented European touring cars ever tackled a high-banked oval in anger – as far as I know, DTM races at the AVUS took place with a flattened Nordkurve, and only sports cars raced on the Monza sopraelevata after 1961 (if anyone knows better, the comment box is below, I've love to hear about it). This was sure to bring a bit of culture shock – the Bathurst broadcast mentioned that Allan Grice, with his NASCAR experience, had taken Win Percy for a run around the Thunderdome in a road car, and frightened the living shit out of him – Percy just couldn't believe how fast you could get a car around the banking.
Sadly, YouTube footage of the race seems to be rather lacking. There's a highlight reel of the Yokohama/Bob Jane T-Marts 300, but that was just a dress-rehearsal on 9 August to prove the layout's readiness, and was won by Nissan's Terry Shiel and John Bowe, the two co-drivers getting some seat time ahead of the main events. The Bob Jane T-Marts 500, Round 9 of the WTCC, was held on 11 October. Both were run in lovely overcast Victorian weather, but only the 500 had the privilege of starting in the pouring rain.
The 32-strong entry list read like a culled version of Bathurst: Eggenberger, DJR and HDT all fronted up with two-car teams, but both the Oxo Supercube and Peter Jackson Nissan teams had dialled it back to single cars only. Between the wrecked #34 and the engine-troubled #35, Andrew Miedecke probably only had one full car functioning anyway, but Fred Gibson's reasons are mysterious, having put his full-timers Fury and Seton in the same car and left his co-drivers Terry Shiel and John Bowe on the bench. Murray Carter had brought along his Netcomm Skyline, while newcomer Kieren Wills had shown up with yet another Statesman Shirts-backed Skyline to be shared with co-driver Phil Henley. Despite being New Zealanders, and despite sharing a racing number with the Team Nissan NZ Skyline that had raced at Bathurst, this was a completely separate machine, built by Wills himself out of a road car with support from Nissan NZ.
|The Bigazzi BMW of Vogt/Heger in free practice|
BMW had once more scrounged up all the cars they could muster, with five out of the six cars entered at Bathurst patched up and ready for Round 9. JPS Team BMW followed Fred Gibson's lead in entering only a single car for Richards and Longhurst, though BMW numbers were maintained via an all-new #62 Schwaben Motorsport M3 driven by the very posh-sounding Baron Thomas von Löwis of Menar and Prince Leopold of Bavaria. Rather than try to fit all that across the windscreen, the team opted for a very matter-of-fact “PRINCE-BARON” legend instead. And fair enough too.
Another newcomer was a second Maserati Biturbo, a #4 with factory Italian drivers to join the #1 of Kevin Bartlett and Armin Hahne, both entered by Pro Team Italia. In the smallest class, it was down to a two-horse race between the #100 Alfa Romeo 33 of Francia/Toffoli, and the #91 Corolla of Toyota Team Australia – not a Sprinter coupé like their usual cars, which had both been wrecked at Bathurst, but their third car, a rather less sexy front-wheel drive hatchback. The rest of the grid was the usual assortment of privateer Commodores – Noske's Kalari Transport VK, Mulvihill's Yellow Pages VK, Perkins' Enzed VK (he had a VL built, but it was still unsorted, so he left it at home) – and the Gulsons in their BMW 635. Lawrie Nelson also entered his Capri Components Mustang, but apparently failed to qualify.
Once again the Texaco Sierras qualified at the front, Ludwig taking another pole with a 1:42.92, about three seconds faster than Grice's pole time in August. With rain in the early laps the conditions were treacherous, not least because the rain was tipped to be brief and many elected to start on slicks. Soper and Dieudonné were not troubled on their way to victory, but this time the BMWs weren't so far behind, Roberto Ravaglia bouncing back from his fainting fit at Bathurst to clinch a 2nd place, just 22 seconds behind. Altfrid Heger was lucky to escape a serious accident on the banking, when he blew a tyre at close to 250km/h; as banked ovals have always done, he was flung back onto the track and into the path of von Löwis, and both cars were totalled.
After qualifying 5th, meanwhile, Moffat once again never needed to concern himself with driving "his" car, as Rouse blew the head gasket after just 21 laps. Dick Johnson qualified badly but managed to finish this time,albeit in 13th place with plenty of damage, 7 laps down on the winners; conversely, the Crichton/O'Brien car qualified well but retired on lap 25. This was the second time Rouse, Eggenberger and Johnson Sierras all met on the same track, and he hadn't exactly covered himself or Australia in glory. Next time, he vowed, it would be different.
