Wednesday, 20 September 2017

13 September: From Spa to Sandown

By September 1987, Allan Moffat's time in the wilderness was almost over.

Granted, his years away from Ford weren't always what you'd call "wilderness." After being abandoned by Broadmeadows following their steamroller year in 1977, Moffat had made himself front-and-centre for a new manufacturer seeking Bathurst glory (and ironically one that was partly owned by Ford) – the Mazda Motor Corporation. In 1983 they'd given Moffat his fourth ATCC title (one more than Peter Perfect) but that hungered-after Bathurst win never came, and with the advent of Group A in 1985 Moffat had once more found himself abandoned by his patron. Until he got a phone call from Peter Brock, and suddenly found himself, against all auguries, a Holden driver.

Which of course fell apart when Peter started listening to the indigo children.

And so he'd spent the first half of 1987 driving for his own Allan Moffat Racing, but in a HDT-built VL Commodore, on the wrong side of the world. After that stunning and unexpected win at Monza, however, Moffat and co-driver John Harvey had found the inaugural World Touring Car Championship hard going – once the BMW M3s were sorted, the results dried up in a hurry. At the Jarama 4 Hours, Moffat and Harvey ran as high as 8th before a wheel stud broke during a pit stop, leading to retirement; in the Burgundy 500 at Dijon, venue for Villeneuve-vs-Arnoux, Moffat found himself dicing for 9th spot when a conrod broke, again ending his race. With two DNFs in three races, the Aussies decided to give the Nürburgring Touring Car Grand Prix, disappointingly held on the three-year-old GP-Strecke rather than the awesome Nordschleife, a miss to focus their efforts on Spa instead. Commodore numbers were maintained, however, thanks to another Holden runner making his belated WTCC debut – Tom Walkinshaw, with a new Herbie Clips-sponsored VL built in his own TWR workshops, using parts flown over by Holden themselves. HRT fans, take note – the road to the Lowndes/Skaife golden age began right here, in Germany.

Appropriate for a modified Opel.

The Spa 24 Hour was the final highlight of Moffat's WTCC campaign. In theory the powerful, unstressed Holden V8 would be in its element on Spa's ultra-fast straights, especially the long climb from Stavelot to the Bus Stop Chicane, theoretically giving it the edge over the fragile Fords and underpowered BMWs. It seemed others agreed, because there were three other Commodores entered for the race – one entered by Dutch team Jeroen Hin Racing; one entered by "Formula 1 Invest. Ltd" and headlined by Michel Delcourt, Allan Grice's Belgian co-driver from the previous year (the car must've made an impression); and one entered by the Mobil Holden Dealer Team, driven by Peter Brock, hired Tasmanian gun David Parsons, and former JPS team sidekick Neville Crichton.

But the weekend was not without its complications. A 24-hour marathon meant three drivers rather than two, so Moffat and Harvey drafted in Tony Mulvihill to complete the trio, a capable driver but better known for being the loose cannon on the Channel Seven broadcast team (a Mulvihill joke that only works when spoken: Q. What's brown and comes out of Cowes backwards? A. The Phillip Island ferry). Luckily (or not), any chance of a podium complication were eliminated when Mulvihill failed to qualify. The car had made the race, but Moffat and Harvey would have to look after the driving duties alone. "The longest drive I've ever had," was Moffat's weary comment. "It was 14 hours at the wheel and it rained all day." Brock's car blew a piston with 206 laps completed, or just over 1,400 kilometres on the car's overworked odo – remember that fact, because this car would become important later.


But Moffat and Harvey kept going throughout the night and all the next day, and took the chequered flag with the full 24 hours completed and 468 laps on the chart – agonisingly, just short of the 469 of the 3rd-placed BMW. It seemed nothing could live with the M3's absurd tyre life, even on a power circuit like Spa-Francorchamps, and the Bavarian screamers took a 1-2-3 finish... but 4th was a deeply impressive result for a team with such limited resources. Deciding to end on a high, Moffat and Harvey wisely called time on their WTCC fling and started heeding the siren song of home. Australia's season of endurance was about to begin, and given the machine FISA was about to rubber-stamp, the Commodore's time at the head of the grid was surely nearing its end.

Ford Firepower – the Sierra RS500
The Ford Sierra RS500 – with apologies to Godzilla, the signature car of the Group A formula – didn't quite arrive with the calm efficiency of a plan coming together. The reality was more like everyone saw the pace of the BMW M3 at Monza, shat a collective brick, started badgering the factory for updates and forced Ford into a mad rush to get the thing on the market before it was too late. Whether for reasons of budget, logistics or simple expertise, the job was not undertaken by Ford themselves, but by a third-party tuner who would become familiar to Aussie Ford fans in later years – Aston Martin Tickford Ltd.

The Tickford name traced back as far as 1820, to the Salmons & Sons coachbuilding business based on Tickford Street in Newport Pagnell, near Milton Keynes. Like Holden, then, Tickford had its origins in the days when coachbuilding meant actually building coaches, and like Holden this had led them into the emerging automotive industry when buyers started coming to them with chassis, engines and ideas for exactly what passenger compartment they wanted to mate it all together. After WWII, this led them to pair up with one of the most prestigious names in the business – Aston Martin – until plunging fortunes for Aston led them, in 1981, to become a mere subsidiary of CH Industrials. A backward step for their prestige maybe, but it did leave them free to partner with other names like Jaguar, MG... and Ford.

Having sampled their work with the RS200 rally car, Ford felt comfortable awarding Tickford a £500,000 contract to convert the necessary RS Cosworths to RS500 spec. With time pressing, Ford simply delivered the final job-lot of Cosworths direct from the factory in Genk, Belgium, to Tickford's workshop near Bedworth, in the British Midlands. That meant the first task was the difficult de-waxing of vehicles that had stood in open storage for months. It also meant instead of getting half-assembled cars that merely had to be completed, Tickford were given brand-new, fully-completed RS Cosworths which then had to be party dismantled and rebuilt as RS500s. This included removing brand-new Cosworth engines, even though they'd never been run; nobody seems to know what happened to the five-hundred junked "Cozzers," but rumour says Ford took them back and recouped by installing them in early Sapphire Cosworths. Even more bizarrely, none of the RS500 logbooks were amended to reflect this change, so to this day every RS500 on the road has the "wrong" engine number.

They were also built in random order, which is why their chassis number bears no relation to the Tickford serial number placed low on the engine block. "Someone would just wander about the 500 cars in the car park with a set of keys in his hand until he found the car to which they belonged," explained Paul Linfoot, of the RS Owners Club. "That would be the next car that got built." Nevertheless, the job was done swiftly. Production began on 9 April, and within a couple of weeks Tickford was churning out 15 a day.

Compared to the standard RS Cosworth – which was already a pretty exciting piece of kit – the RS500 scored a thicker-walled cylinder block, upgraded oil and cooling systems, a throttle body widened from 52 to 76mm, larger air-to-air intercooler, and an upgraded fuel pump supplying fuel via two rails feeding a total of eight injectors (four of which weren't plumbed on the road version, as they just weren't needed). All of this was to feed the engine enough fuel-air mix to justify a huge Garrett T04E turbocharger, as big as a soccer ball and operating at 0.7 bar. The massive turbo was probably never going to be used to its full potential on the road cars – it existed solely to provide the race teams with a bigger measurement in their FISA paperwork – but the aftermarket tuners certainly appreciated it.

In the same vein, the revised rear suspension package included lots of extra brackets with nothing attached to them, so the teams could fit their own suspension components and still satisfy the rule that they were using "standard" attachment points. The fog lights were removed, but supplied in the boot, hidden beneath the new secondary rear wing and 30mm Gurney flap extension to the RS Cosworth's existing "whale tail" wing. Tickford claimed 90kg of downforce at 160km/h, which mightn't sound like much compared to the tonnes of an F1 car, but it was certainly enough to make a difference.


Perhaps most importantly, Tickford redesigned the front bumper with extra ducting to funnel lots of air through to the engine bay and keep temperatures under some semblance of control (hence the missing fog lights). This goes a long way to explaining why the RS Cosworth was the one you wanted to own day-to-day, and not the RS500 – all you got on the RS500 was about 10% more power (some 167 kW at 6,000rpm), no extra torque (281 Nm at 4,500rpm), lots of extra drag from that ventilated front end, and much, much more turbo lag. Ergo, on the road it was a cranky, unforgiving beast, a caged lion always looking for an excuse to lash out.