Nissan Mobil 500
Just as the Australian rounds had seen a strong Australian contingent, the return to Wellington for the year's second Nissan Mobil 500 saw a strong New Zealand contingent. Among the 37-car grid were the Anderson brothers, Bruce and Wayne, with their yellow Pinepac Mustang (incorrectly listed as the #43 on Wikipedia, it was actually #32), while fellow Kiwis Glenn McInture and Robbie Ker were down to drive the #23 Police Community Mustang.
The Australians, meanwhile, seemed to've found completely different sponsors for this one race. Larry Perkins and Denny Hulme were back in a #11 Commodore, at last debuting Larry's first VL, but in Casio signage rather than Enzed. Dick Johnson Racing showed up with their usual two cars, but with the usual Shell Ultra-Hi livery replaced by one for DDB Needham, an international advertising network (since 1996 it's DDB Worldwide); Andrew Miedecke similarly had a DSR livery in place of Oxo, and co-driver Phil Myhre in place of Don Smith, who at last seemed to've extricated himself from the team he'd founded. Gibson Motorsport was back to a two-car team, although that wouldn't last long on race day, while Team Nissan NZ was out in force with both their Skylines in action, the #25 of Graeme Bowkett/Kent Baigent supplemented by the #24 Graeme Crosby and Gary Sprague (the Kieren Wills car was nowhere to be seen). Brock's Mobil HDT had Neil Crompton back driving the #10, with Brock’s 1985 co-driver David Oxton to share the load, while there was some confusion over the Brock/Parson car's numbering – the doors said #5, but the roof (and the commentators) said 05. Similarly, Wikipedia lists the Grice/Percy Commodore as its usual #2, but footage from the day reveals it was actually #3.
BMW was back to a full twelve cars, the usual Schnitzer, CiBiEmme, Bigazzi and Schwaben cars supplemented by not by JPS Team BMW, who stayed home, but by local Kiwi entries. John Sax's Sax Racing team rocked up with an M3 for Sax himself alongside Graeme Lorimar, while returning to his homeland, Jim Richards had once again teamed up with Trevor Crowe in what was probably another ex-JPS M3, this time a #53 sponsored not by Viacard, as Wikipedia says, but by the Cardinal trucking concern. The #13 Viacard BMW, an old 635 CSi, was palmed off on Charlie O'Brien and Avon Hyde, while the Gulsons had also brought along their 635 CSi. Without the JPS team making an appearance, Tony Longhurst had had to fend for himself, but at the last minute he'd managed to score a seat in the #44 CiBiEmme machine alongside Altfrid Heger.
The twelfth and last BMW in the field was the #55, a smaller 325i entered by Bryce Racing to be handled by JPS engine man Ludwig Finauer, and a young Kiwi driver named Paul Radisich. Well, when I say "smaller," it actually had a bigger engine than the M3, but it was nowhere near as powerful so it basically counted toward the tiddler class. The actual tiddler class, meanwhile, pitched five Corollas (four AE86 Sprinter hatchbacks and one AE82 FX-GT) against the lone Alfa Romeo 33, again driven by Francia and Toffoli.
The really intriguing entries in the race, however, were the two Söderqvist Racing Services Volvos, both sponsored by U-Bix Copiers. This was the Swedish team that taken over the Volvo Dealer Team's orphaned machinery at the end of last year, so Volvo fans look sharp – the #4 of Ian "Inky" Tulloch and Per-Gunnar Andersson was actually the ex-Mark Petch 240T, winner of this race in 1985 and Robbie Francevic's ATCC winner in 1986.
But of course, none of these entries matter when the Eggenberger Texaco Sierras were around, looking the same as ever, slick and invincible. Descriptions follow for anyone unable to watch the videos:
As usual the Eggenberger Sierras ran 1-2, Soper ahead of Niedzwiedz, with Grice trying to keep up and Emmanuele Pirro down in 4th. Pirro put a move on Grice early to move up to 3rd. Glenn Seton had a radiator problem after a coming-together with the Baigent/Bowkett Skyline, and parked the #15 Peter Jackson car with just 7 laps completed. He moved over to take co-driving duties with Fury, Bowe and Shiel once again finding themselves benched. Robbie Ker in the Police Community Mustang hit the wall on lap 9 and Grouillard crashed his Bigazzi BMW on lap 10 (Ker was probably being lapped and they hit each other) and, with nowhere to move the cars, they were simply pushed against the guardrail and left there. Perkins pitted his Casio VK with front-end damage after failing to avoid two BMWs making contact. Soper put a lap on Crichton in the second DJR Sierra, which had some rear bumper plastic flailing in the wind, but soon moved over to let the #7 take the lead, playing the team game for the championship. Crompton pitted to have a loose front splitter removed from his Mobil Commodore, dropping from 14th to 23rd. Slicing through the backmarkers, Pirro almost collided with Bryan Bate in the #92 Corolla Sprinter. The #16 U-Bix Copiers Volvo of Ulf Granberg was pushed into the garage with the engine overheating. Grice was throwing the #3 Bob Jane T-Marts VL around like a paper aeroplane, got a bit too aggressive in the hairpin and two-wheeled it into a brush with the Armco on the exit. He got away without any real damage, but pitted and handed over to Percy soon after, citing an array of racing driver's excuses, like the track being greasy and oily and starting to break up. Brancatelli then threw his CiBiEmme BMW at the guardrail in the Nissan Mobil Chicane on lap 44, retiring the car. Brock made his scheduled stop and got out of the #5 and virtually collapsed, sagging into a chair and letting the pit crews throw some cold water over him. Fury pitted from 4th and handed over to Seton, who rejoined 5th. Soper likewise pitted from 2nd to hand over to Dieudonné.
Dieudonné got no help from the blue flags in passing David Parsons, but made the most of the phenomenal squirt of the Sierra to zip past on pit straight. Inky Tulloch completely missed his braking point in the #4 U-Bix Copiers Volvo and had a head-on with the guardrail at the Town Hall chicane. He got going again, but the radiator damage wasn’t going to help his turbo engine much. Niedzwiedz made a scheduled stop from the lead to hand over to Ludwig. While getting up to speed Ludwig was passed for the lead by Pirro, which he could've passed off as Pirro being out of sequence from having yet to make a pit stop, but that wasn’t really guaranteed with the economical BMWs. Then Tulloch was seen stranded again on lap 68 with his right-front wheel at a precarious angle, which Richard Hay pointed out could've been either the cause or the result of his collision with the Armco earlier. That triggered the Pace Car, which threw BMW's plans into turmoil as the M3s were just coming up on their pit windows. Most were compensating for the speed of the Sierras by trying to make it through on just one stop, but with pit lane closed under the Pace Car the margins were suddenly looking very tight. Ravaglia was left standing around in pit lane, helmet on but wondering if Pirro was going to bring it in or not. Anette Meeuviseen in the #47 was brought in as a test, the idea being if the Kiwis let this car rejoin, they’d bring in Pirro. Stermitz went straight out, so things were looking good for Pirro – except the Kiwis switched the lights off on the Pace Car at the last second, the car going dark and diving into pit lane in the same moment, leaving no time for the drivers to misunderstand things. The race went green just as Pirro made his stop. Ravaglia rejoined for the run to the flag; it was just a matter of whether he could narrow the gap to less than the Sierras' final pit stops. Percy put a nice move on Parsons for 5th place, taking the inside line at the Northern Hairpin and forcing Parsons to go the long way around – a move for pride more than position given they were now laps down on the leaders, but impressively firm and well-executed nevertheless. Crompton pitted the #10 Mobil Commodore after a two-hour stint and handed it over to David Oxton. With cold tyres he was easy prey for Glenn Seton, who immediately deprived him of a place. The #17 Sierra then made its second stop for Hansford to get out and Johnson to get back in.