It also cost £19,950, or £4,000 more than the RS Cosworth, which was north of $37,000 in contemporary Australian dollars or just over $80,000 today. That was the U.K. list price, too, so for an Australian buyer there'd be import fees and taxes on top of that, a lot of money when, as I've noted before, you could get an XF Fairmont Ghia for less than twenty grand. But you certainly got a lot of car for your money: 0-100 took 6.2 seconds, the drag strip took 15.5, and the top speed was around 245km/h – respectable figures for a stock car with a boot and back seats, even by today's standards. (For comparison, the nearest Australian equivalent – Holden's VL Calais Turbo – boasted an identical time over the 400 metres, but was slightly slower to 100km/h (7.8 seconds); in theory it was capable of a similar 250km/h top speed, but because it was over-geared it was out of puff at 220 or so. On the upside, its local manufacture meant you could get one for less than $27,000.)

On the other hand, since that's exactly how the Group A rules worked, it took remarkably little aftermarket fiddling to liberate the engine's full potential – the crank, rods and valves could all remain standard, so throw in a ported head, hot cam, lowered static compression ratio and a new chip to crank the boost from 0.7 to 2.4 bar, and suddenly you had a 370 kW road car (for how long? That was up to you and your sense of restraint). Lest we forget, with a kerb weight of 1,240kg, that was more power and less weight than a Ferrari F40, and the sticker prices for those started at U.S.$400,000. No wonder so many tuning houses stepped up to the plate, and the car became a deity to teenagers of a certain tax bracket.

All were intended to be black, but the rush meant that wasn't possible; only 392 came in black, with 52 in Moonstone Blue and another 52 in Diamond White, including the four prototypes. But by the time the last car emerged from Tickford on 30 August 1987, the RS500 had already been homologated by FISA, and had already taken its first scalps. The #7 Texaco RS500 of Eggenberger drivers Klaus Ludwig and Klaus Niedzwiedz had taken a dream win on debut for the new car in the Grand Prix Brno, Round 6 of the WTCC, on 16 August. On the same day, Graham Goode had taken the car's first class win in the BTCC round at Donington Park. A week later, Mike Newman and Rob Speak took the car's first outright win in the following Oulton Park enduro. The writing was on the wall: the RS500 was far faster and more durable than the outgoing RS Cosworth, and relegated the M3 to a class car overnight. It would never win a round outright again.

Enter Sandown
So it was with some mirth that Allan Moffat fronted up to the Castrol 500 at Sandown International Raceway on 13 September – not to drive, but to join the commentary team with Channel Seven and witness the RS500's Australian debut. The other commentators (mostly Mike Raymond and Garry Wilkinson) needled him a little, trying to get him to spill the beans, but Moffat remained tight-lipped.
Allan Moffat: I think with the speed the Sierras are showing, Mike, there'll be a quite a number of people keen to campaign them.

Mike Raymond: What would you prefer to be lining up at Bathurst in a couple of weeks' time?

Allan Moffat: In a winning car, Mike.

Garry Wilkinson: Succinct!

Mike Raymond: Right. Clearly we're not gonna get anything out of him today, although we've got four hours to try... 
With 20/20 hindsight, it's clear Moffat had already done a deal with Andy Rouse for a pair RS500s at Bathurst, and it seems like the commentary team knew it too, or at least heavily suspected it. But for commercial reasons, perhaps, they weren't allowed to say anything – Moffat's main sponsor was the ANZ bank, and they weren't exactly without clout.

But the new ANZ Sierras weren't here yet, so that left just four of the new Fords entered for this year's Castrol 500 – the two Dick Johnson cars (DJR1, the right-hand drive car with Dick's #17 on the doors, and DJR2, the left-hand drive version with the #18) and the two Oxo Supercube cars (unofficially known as MM1 and MM2 for Miedecke Motorsport; they raced as the #34 and #35, respectively). All were Rouse kit-cars, although there's something of a question mark over the DJR entries: at some point Dick had a major falling out with Andy Rouse over the question of programming his own chips, which Rouse wouldn't allow as he owned the Zytek software that did the job, and selling chips was a major source of income for his team.
I was at my wits' end and grabbed Jillie and my passport and jumped on the plane to the U.K. looking to start a fight.

"This is bullshit," I said, striding into Rouse’s offices, trying hard to keep my cool. "I need to be able to have the machine in order to program the chips myself. I'm getting belted over there and this is the only way forward. I'm willing to pay you whatever you like so I can control things myself rather than rely on the customer chips you send out."

He shook his head.

"What do you mean no? I've spent a fortune on this!"

Rouse stayed silent and shook his head again.

I could feel my blood boiling.

"You are the biggest c*%t I have ever met in my life!" I screamed. "You can jam the whole deal right up your arse."

Jillie was there too and reckons that was the angriest she had ever seen me. I don't think I'd ever used the c-word in my life, and right there and then I blurted it out in front of my wife. I walked out of the office, feeling totally dejected, and with an icy breeze chilling me to my core, I looked to Jillie.

"We're stuffed," I said. "This could be the end because I really don’t know where to go now." – Dick Johnson, The Autobiography
With their technical alliance over, Dick entered a period of chasing boost via "tricking" the engine management system, manipulating other parameters like fuel flow to get the result he wanted – with about as much success as your uncle jailbreaking his iPhone. Dick's autobiography doesn't give a precise timeline of events, but his performance at Bathurst that year – and here at Sandown – can certainly be read as engines that badly needed proper management. Yet it seems unlikely he'd have broken up with Rouse on the very trip that gained him the full RS500 upgrades. So I can see two possibilities: either Dick bought all the RS500 upgrades from Rouse, probably in the mid-year break between the ATCC and the endurance rounds, and then fell out with him soon after; or the falling-out happened in the off-season after his final race in Wellington. If the former, then it could be that Dick bought his RS500 kits not from Rouse, but directly from Ford Motorsport in Europe – the same people who would ultimately point him toward the person who would solve all his problems.

But that was all in the future. Right now, at Sandown, both the Shell Sierras and their Oxo Supercube rivals were right at the start of their development and were rated for around 335 kW – which was already more than the 5-litre Commodores, and way more than the 260 kW Skylines that shared the same weight class. Although this was still the "international" version of Sandown with the twisting infield section (built to attract a Formula 1 deal, which had instead gone to Adelaide), the long "grandstand" front straight and even longer uphill back straight were enough to give the RS500s a serious advantage, and they dominated qualifying. Andrew Miedecke set the pace in the main qualifying session, taking provisional pole with a time of 1:49.45 in his #35 Oxo Supercube Sierra – only for co-driver Don Smith to wreck the car in a spectacular series of barrel-rolls in the dying minutes of the session.

For anyone unable to watch the video, his comments (in true racing driver's monotone!) were:
Well, I was watching the times as I was going around, I was doing 51s and I thought, "I've gotta go a bit quicker than that." I knew I was losing time up here [the end of the front straight], not braking late enough and that. I just tried a bit later and missed third gear as I was changing down and locked up the back. It just sort of skated a bit, which I thought I had under control alright, and then I just clipped the ripple strip and it bucked the car up. I tried to get it back down, but it just started this slow roll business. I was starting to count them by the finish.
The wreck was later sold to a guy named Mike Ceveri, in whose hands it was rebuilt and returned to the track as a Sports Sedan. But that was the end of MM2 as a Group A car, and also the end of Miedecke & Smith's chances of winning this year's Castrol 500. For whatever reason, they hadn't cross-entered themselves in their other car, the #34 to be handled by ring-ins John Giddings and Bruce Stewart. So the owners behind the Oxo Supercube team would have to sit on the sidelines and watch their hirelings drive the most promising new car in the field without them!

This was not a problem that affected Dick Johnson, however. With Miedecke out of the way, Johnson stepped up and took pole in the Dulux Dozen, a Bathurst-style shootout between the twelve fastest cars in the main qualifying session. Nissan driver George Fury had posted an intimidating 1:49.43, so with the pressure on and one lap to make it count, Johnson stepped up and posted an incredible 1:47.59 to take an undisputed pole.