David Oxton pulled the #10 over in Toop Walk on lap 89, smoke coming from the back end – Oxton soon told they thought a support arm for the rear axle had pulled free of the body. Dick Johnson then pulled over just on the exit of the Northern Hairpin on lap 103. Brock continued to storm around, hoping some pressure on those ahead of him might push them into mistakes or mechanical failures. Then Win Percy was in a few laps early, and Les Small came out and eyeballed the right-rear wheel, suggesting yet more axle problems had arisen. The car rejoined with Grice at the wheel but it was smoking badly. Dieudonné pitted to hand over to Soper, but soon it emerged a rubber seal had got stuck open as the car started gushing fuel in left-hand turns. Within a lap he was shown a mechanical black flag, and although Soper came in and the problem was easily fixed, the Eggenberger team got in some serious trouble for not doing it on the next lap, as required by the rules; when the official rather sternly pointed this out, the team protested that the flag hadn’t been shown three times, as the rules required, but only once! Despite the dramas car #6 kept 3rd place. Then Stermitz was seen pulling over on Jervois Quay on lap 126, the right-front guard apparently having taken a whack and now rubbing on the tyre. An incident into the Northern Hairpin as the Casio Commodore of Perkins arrived on the outside with Ravaglia on the inside and the Skyline of Seton from behind; Ravaglia, naturally, nipped through without a hitch and Perkins converted his wide line into a criss-cross, leaving Seton high and dry with nowhere to go. He was wise enough to keep it out of the barriers, barely, but he was brought to a complete stop in the process.
Ravaglia was now only 15 seconds behind Ludwig with no more pit stops between either car and the finish. Ravaglia got his head down and charged, and a lap later it was 13 seconds, but most thought it was too late to catch the black Fords. Blue flags got the #16 U-Bix Copiers Volvo out of Ludwig's way, then he very gingerly passed the Gulson 635 into the Town Hall corner. Soper got boxed in between Brock, Seton and the Pinepac Mustang and got turned around in the Northern Hairpin, but luckily no-one hit him. He rejoined, flustered but unscuffed. But nothing had gone even slightly wrong for car #7: Klaus Ludwig swung it calmly through the final turn and was greeted by the chequered flag, taking the (second) Nissan Mobil 500 for Texaco Eggenberger Motorsport. 2nd went to the hard-charging Ravaglia, with 3rd to the troubled Soper and 4th to Seton’s Skyline, a lap down. 5th was car #5, Peter Brock taking a decent result in the car that never finished Bathurst. This time, at least, the crowd clapped politely, with none of the booing they'd got in Australia.
But the interesting part was a throwaway comment from Mike Raymond in the closing stages, about “if Ludwig wants to be the World Touring Car Champion, 1987 Edition – and a limited edition, at that,” suggesting everyone knew the WTCC was already on the rocks.
The final round at Fuji was all about settling the matter of the World Championship – Ludwig or Ravaglia? Ford or BMW? Step forward and place your bets.
|#37 TOM'S Supra Turbo of Geoff Lees & Kaoro Hoshino|
As you might imagine, the vast majority of the entries on the 46-car grid were Japanese, a gaggle of Toyota Corollas, Toyota Celicas, Mitsubishi Starions, Honda Civics and Nissan Skylines (both DR30s and the new HR31), leavened by a handful of European cars and even a lone VK Commodore for Yasuo Ishimura and Masahiro Kimoto (though Inari only knows why). Not wanting to leave anything to chance, Eggenberger entered a third car for German drivers Armin Hahne and Bernd Schneider, while BMW brought along the usual complement of Schnitzer, Bigazzi and CiBiEmme cars, with the European presence boosted by another appearance from the Söderqvist Volvo team.
Unfortunately, photos and race reports for all of this is pretty difficult to find. Given that the Japanese are a) a car people, and b) insular as all hell, I imagine there's actually copious documentation out there, but it's probably locked behind a kanji firewall, which they can see no reason to make available to the roundeyes. If anyone can link me with translations of Japanese race reports, again, the comment box is down the bottom. I've love to hear more, because I've found this round above all others hard going. This evening-news cut of the race is literally everything I can find on YouTube:
So, on the Friday during practice, FISA's verdict over the Bathurst wheel arch issue was passed down, and the Eggenberger cars were judged to be in breach of the rules. The wheel arches were indeed bigger than standard, which had helped to lower the cars and fit 17-inch wheels, which slightly aided tyre life. If Eggenberger did return the wheel arches to a legal configuration – which I'm not convinced they did, but if they ever did it was here – and the team was allowed to practice and qualify on Saturday, with the modifications having made no difference to their performance.