All was looking well, but then the engine on his #17 Sierra failed in the pre-race warmup, leaving it unable to take the start for the race.
The fuel that we had was made for hot temperatures. There were two types of fuel used then – winter and summer – and somehow we ended up with the wrong fuel in. It ended up letting go but that’s not to say that we weren’t running a bit too much boost or something. – Dick Johnson, Dick Johnson Racing: 30-Year Anniversary
Seasoned campaigner that he was, Dick had made sure to cross-enter himself in both cars, so with 15 minutes to go until the race start he commandeered the #18 that had been earmarked for Charlie O'Brien & Neville Crichton, and strapped himself in (forcing the Channel Seven crew to hastily transfer one of their RaceCam units to the #18). So out of four RS500s entered, we'd lost two before the race even started. Sandown's notorious attrition rate was already creating casualties.

Other teams that had doubtless done their cross-entry due diligence were Gibson Motorsport and their brace of Peter Jackson-backed Nissan Skylines. Gibson's prime drivers George Fury and Glenn Seton had won this race last year, but this year they'd been put in separate cars, Fury to drive his customary #30 with relief from Terry Shiel, and Seton to share his #15 with former Volvo sidekick John Bowe. Both were therefore looking like strong pairings, but if they wanted to become repeat winners they'd have to beat each other – like the Highlander, there could only be one.

A curiosity was the Gibson team's third car – not a Skyline, but a Gazelle entered for Seton's good friend and sometime housemate, Mark Skaife. Paired with Sports Sedan racer Grant Jarrett, the 20-year-old Skaife had been racing the #60 Nissan Gazelle – basically a rebadged coupe version of the S110 Silvia, fitted with a 150 kW FJ20E engine (the same engine as the Skyline, but without the turbo) – in the Australian 2.0-litre Championship all year, and had clinched the title at Amaroo Park after winning three of the four rounds. Clearly young Skaife had talent, and there was already talk about how long it would be before Gibson would be moving him up to the primetime.

Other Skylines included a growing list of privateers, starting with the Nissan Racing NZ pairing of Graeme Bowkett & Kent Baigent, in a Gibson-supported #25 engineered by Ross and Jimmy Stone (of later DJR and Stone Brothers Racing fame). The other notable name was reliable old Murray Carter in the #14 Netcomm entry, a man who'd begun his career in Humpy Holdens in the 1950s, and believe it or not didn't finally hang up his helmet until this very year (2017)!

Their rivals for the ATCC, Frank Gardner's JPS Team BMW, were set to team their prime drivers Jim Richards and Tony Longhurst in the #1 BMW M3, with the #3 to be handled by their engine man Ludwig Finauer, and 1986 Australian Touring Car Champion Robbie Francevic. Francevic hadn't really been seen on our shores since the Volvo Dealer Team had imploded here 12 months earlier, so it was nice to see him back, apparently keen to sample the car that was the talk of 1987. Behind them were a further two M3s, the only one of note the #44 Viacard Services entry, a JPS-built machine owned by Trevor Crowe and co-driven by Jim Keogh – both highly experienced, if not necessarily blindingly fast. A curiosity in the field was a car from BMW's crosstown rivals, a Mercedes-Benz 190E in the hands of Phil Ward and Llynden Reithmuller – sweet-handling, but let down by an underdeveloped engine and insufficient weight-saving. Moffat commented that he'd love to see what'd happen if Mercedes fitted the car with a nice V8, and if you know your DTM history you'll be wondering if someone in Germany heard him... but that's a story for another day.

With the Mobil Holden Dealer Team now 8 months into their divorce with Holden, there was no "works" Holden team at Sandown (indeed, the official "works" team had last been seen at the Nürburgring!), but if Brock wanted bragging rights as the Holden spearhead he'd have to fight for it. Larry Perkins had been the one actually delivering the results this year, meagre as they were, in his outdated but highly-developed #11 Enzed VK. With relief driving to come from 1967 Formula 1 champion Denny Hulme, it was debatable whether the strongest Commodore entry was indeed Perkins, or the #2 Bob Jane T-Marts VL of Allan Grice. This car had been built by Les Small, the same man responsible for Grice's indestructible Bathurst-winner last year, and his nominated co-driver was the vastly experienced Briton, Win Percy. So, were Holden's hopes riding on Perkins, or Grice? It was a coin flip – certainly they weren't riding with Brock.

Brock had brought one new car – bearing his famous #05, but known internally as HDT 17, the third and last VL Commodore the team had built this year which had only debuted at Oran Park's Pepsi 250 a couple of weeks earlier – and an old one, a re-panelled version of the VK he'd shared with Moffat at Bathurst the previous year ("Slightly modified in practice," was Moffat's sheepish comment, all too aware whose fault those "modifications" had been). He couldn't race the newer VL he'd taken to Spa, because it was still being shipped back, and anyway the team just didn't have the money.


Indeed, Brock had seemingly scraped the very bottom of the barrel to find drivers with wage demands low enough for his impoverished bank account. David "Skippy" Parsons, here to share Brock's #05, had driven for the team back in the Marlboro glory days and was here mainly out of enthusiasm; Jon Crooke, co-driver for the #6, was the former Australian Formula 2 Champion making only his second start in a tintop. But the one that really set the cat among the pigeons was Channel Seven's own commentator Neil Crompton, nominated as prime driver for the #6. Some saw it as a cynical attempt to curry some favour with the TV people after a year that had seen more bad press for Brock than he'd ever had in his life, but even if so that wasn't the whole story. The reality was also that he was giving a hungry young driver a chance in a decent race seat... and of course as a Promoted Fanboy, Crompo came cheap.

Behind them was a sizeable contingent of privateer Commodores, fourteen of them in total, mostly VKs but with more VLs appearing at every race. Since they made up a fair percentage of the 42-car entry list, there was a feeling in the air that it was all going away for these guys. Sandown would be the last all-Australian race of the year; the next race was Bathurst, where half the world would be descending on the regional NSW town, and there was already some grumbling that the surge in entries from Europe were pushing the locals out of their own race. And after it would come Calder Park, Wellington and Mt Fuji, which would be more of the same – and since at this stage the inaugural World Touring Car Championship was looking like a roaring success, there was every chance they'd be doing it all again next year too. Sandown '87, it seemed, would be the last time the average Aussie privateer with his hotted-up family Commodore would be able to compete in the same race against his heroes in the big teams. This was the retirement party, the call for last drinks, the final hurrah. We would not see its like again, et cetera, et cetera. Or so we thought...

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Zoë Bell really is from New Zealand

I know apologising for not posting more often is the gold standard in boring blogging, so I won't do any of that. Suffice to say Real Life has come down on me like a hammer in the last few months, so my hours have become precious and I haven't had time for the research. And without the research... well, you read my last entry.

So let's talk about Zoë Bell instead.

She's the really attractive one with the attitude

In one of my rare spare evenings recently, I finally got around to seeing Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof (without the Rodriguez half of the double feature, Planet Terror – sorry, Robert, Quentin). And while I can see why cinephiles regard it as Tarantino's worst movie (removing that stigma from Jackie Brown, which I'm glad because Jackie Brown is amazing and deserves so much better), I enjoyed it all the same, in a dumb, completely-zonked-and-need-chewing-gum-for-the-eyes sort of way. It has babes and violence and violent babes and plenty of that slow-burning Tarantino-esque circumlocution (it made me wonder what would happen if Tarantino walked into a bar and had a conversation with David Mamet, which attracted the reply: "It's not a conversation – it's a tribute to a conversation. It's a conversation about a conversation. With Harvey Keitel"). And of course, it has more of that Tarantino meta-fuckery, with a first half centred on Kurt Russell's retired stuntie, musing about the old days when car crashes were filmed, "...with real cars, with real, dumb people drivin' 'em," and a second half centred on Zoë Bell, a stuntie taking a day off from a film shoot in Tennessee with her actor friends.