Touringcarracing.net says that, "Now Ford (Ludwig and Niedzwiedz) was 6 points behind instead of 28 points in the lead," but I wonder where they got those numbers from. By my count, Ludwig came into the weekend with 258 points to Ravaglia’s 226 – a 32-point gap with a maximum 40 still up for grabs. Fuji was to be the decider, but then the Bathurst ruling cost his 30 points for 2nd in the James Hardie, while Ravaglia was bumped up two places, so his 20 points (8 for 5th overall plus 12 for 3rd in class) became 24 (12 each for 3rd overall and in class). So by my reckoning, on Saturday Ludwig qualified for the race knowing he was on 228 points to Ravaglia’s 230. But the precise numbers aren’t important, what matters is:
Ludwig and Niedzwiedz had to win, while a second Sierra had to block Ravaglia from 2nd. … Ford tried to play it safe, and entered a third car for Hahne and Schneider under the banner of Andy Rouse – a bad decision, since Rouse sold his own car to Japan and shared this with [Naoki] Nagasaka – with this new entry, he lost the chance for points, while Hahne and Schneider had endless problems and never got near the front.The final classification showed Roberto Ravaglia was World Touring Car Champion on 269 points, a single point ahead of Klaus Ludwig, on 268! That seemingly also completed the trifecta for Andy Rouse, having screwed over Johnson, Moffat and now Eggenberger in a single season, all in the pursuit of sterling over silverware – it’s a wonder Ford didn’t have the bastard bumped off. But there was some consolation to be had from the results: the #7 Sierra finished ahead of the #46 BMW on the manufacturer’s table, 268 to 249, so in the end the Driver’s Championship went to a BMW pilot, but the Manufacturer’s Championship went to Ford.
...after practice the Ford empire was happy; two cars on the front row, only the third car was way back in 12th. BMW was happy too; Ravaglia was only 2 seconds a lap slower than the Sierras.
The race started well for Ford, though Soper took the lead after an error of Ludwig. The third car ran into all sorts of problems, concluding in a collision with a Holden; they finished a lowly 17th.
Just before half-distance, the Sierras came in, took a little fuel and soft tires and haunted [sic] for 20 laps. After the next regular stop, they were still ahead of the BMWs, led by Ravaglia. But 17 laps before the end, Dieudonné was missing; he came in with a blown rear tire. So Ravaglia was now second in the WTCC classification; to add insult to injury, Rouse finished second on the road but did not take away points from Ravaglia, who took the title!
South Pacific Touring Car Championship
The Group A support race for the 1987 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide was held on the same weekend as Fuji, so it was here the Australians and Europeans went their separate ways. Although billed as Round 1 of the 1987 South Pacific Touring Car Championship, both Auto Action and Racing Car News articles pointed out that no-one knew where Round 2 would be held, so the series was basically dead in the water. After a hard-fought ATCC and World Championship rounds at Bathurst, Calder and Wellington, none of the Australian teams were keen to ship their cars and equipment all the way back to New Zealand for a series neither the fans nor the sponsors cared about much. Indeed, delays in shipping had already hampered Adelaide preparations for some (though Fred Gibson stolen a march over his opposition by air-freighting his cars back).
|Skippy Parsons in the Mobil VL puts a move on Denis Horley in the Netcomm Skyline|
So after a long year in hell, Dick Johnson finally got a break between the wicked walls of the Adelaide street circuit. Despite running only one car, which had a diff problem in qualifying and started from 5th on the grid, Dick worked his way into a comfortable lead in the early laps. Both Brock and Seton went out after challenging early, while behind, Grice and Perkins resumed their now-usual battle. Fury made his way past the duelling Commodores late in the race and started closing rapidly on Johnson when the Sierra started slowing, blamed at the time on a fuel pump failure. Dick has since clarified, however, that the fuel pump was fine:
What the problem was, we discovered, the fuel was actually vaporising which aerates the fuel. So it was getting half fuel and half air. – Dick Johnson, Dick Johnson Racing: 30-Year AnniversaryJohnson brought the ailing car over the line to win the 32-lap race, his second victory of 1987, a consolation after a terrible year. Fury finished 2nd, with Perkins beating Grice to 3rd. Colin Bond finished 5th in a final shining moment for the embattled Alfa Romeo 75, making its final appearance after major repairs to its Bathurst damage. Joe Beninca said the car’s increased competitiveness was purely the result of more engine gains.