You've probably seen a lot more of Zoë than you realise. If you don't mind showing your age, then you saw her as Lucy Lawless's stunt double on Xena: Warrior Princess, aka the training wheels for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings. After that she became absolutely unique as the only New Zealand stuntie not to be involved in Helm's Deep, because she was in Hollywood instead, doubling Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. After that she was a part of Tarantino's production posse, and it was in Death Proof that he promoted her from stuntie to actor.

Not that it would've been hugely difficult, because she was effectively playing herself, right down to getting offended when Mary Elizabeth Winstead assumes she's Australian.

Fair enough, she cops that as often as I get accused of Britishness, it must get old pretty fast. But if the accent hadn't given her away, those with a little knowledge already would've twigged she was Kiwi from a clue immediately before, when outlining her plans for R&R in America.
"To me there's no point being in America, unless you drive a Detroit muscle car."
Okay, fair enough, which one?
"I wanna drive a Dodge Challenger – fuck-me-swingin', balls out!
Awesome! More information?
"Not only that, it has to be a 1970 Dodge Challenger with a 440 engine."
Ah, so a typical piece of American pre-Oil Crisis silliness, a 7.2-litre big-block V8 with (claimed, at the time) 280 kW, viable for the drag strip but over the 426ci limit for NASCAR (you know shit's crazy when your engine is too big for NASCAR). And of course, because this is a movie, they find a white one – a rolling tribute to the 1971 classic Vanishing Point (given the disdain for "that Angelina shit" when Gone in Sixty Seconds is mentioned, I don't think they meant the 1997 remake with Viggo Mortensen. Yes, really). So they borrow it and do some crazy stuff that blurs the lines between fiction and reality, since as a professional stuntie Zoë of course does her own stunts, so we have Zoë Bell playing Zoë Bell, showing off the sorts of things she does for a living in movies, for fun... in a movie.

Then they meet Kurt Russell and from there it's all very messy (the Challenger doesn't have spoilers so neither does this post). But to me, the real moment of the movie was when she asks to drive a "Nineteen-Sivunty Dodge Chellenger with a 440 unjun."

That had me actually laughing out loud, because y'see, while Chrysler might've been third out of three here in Australia, they were top dog over in New Zealand. This was largely thanks to one dealership, Todd Motors, owned by Sir John Todd. Australian-designed and built Valiants were assembled over there but emerged with woeful panel gaps and generally shitty build quality, so Todd had taken it upon himself to re-align the panels and apply some proper rustproofing (better than the factory's), and later even beefed up the suspension for NZ roads and added his own interior trim and fabrics. The results were simply the best cars New Zealand dollars could buy at the time – even then-Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake had one.


Capping it off was success in the New Zealand equivalent of Bathurst, the Benson & Hedges 500, held at the longest permanent circuit in the country, Pukekohe Park. In 1969, Todd's VF Valiant V8s were clearly faster, but were outfoxed by South Island rivals Leo Leonard and Ernie Sprague, who took a brilliant tactical win in a Vauxhall Victor 3.3 – but Todd's publicity was overwhelmingly positive nevertheless. Valiant Regal V8s won the race in 1970 and '71, and then the Valiant Charger came along in 1972. This wasn't quite the hardcore track-monster the Bathurst-bred R/T versions were, being based on the mid-range 770 instead, but they still had that awesome race-tuned 265ci Hemi (which wasn't a Hemi) straight-six, with 210 kW – in effect, all the power of its American cousin from half the cubes. Small wonder then that Chargers won the race for the next seven years straight, and became a Kiwi sales sensation. After that first win in 1972, every Charger in dealer showrooms was snapped up, with one dealer selling seventeen Chargers immediately after the race.

In effect, where Australia became the land of Ford vs Holden, New Zealand was all about the Pentastar. So yes, I had a good laugh – a green Zoë Bell arrives in the U.S., and what does she want to drive? A Chrysler product! I have no trouble imagining this sequence came out of a conversation between Bell and Tarantino during some downtime on Kill Bill – Bell wants to drive the car from Vanishing Point, and Tarantino tells her if they put it in a movie they can get the studio to pay for it...

Or maybe it was just another example of Tarantino's excruciating attention to detail? Either seems plausible to me. So Quentin, Zoë? Tell us – whose idea was that sequence really??

Monday, 5 June 2017

31 May: Just a Little Bit of History Repeating

Funny thing – in 1983, Allan Moffat climbed into his Mazda RX-7 and absolutely blitzed the Surfers Paradise round of the Australian Touring Car Championship. This wasn't exactly unusual for 1983 – Moffat won four races that year, setting five new track records on the way to his fourth title (one more than Peter Brock, by the by) – but it was especially crushing here at Sufferer's Parasite. The wide, sweeping turns of the Queensland circuit kept his Mazda's Wankel engine up in the power band while forcing severe tyre wear on the heavier V8s he was racing, demonstrating pretty convincingly that a light car with only modest power was had a huge advantage at this venue.

Of course, that was in 1983. By 1987, Moffat was racing on the other side of the world, but the result of Round 6 of the Australian Touring Car Championship would've been very familiar to him...

The Grid
Most of the usual suspects showed up for Surfers: Fred Gibson's Peter Jackson Nissan team, Frank Gardner's JPS Team BMW, Dick Johnson's Shell Ultra-Hi Racing, and Peter Brock's Mobil Holden Dealer Team, back to a two-car outfit as Brock at last debuted the VL Commodore, allowing Gary Scott to reclaim the older VK. Also in VKs were Larry Perkins in his Enzed #11, Tony Noske in his (Perkins-built) Kalari Transport #26, plus lesser privateers like Lester Smerdon and Wayne Clift. But Brock fans, sit up and take notice – the VL having its maiden outing would eventually become the car that won Bathurst... not that you'd have guessed it at this stage...

Behind the big and stable names, however, there were developments among the lesser teams. The Oxo Supercube team, hitherto the Ford Sierra "B-team" (even though their results had generally been better than Johnson's), was now well on the way to becoming Miedecke Motorsport. Andrew Miedecke himself had been 2nd-fastest in first practice, only to miss out on second practice with a broken right-front suspension component. In addition to missing out on a qualifying session and starting from the back of the grid, it meant he fitted different tyre compound (softer Dunlop D05 instead of D03), different front wheel camber and a different front shock absorber to compensate for the lack of a replacement part. From the sound of it I'm guessing he broke a spring and had to fit a stiffer one than he would've liked, though I'll bow before anyone with superior knowledge (i.e. anyone).

Team founder Don Smith, however, had thrown in the towel. Instead of racing himself, he'd found a greater fool to buy his stake in the team – 2-litre competitor John Giddings, who'd established himself as a minor player in a Nissan Gazelle. Seeing a chance to get into a top-tier car, he'd taken over the #34 Oxo Supercube Sierra in Don Smith's stead. Smith was an old campaigner, vastly experienced in the business of tintop racing, and remember these were Rouse-built cars – putting two and two together, it would seem he'd decided there was more to life than contributing to Andy Rouse's cocaine fund.

Similarly, a whole new team were making their debut at Surfers. Nissan Racing NZ had made their way across the Tasman with, as you might've guessed, a pair of Nissan Skylines, to be based at Calder Park with their eyes firmly on the upcoming season of endurance. This represented the full flowering of the team we'd seen in the bud in Wellington: longtime partners Graeme Bowkett (#25) and Kent Baigent (#24), each driving a plain white Skyline RS DR30 (although there were rumours they'd landed a major sponsor for the future), probably kit-cars constructed from parts supplied by NISMO in Japan. Indeed, the name "Nissan Racing NZ" suggested they were just as much the "works" team of Nissan NZ as Gibson Motorsport was the "works" team of Nissan Australia.

The other bit of intrigue, however, was that this was Gary Scott's last drive for HDT, and the reason why had to do with another new addition to the grid – a very young Brad Jones in a #16 Dulux-sponsored Mitsubishi Starion. The promise of this team represented the reason Scott never drove for Brock again, as he recently revealed to Australian Muscle Car magazine:
Peter wanted me to go to Spa for the 24-hour race and I sort of hinted that I was doing something, and of course George Shepheard was Peter’s old team manager from the Repco... so Peter found out I’d done the deal. But we left on really good terms. Peter and I never had a bad word. – Gary Scott, AMC #94
Scott had signed the deal with Mitsubishi way back in January – before Holden had even kicked Brocky out of bed.

The Starion: Mitsubishi's Prancing Horse
Okay, to tell the full story here we need to back up a bit. By 1987, Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd was based in the former Chrysler Australia offices in Tonsley Park, Adelaide. This was because, as the 1970s had ground on, Chrysler Australia had hit harder and harder times, unable to give their flagship Valiant more than a token annual facelift. Chrysler U.S. however had acquired a 15% share of Mitsubishi Motors back in 1971, so Chrysler was able to supplement their meagre income with the Galant in the small-car class, which despite interference from the Holden Torana, the Japanese manufacturers had made their own. This proved the thin end of the wedge: over the course of 1979 and 1980, Mitsubishi bought Chrysler Australia out for a cool $79 million (about $315 million in 2015). The last Valiant rolled off the line in August 1981, but healthy sales for the Sigma saw Mitsubishi rejoin the local manufacturing game in 1985 with the original TM Magna (basically just a wide-body Galant). I think this illustrates how swiftly times change: in 1948, Holden had been set up to give Australia an industrial base in the aftermath of Imperial Japanese aggression. Fast-forward three decades, and the company behind the notorious Zero is setting up shop in Adelaide!

So, by the mid-1980s Mitsubishi was established and enjoying a growth spurt and ready to earn some recognition. They got some, starting from 1982, thanks to the original JA Starion.

Let's be clear, the model's name was not "stallion" filtered through a bad Japorean accent (as if a huge company like Mitsubishi wouldn't have an English-language expert on staff, although the automotive world is admittedly full of stories like this, and the Pajero 4WD certainly slipped through the net). Instead it was meant as a portmanteau of "star" and "orion," borne out by other astronomical names Mitsubishi was using, like the Sirius engine. Native English diction just failed to come to the party, and spoiled it for everyone.

Regardless, what the Starion was underneath, was brilliant. It was based on the platform of the hot Galant Lambda, sold here in Australia as the Scorpion, and fitted out with whatever parts were in the bin at the time. Front suspension was MacPherson strut, rear was fully-independent four-link; the interior was a bit bland, but dynamically it was excellent, the only criticism being the unnecessarily vague recirculating-ball steering (a bit of a theme with some cars back then – watch Gary Scott's sizzling pole lap at Bathurst '86 with that in mind). But apart from that the basic package was pretty good. Racing deity Kevin Bartlett said of it, "The wheelbase and track dimensions were well suited to racing. I liked the way it handled and overall it was quite a good little car to drive."

Most important was the engine, which was Mitsubishi's 4G63, a 2.0-litre version of the 1.8 four-cylinder turbo developed for the Lancer EX1800. That gave the Starion an engine remarkably close to that of the Sierra RS Cosworth, 1,997cc to 1,994, four-cylinder and turbocharged. Power figures were 125 kW at 5,500rpm and 245 Nm at 3,500, well short of the Sierra's 152 kW, although with better handling it arguably didn't needed as much power. More to the point, the JA retailed for just $19,950 compared to the $30,000-plus of a Sierra. This made it the chariot of choice for the emerging class of braces-wearing "young urban professionals" – yuppies, for short.

This guy, basically

So all those junior managers, stockbrokers and commodities traders who lusted after a Porsche 911 Turbo but hadn't landed the necessary bonus now had an alternative at a quarter of the price. And happily for Mitsubishi, it had landed just in time for the rebirth of production car racing in Australia. The Supercar Scare of 1972 had made "production cars" a dirty word, the category disappearing for a full decade, but by 1981 CAMS had decided it was time to wake it up again. They positioned their new "Group E Production Car" category (a domestic ruleset unrelated to the FIA's Group N) as a low-cost feeder series in which young teams and drivers could hone their skills before making the jump to the big-dollar ATCC. At first turbo cars were banned, as CAMS rightly feared it would be impossible to police the technology properly, but as the 1980s went on more and more consumer performance cars were turbocharged, threatening a split between what you could see on the track and what you could buy in the showrooms. When in 1984 (against their better judgement) CAMS relented and allowed turbos, the category immediately became Formula Starion. Among the many drivers who chose the little Japanese coupe were Allan Grice, Kevin Bartlett, Colin Bond, Peter Fitzgerald, and a kid from Albury named Brad Jones – as seen in this Production Car race supporting the Adelaide ATCC round earlier in the month.

Mitsubishi Ralliart Australia
Success in Group E Production Cars meant there were suddenly lots of people around with skills tuning and racing Starions. In theory, most of that would transfer across to Group A Touring Cars with ease – since Group A cars were made out of road cars, it would just be a matter of taking one of their Group E specials with the roll cage and fire extinguishers already fitted, and bolting on lots of go-faster bits like better suspension, bigger brakes and an upgraded engine.

But that was the rub – Ralliart, Mitsubishi's in-house performance arm, just never did the homework necessary to turn the 4G63 engine into a Sierra-killer. In theory the Starion – by 1987, the upgraded JB version with the more efficient TC06 oil and water-cooled turbocharger – could've been the match of any Sierra out there, with the same 2.0-litre turbo four layout, leading to the same minimum weight (1,035kg) and same maximum tyre width (10 inches). Intriguingly, they even had the same drag coefficient (0.32), so their top speeds might've been neck-and-neck – except the Starion would've had the edge on handling, giving it that all-important tyre life.

Bathurst '85

But that never happened, because, well, it's right there in the name – Ralliart. The company's focus was on rallying. The official Mitsubishi Ralliart Australia team wouldn't be founded until 1988 but Kevin Bartlett, keen for a new project after overturning his Camaro at Bathurst twice in as many years, had sewn the seeds of the team that preceded it as early as 1984. After some promising showings at Sandown and Bathurst, the touring car programme was just sort of orphaned before they got around to developing a Starion Evo.
The Starion fell short at the homologation stage but I can understand Mitsubishi’s attitude at the time because the Starion wasn’t a prime car in their eyes. They were focused on their rally program and they went ahead in leaps and bounds from there with the development of the evolution style of motor car [Lancer Evo] into the 1990s. ... A few years later Mitsubishi brought out some brilliant engines for their world rally program. It’s frustrating to look back on it because a Starion with one of those [Lancer] Evo-type engines as a touring car would have been an absolute rocket-ship!

The big problem with the Group A touring car was that the road car it was based on never evolved beyond a certain point. The Starion worked very well in production car racing but the major constriction of Group A was that everything on the car had to be one of a minimum production number. Everything had to be homologated by the manufacturer, which meant we couldn’t change major things like the road car’s fuel system and that was a real problem.

It had huge injectors so we could get plenty of fuel into it, but there were only two of them feeding into a mixer [throttle body]. This created a big blob of fuel that was very difficult to make work with a single cam two-valve engine and the big camshaft profiles we needed to run.

We couldn’t get enough power without using an enormous amount of boost and to do that we had to use an enormous amount of fuel, but you just couldn’t manage the fuel volume down low. The engine just wouldn’t go below a certain rpm and then of course at high rpm, with the tiny turbochargers we had to use, they were overspinning to blazes and we had endless turbo failures.

We just didn’t have the engine management system in those days that could enable us to get the car to run cleanly either at the bottom end or the top end. We were using an HKS system which was only in its early days. We tried many things and HKS helped us out tremendously but overall we were nowhere near the mark.

Another weakness was the homologated gearbox which was just the Mitsubishi five-speed 'box. We couldn’t use a proper Getrag or anything like that, even though a manufacturer could easily homologate one for racing if they chose to.

Early on I tried to help them out with homologation. I submitted photographs of some Brabham-style suspension that needed to go on the car and a bigger brake system and what have you but nothing eventuated.

With proper development and homologation of parts, they could have been equal to the Sierras... but the huge amount of development that went into the Ford engine with Cosworth was light years ahead of where Mitsubishi was at that stage. – Kevin Bartlett, Mark Oastler's Mitsubishi Starion: The Series Production Stars and Group A Cars, Shannons Club
The team was kept alive by rally veteran Doug Stewart (who would be establishing that local Ralliart franchise the following year), who had the means to go it alone, albeit while maintaining a special relationship with the factory – another works-but-not-really team. The project was managed by rally maestro George Shepheard, who'd masterminded Holden's 1-2-3 in the 1979 Repco Round-Australia Trial, with prime sponsorship coming from Dulux Autocolour. It managed to lure both Brad Jones and former Nissan co-driver Gary Scott, both fairly experienced at racing turbos, and also both hungry young guys with everything to prove.