For Adelaide we fitted one of the early Autronic engine management systems which only controlled the fuel injection, but it allowed us to optimise the fuel mixture through the rev range. If we’d had an EMS with separate fuel and ignition [maps] it would have performed even better.
Given that and other improvements the car would have been really good if it had run the next year. We would have been able to maintain at least 330bhp in race trim with reliability. I remember running one of those 1.8 engines in my sports sedan and it was making about 550bhp [with larger turbo etc] so there was nothing wrong with the engine in terms of being able to cope with the power. – Joe Beninca, Mark Oastler’s Alfa Romeo 75 Turbo Evoluzione: A Need For Speed, Shannons Club
Overall, I think the lesson of the 1987 World Touring Car Championship was that that Group A was a disaster outside its native Europe. The principle behind the rules – a sliding scale of engine size, tyre width and minimum weight – wasn’t exactly a bad one, and if they’d done a better job of putting the turbos on a leash and easing the weight penalty for muscle cars, there’s no reason it couldn’t have remained a roaring success into the 90's. But it still would only have been a European success. The core of Group A was development, one manufacturer against another, and there was no fair way to pitch Holden, with its prospective market of 20 million buyers, against the economic might of BMW, with a prospective market of 400 million. As I say again, local markets are local, and the Australian preference (in those days) for four-door sedans with V8 engines would never allow Holden to build an M3 or Sierra equivalent (or a Skyline equivalent, for that matter).
And even if the technical rules had found a workaround, the differences in unwritten rules – the constant, ongoing negotiation between teams, scrutineers and fans over what is and isn't acceptable in racing – would never really go away. Australia is 15,000km from Europe, and Eurovision memes aside, that remains a simple fact.
In the end, Ford lost the court case, which means that the cars were illegal, according to the wording of the regulations and how it could be interpreted. We had to accept being deprived of a prestigious and relished win.But that’s just it, isn’t it? No-one protested at Calder because no-one cared: Bathurst was the one that mattered. But to me the whole "Bathurst protest cost us the WTCC" narrative is a fairly myopic take on things. This version of the story never seems to mention Rouse's shenanigans at Fuji, nor the BMWs being disqualified from Monza right back at the start of the year, which could set up the argument that the Bathurst decision merely redressed the balance.
For us drivers, we never knew and it was irrelevant. The fact is the whole matter developed about a technicality for which we could not feel any difference: the weekend after Bathurst, Steve and I won again easily at Calder Park with the same car in “legal” trim. The car felt exactly the same. We would both have preferred to be stripped from the victory in Calder rather than the glory of winning the big one, the James Hardie 1000. – Pierre Dieudonné, AMC #87
Either way, the whole affair did nothing for the European perception of Australia, who couldn’t help but read it as paranoia and sour grapes over our poor showing on home turf. Which isn’t necessarily wrong, but it’s also true that we in Australia felt robbed – our teams had been forced to throw away $100,000 worth of racing cars and invest in new ones that cost three times as much, yet were actually slower (in the early days at least)... only to find out that, after all that effort, the Europeans didn’t adhere to their own rulebook anyway. The whole schemozzle had been immensely damaging for the sport, long-time race sponsor James Hardie walked away, and protest ringleader Frank Gardner – formerly one of the shining stars of the Ford empire – had incurred their eternal enmity.
|WTCC maestro Andy Priaulx leads the pack, Brazil '06|
Today of course, the FIA World Touring Car Championship rides again, but today the world is a very different place than it was 30 years ago. Shanghai, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur are counted among the great world cities, and Proton, Tata and Haval are counted among the makers of mass consumer automobiles. But even so, with world cars like the Ford Fiesta, Dacia Logan and Fiat Palio selling up a storm, the WTCC is really just the same old Euro buzz box formula, the ETCC rebranded, with guest rounds in Brazil, Morocco and Macau to keep up the pretense. Formula 1 and Le Mans Prototypes offer the universal language of engineering, but I don't know if the world will ever really be ready for a World Touring Car Championship. Thus I stand by my original thesis, that Australia has V8 Supercars, Germany has DTM, Brazil has Stock Car Brasil and the U.S. has NASCAR, and under no common rulebook could the twain ever meet.