Even when Mitsubishi showed no interest in developing the Starion, the Mitsubishi team deal still seemed enticing to these two thanks to the upcoming Mitsubishi GTO, called the 3000GT in Australia and the Dodge Stealth in the U.S. In its American form, the GTO came with a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 with ceramic turbos and five valves per cylinder, which made 560 kW on the dyno – more than Godzilla would eventually make. But again, it was Ralliart, not Touringcarart – by the time the GTO dropped in 1990, the company was busy working on the Lancer Evolution I to pitch against the Lancia Delta Integrale, and then its real nemesis, the Impreza WRX. Although it's nice to imagine the GTO sharing a JGTC grid with the Toyota Supra, R33 Skyline and Honda NSX, I think the rally fans will agree our loss was their gain.

Anyway, that explains the presence of baby Brad Jones, in a Dulux-backed Starion, here at Surfers Paradise.

The Race
All the other machinery on the grid, however, was reduced to utter insignificance by a simple fact – JPS Team BMW had built another new car. This one included all the latest updates from Munich, such as improved alloy suspension (until now they'd made do with the heavier and less sophisticated 325i setup) and an engine with an extra 7.5 kW thanks to a bigger inlet manifold opening, which also allowed them to open up the intake ports. This freed up a little more top-end power, Jim Richards commenting that it didn't punch out of corners quite as well, but pulled much better up near the redline.

So the car that did such a magnificent job of looking after its tyres now had more top-end power – at the same Surfers Paradise whose sweeping turns recalled the European circuits it had been built for. Seriously, look up an aerial shot of somewhere like Dijon-Prenois and compare it to the Surfers layout. The result here was a foregone conclusion.

In the event, though, it all went wrong for Jim's rivals faster than the worst pessimist would've predicted. Queensland's favourite son Dick Johnson – probably responsible for half of the ticket sales that day – was out with a broken turbo after just half a lap, and teammate Gregg Hansford followed him only 5 laps later. Dick was understandably sour when he spoke to Channel Seven's Peter McKay.
McKay: Dick, a wonderful qualifying effort yesterday, but it all went to nought today?

Johnson: Obviously those little batch of turbos must’ve been made in South Vietnam by Mario Zampaglios or something. It really appears as though there is different standards in turbo wheels and we obviously got a batch that are pretty ordinary.

McKay: So both cars went out with turbo problems?

Johnson: Yeah, and those turbos were brand-spanking new five minutes before the race – had not turned a wheel.

McKay: Okay. With the two Shell Sierras now in the pits, who’s your tip for the race today?

Johnson: [smiling wryly] I couldn’t care less to be quite honest, but I’d say Jim’s looking half good. As far as I’m concerned, after today’s effort, we’ve blown any chance of championship points.

McKay: Do you believe with the lead he now has Jim’s got a soft-compound tyre on and that he might be contemplating a mid-race pit stop?

Johnson: Oh, I doubt it. I doubt it, he’ll just loaf around not and not even worry about his tyres. He’ll cruise it in.

McKay: Okay Dick, commiserations.
I think you can file "made in South Vietnam by Mario Zampaglios" under "shit you can't say nowadays" – Italian and Vietnamese immigration was big in the 1970s, so naturally Italian and Vietnamese prejudices were hanging around in the 1980s (we really are racist AF, aren't we?). I have no idea who Mario Zampaglios is supposed to be – some brief Googling only turned up Facebook profiles – but it's probably relevant that Dick actually did National Service during the Vietnam era (only one barracks away from a very young Peter Brock, believe it or not). He was never deployed to S.E. Asia, but I wouldn't be surprised if he knew a lot of people who were, and probably developed some pretty firm opinions about the region.

Anyway, his predictions about Jim cruising it in proved right on the money: Richards didn't stop for tyres once. Instead, he took the lead on lap 2, eked out a 1.65-second gap by lap 4, stretched it to 6 seconds by lap 10, then a massive 7.2 seconds by lap 12. After that, the Commodores that had made the first ten laps so interesting started eating up their tyres and dropped back, leaving Richards free to nail in the remainder of the 45 laps free and clear. By the final laps, he'd backed off from low 1:16s to high 1:19s, or in layman's terms walking pace – from his guest seat in the commentary box, Johnson said you could do that on the canvas, or steel in the case of the BMW's Pirellis.

2nd place, astonishingly, went to Andrew Miedecke, who scored a better result after everything went wrong than he ever did when it all went right. 3rd place went to the other John Player BMW of Tony Longhurst after a street-fighting drive from him, while 4th and 5th went to the Peter Jackson Nissans of Seton and Fury – the DR30 Skyline was definitely being superseded.

The points table now showed the title would be fought out between Richards and Seton – there were a maximum 87 points remaining, but everyone would have to drop their worst score, so really anyone below 60 or so was beyond even a mathematical chance.
  1. Richards: 135
  2. Seton: 117
  3. Fury: 82
  4. Longhurst: 81
  5. Perkins: 79
  6. Johnson: 54
  7. Brock: 50
  8. Grice: 46
  9. Bond: 32
  10. Hansford: 20
So odds were, it would be either the Kiwi or the Kid.

Grice MIA?
The other curiosity of the race was that Allan Grice was marked absent that day, busy racing in the Coca-Cola 600 in the U.S. instead! It's likely Gricey had a plan to get some NASCAR experience before Bob Jane opened the Thunderdome (scheduled for later this year), and where better than Charlotte Motor Speedway, the very track Jane had used as the template for the Dome? The fact that it was NASCAR's longest race – 970km, starting in daylight, continuing through dusk and ending under the lights five hours later – just meant there'd be more experience to gain!

And so Gricey qualified his #03 Foster's Oldsmobile Cutlass for the race, only to drop out after 161 of 400 laps with a rear end failure. Maybe the racing gods had decreed that 161 was all the laps he would ever do...

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

3 May: The Wanneroo Kid & Walking on AIR

It really is a remarkable thing that Wanneroo Park remains a permanent fixture on the ATCC/V8 Supercars calendar. Do you know what year it joined the tour? Truly? 1978, which I don't believe is a coincidence given the road across the Nullarbor was fully paved in 1976. I know Westralians will fume at my east-centric view, but let's be honest here: Dick Johnson Racing was based at Acacia Ridge, Brisbane. JPS Team BMW? Sydney's Terrey Hills. Gibson Motorsport, Dandenong on the eastern side of Melbourne, while the Holden Dealer Team was still operating out of Bertie Street in the city's port.

Deceptively simple

So regardless of bias, the simple fact is most of the teams were based in the eastern states, and from that point of view Perth is an awfully long way away – over 4,000km, in fact, which was handily brought home by the NSW Police recently arresting a 12-year-old attempting to make the trip solo. They only stopped him at Broken Hill, which everyone who's read the story agrees was a pretty good effort. The Sydney Morning Herald (which I'm not linking to because strike) even included this handy map:

To be clear, New South Wales – the state he very nearly crossed – is bigger than Texas.

In the 1980s, when the teams were impoverished by today's standards, there really weren't many options to get there except climb aboard the transporter, point it at the sunset, set the cruise control and then wait a week (and hope like hell you remembered to pack your cassette collection). Nowadays of course team bosses and their star drivers can fly, but even that's not exactly the work of a moment. In fact, I was given a great anecdote in the comment section of one of my favourite blogs not so long ago:
I flew to NZ via Sydney (Heathrow->Bangkok->Sydney->Auckland) to visit my folks some years ago. Now, I hate flying, not least because I cannot sleep on planes. So when the little map showed our plane reaching the north-west corner of Australia, I was like "Sweet! Australia! Almost there!"

I'd forgotten how sodding huge Australia is. Corner to corner is like a five-hour flight. (For comparison, London to Moscow is three.)

I now count it among my blessings that I live in a small country where nothing is more than about three hours away on the train.
So I'm genuinely impressed that the people behind Wanneroo Park cared enough to make the trip worthwhile, because in an age when Kylie was still an actor and not a singer, it couldn't've been easy.

Hooley, at what looks like Oran Park
Round 4 at Wanneroo Park took place on 26 April 1987, with an entry list of 15 cars. The first 10 of those were the hard core of full-time regulars – Fury, Seton, Johnson, Hansford, Richards, Longhurst, Perkins, Brock, Grice and Bond – and not coincidentally, they were the ones who lapped under the '86 race record in practice. John Bowe had set pole last year in 1:01.96 in a Volvo 240T; this year, Fury had lowered it to 1:01.15, and the next three cars behind him were all under Bowe's record too. It showed once again how quickly the field was moving on as the cars were developed.

Emmerling/Hine, Bathurst '85
The last five entries were the WA stars, just as committed and professional as their eastern counterparts, but restricted by budget and the tyranny of distance to WA races only: Graeme Hooley in his #71 VK Commodore (most likely the same one from last year, still sponsored by Scheel seats); Tim Slako in the ex-Andy Rouse #96 Rover SD1 (still paaaank!) which I covered last year ; Ian Love in the #24 ex-Dick Johnson Mustang GT; John Farrell in a #34 VK Commodore (from the livery, almost certainly an ex-HDT machine); and Simon Emmerling in the white #29 BMW 635 CSi (probably also the same car as last year, which I've since heard was ex-Schnitzer, but likely an early one since he had it at Bathurst 1985).

For all that, though, it wasn't really a classic race. Don't get me wrong, there was no shortage of on-track quality with some truly epic-tier driving, but Glenn Seton took the lead at the end of Lap 1, and never looked like losing it. The truly important moment of the race came as soon as they waved the green flag, when Fury dropped the clutch on his DR30 Skyline and fired some 400 Nm at the rear axle, which, trapped between the engine and a set of pre-heated racing slicks, snapped instantly. Fury lost several laps having it replaced before retiring with an overheating engine. Taken together with his DNF at Lakeside, this was probably the moment he lost the championship – from here on young Seton was the team's great championship hope, and it was Fury's job to support him. For the first time in his life the Talmalmo wool grower found out what it was like to be a number-two driver. How Gary Scott must've laughed.

So, the Drivers Championship after Round 4:
  1. Glenn Seton: 93 
  2. Jim Richards: 86
  3. Larry Perkins: 59
  4. Tony Longhurst: 53
  5. George Fury: 45
At the next round, however, was would be another matter, as Dick Johnson found himself walking on AIR...

Round 5: Adelaide International Raceway
Oh yeah, the debut of the RS Sierra Cosworth with the piss farting turbo... – Dick Johnson, Dick Johnson Racing: 30-Year Anniversary
When they got to Adelaide's combined paved oval, drag strip and link road that turned them into a permanent road circuit, the competition had kicked up another notch. Weekend warriors from both East and West had bumped the entry list up to 20 rather than 15, which included Graeme Hooley's #71 Scheel Commodore, Murray Carter in his #14 Netcomm Skyline DR30 (which has a Facebook page – built by Carter with assistance from Gibson Motorsport, the ex-Ford boys looking out for each other), a couple of minnows in the tiddler class – and most relevant to our purposes, another three Ford Sierras. One of them was 1967 F1 World Champion Denny Hulme, having another ride in the ex-John Andrew Motorsport XR4 Ti, a car I covered last year. The other two were the returning Oxo Supercube RS Cosworths of Don Smith and Andrew Miedecke.

The era of XR4 Ti was now over, and it wasn't much lamented – it had only been a development mule anyway. At Calder Park that March (the same day as the arch-rival BMW M3), Ford had debuted their real car, developed by their friends at Cosworth Engineering. No ex-Mustang SVO engine for them: looking to squeeze in under the 3.0-litre tier, where they could race some 80kg lighter, Cosworth summoned all their F1 and tuning expertise, and gave it the engine from a Pinto. Which, if you've seen Fight Club, is a car you're already kinda familiar with – a cheap, poorly-located fuel tank meant this was the car that would explode if rear-ended, and the controversy over whether a recall was worthwhile is probably the inspiration for The Formula.

Okay, so it wasn't really the engine from a Pinto – it just used the same Ford YBD block, the blank canvas Cosworth would be painting on. But starting with the 1,994cc block, Cosworth gave it a specially-developed 16-valve DOHC cylinder head with a Garrett T03 turbocharger and intercooler setup, bringing roadgoing power to some 152 kW and giving it that distinctive engine note, like Satan's vacuum cleaner – Cosworth always did like their flatplane cranks. This engine was then lowered into the three-door Sierra body, the hatchback being slightly stiffer than the sedan, with the excessive lift generated by this body countered by the addition of a massive "whale tail" rear wing. It was given the dashboard from the Merkur to make it available in both LHD and RHD, and was put on the market for £15,950 (roughly equivalent to $30,000 Australian at the time, a lot of money when you could have an XF Fairmont Ghia for less than $20,000). Only 5,545 were ever built, but they all sold – from the car's launch in July 1986 to its first race in March 1987, they hit the 5,000 registrations they needed. The Sierra RS Cosworth was approved for Group A.

And truth be told, if you were a Blue-blooded revhead in those days, this was the car you wanted, not the later RS500. It might've been the basis for a racecar, but the RS Cosworth was resolutely a road car and all the better for it.

Two major teams had decided to run two-car operations for the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1987 – Dick Johnson Racing, and the team later to be known as Miedecke Motorsport. They had two choices as far as sourcing cars went – Andy Rouse, or Rudi Eggenberger.

Rouse had already won the 1985 British Touring Car Championship in the Merkur, which showed he had promise, but he was expensive and his cars had trouble finishing anything longer than a sprint race. Eggenberger on the other hand had been finishing the 500km endurance races of the European Touring Car Championship with a usable combination of speed and reliability, but he refused to supply customer cars for any price. Oh, he was happy to sell engines (Rouse charged £15,000 for a race-ready unit, Eggenberger twice that), but they didn’t come with the computerised engine management system that only he had seemingly got to the bottom of. For Johnson, that defeated the purpose.
So I gritted my teeth, grabbed my passport and headed to London. The season finished after Bathurst, when I went straight to the U.K. Andy Rouse was the main man when it came to Sierras and he was the first bloke I went to see. On a dreary English day, he told me what I was up for when it came to the engine and parts, racing a Sierra.

"It will cost you about 200k for all your engine management systems and parts," he said. "I’ll ship the entire thing to you and provide you the support you need."
I agreed.

I then went and saw Alan Barnes, who was the contact for Nordic Supplies. They were the guys that supplied Ford Motorsport parts for race teams and I bought the rest of the gear from him: panels, seats, wheels, the dash, etc.

While I was in Europe, I also bought myself an RS Cosworth Sierra road car for my daily drive. Not only would it be a brilliant car to rip around in, it would also provide a good guide for helping me build my race car. I seriously didn’t know what went in where for these machines and there was no race car building manual.

And although I could have bought a complete race car from Andy Rouse, I didn’t have enough money even with my new budget. Andy charged through the roof! Besides, I’d been building cars for years, so it couldn’t be that hard.

All the bits and pieces finally arrived in our new race shop at the back of Ross’s factory, Palmer Tube Mills, in Acacia Ridge, where he had generously built us a two-car garage as I clearly didn’t have enough room at home. And the team went about building a race car that we’d hoped would be good enough to win me another Bathurst.

We built the roll cage with Greens-Tuf tubing and it was outstanding. Ross even advertised the tubing’s success in his marketing campaign. The rest of it came together fairly easy. There was a bit of trial and error, but the pieces gradually fitted and we had something that looked like a race car after a couple of days. – Dick Johnson, The Autobiography 
Working off the homologation plans, DJR’s crew stripped the cars of all unnecessary weight, and when finished their Sierras tipped the scales at only 1,184kg. Internally the cars were designated DJR1 and DJR2. The first Johnson Sierra, DJR1, was built in right-hand drive and given the #17 of Dick himself. DJR2, contrarily, was built in left-hand drive, in imitation of Allan Moffat’s idea of having one car for tracks with mostly right-hand turns, and one for tracks that mostly turned left. Alas, the idea turned out to be an expensive flop, and DJR2 ended up spending the whole year with the #18 on its door being piloted by Moffat's former teammate – ex-motorcycle racer Gregg Hansford.

DJR1, seen here at Lakeside, because photos from Adelaide and Wanneroo are hard to find

Overall the Sierra was much more about power than handling, but with the roadgoing Garrett T03 turbo and Weber Marelli fuel injection, there was not yet enough power to win races. At this point even Rouse’s own cars only had around 275 kW at 6,750rpm, and his customers had to make do with less.
The engine was probably the easiest bit until we got the computers – we just didn’t have a clue. Luckily, we’d hired an ex-Gibson employee, who had experience with the Nissan turbo, and he became our go-to guy, setting up the computer program for us. Still, the idea of it was a nightmare.

For my entire life, I’d gone on steadfastly believing that the power of a car could be controlled by the carburettor, which in turn controlled the amount of fuel, and the distributor, which provided the spark. Now all that was done with a computer? We were totally reliant on what Rouse gave us in the way of computer chips and I didn’t like it one bit.

I was also ignorant. It’s to my detriment – and probably the worst mistake I have ever made – that I refused to learn the new system. I understood the principle of the new technology, but to me it was just weird electronic shit, and I decided then and there to leave it in the hands of others. It would come back to bite me in the arse, of course, because that was the moment I relinquished a lot of my engineering control.

Not wanting to fully learn the new technology, I stepped back and hired Neal Lowe to be our team manager for 1987. I felt that I was out of my depth and also thought it was about time I concentrated on my driving and leave the day-to-day operations to someone else. But it was a mistake. A big one. – Dick Johnson, The Autobiography
The two Oxo Supercube Sierras didn't have official chassis numbers, but are sometimes known by the fans as MM1 and MM2 (for "Miedecke Motorsport," even though technically it wouldn't become Miedecke's team until the following year – at first it was very much Don Smith's outfit). MM1 was driven by Smith himself under the #34, while MM2 was Andrew Miedecke's #35, bought off Smith with the proceeds of his car dealership in Port Macquarie.

MM1, here seen at Bathurst, long after Smith had sold his stake in the team

Both were Rouse kit-cars, which explains why Smith was "getting dudded" and needed someone to shoulder some of the financial burden. Miedecke stepped up on the advice of Glenn Seton's father Bo.
He doesn't talk much but he said, "A mate of mine, Don Smith, has got these Cosworth Sierras and is getting dudded," and told me to give him a call.

So that was the '87 touring car championship. The deal I struck with Don was that I bought a Sierra from him for $125,000 and he paid all the expenses to run it, with OXO sponsorship. We were pretty competitive. That first year I remember we were the dominant Ford Sierra team. – Andrew Miedecke
It was true that the Oxo Sierras were better than their Shell rivals for most of the year, a fact that would be savagely highlighted by the upcoming Bathurst 1000. But here, today, it was Dick Johnson who stepped up to take the win in Adelaide and not Miedecke or Smith.

From 4th on the grid, he rose steadily and irresistibly to the race lead, holding it to the chequered flag. The car was still fragile – Denny Hulme's XR4 DNF'd with a blown turbo, while the sister car of Hansford suffered broken drive pegs – but the Oxo cars were nowhere, finishing 9th and 12th. Through careful preparation or sheer luck – or both – Johnson had found a combination of speed and reliability that allowed him to outpace both the turbo Skylines and the ultra-reliable Commodores. It was Dick's first ATCC win since Surfers Paradise 1984, and the first of what would be a long, long list of victories in the Sierra.
It was a relief I can tell you. It was just the reliability issues because of the turbo that had stopped us from getting results, there was nothing else. – Dick Johnson, Dick Johnson Racing: 30-Year Anniversary

Monday, 3 April 2017

4 April: Richards by the Lake

Round 3 of the Australian Touring Car Championship brought a return to Lakeside International Raceway, just to the north of the Queensland capital of Brisbane. And it brought the noise! Lakeside was a cracking little race where all the heavy-hitters landed a punch, but in the end it was Jim Richards in the little Bavarian car that walked off with the glory, giving the BMW M3 its maiden win – worldwide.

The E30 M3: BMW's Siegfried Line
If you're still following Mental Floss's WWI Centennial series (which you totally should be, despite the clickbait that contaminates the rest of the site), you'll know we recently passed the hundredth anniversary of the Kaiser's troops withdrawing to the infamous Hindenburg Line, which the Germans called the Siegfriedstellung or Siegfried Position, about 20km to their rear on the Western Front. They did it to eliminate some useless salients in their own lines and generally shorten the front by 25km, which freed up 13 divisions for redeployment elsewhere. It was a ruthlessly clever thing to do, though in this case it backfired spectacularly, the Kaiser's men looting every scrap of French food, burning every French house, felling every French tree and generally doing their best to ruin the French countryside forever, leaving the space in front of the Siegfriedstellung a virtual desert. It was a sensible act of total war, but it was conducted against a world run by chivalrous 19th Century loons, and so was a gift to Allied propaganda. Whatever gains were made by shortening their front were cancelled out when the Americans joined the party – largely because of acts like this.

But it showed the Germans understood that sometimes you needed to take a step back to take two steps forward, and it was a trick they repeated in 1987 when BMW dropped the 635 CSi in favour of the smaller E30 M3 – never intended as an outright car, but one that would win the World Touring Car Championship by sweeping its class.

Seen here in the Swiss sales brochure

There's been no shortage of scribbling over this car – most notably Mark Oastler's column on Shannons Club, an excitable but nicely succinct article on Motorsport Retro, and Issue 93 of Australian Muscle Car has some intriguing details as well – but it's all justified. The M3 is not just a stone-cold classic, it's the ultimate expression of what Group A could've been. Along with the Nissan Skyline R32 – maybe – the M3 was the only time Group A bred a road car you might actually might want to live with on a day-to-day basis.

So how did it come about? The car's origins lie in the early 1980s when the FIA switched to the Group A rulebook and BMW's engine man Paul Rosche was neck-deep in F1, trying to get the M10-derived four-cylinder turbo to work. This was in the early days of electronic engine management, and Rosche referred to their shoddy wire management back then as "noodle soup." Electromagnetic pulses from the ignition playing havoc with the delicate electronics, as rogue signals could, and did, trigger the fuel injectors at the wrong moment.
The development was a lot of hard work. We began at the end of 1980 with the first test drive and in 1981 drove the whole year through. It was dreadful! Day and night we were on the test beds and on the track, too. It was real pioneering work in those days. – Paul Rosche
All of which is pretty tangential to the touring car scene, but it goes some way to explaining why BMW went for a naturally-aspirated engine in their Group A flagship, despite ultimately winning the first turbocharged F1 championship in 1983. At the time the decisions were being made there was no guarantee the M10 would ever deliver the power it promised, and there were huge issues controlling temperatures – which would be worse in a tin-top, with the potential of under-bonnet "heat soak" when the car was switched off for the many, many refuelling stops needed for a race like Spa. What was an acceptable compromise for a Formula 1 car just wasn't going to work for a touring car.

So, when it came time to plan the M3, BMW looked to the next most powerful engine in their inventory, the family of inline-sixes bred from the M1 supercar. In 3.5-litre form, this was exactly the engine that had powered the 635 CSi, but as the competition caught up the six's limitations had been revealed: it just placed too much weight over the front axle, and the long and awkward crankshaft produced torsional vibrations that put a cap on the rev range. Instead, BMW's engineers elected to create a brand-new four-cylinder engine which, with its shorter crankshaft, would be able to rev much more freely.

Designed in just 14 days, the resulting S14 engine was a Frankenstein of existing parts. Paul Rosche took a 2-litre version of the M10 block and bored it out to 93.4mm to match the M1's straight-six, with an 84mm stroke. This produced the famous 2,302cc capacity, and allowed him to spice it up with the M1's free-breathing DOHC 16-valve heads, and later, Bosch Motronic fuel injection. A 12:1 compression ratio was as high as BMW dared go without compromising reliability, so in the new era of unleaded fuel, you really wanted to pay the extra for premium. Even so, in stock for in gave a very nice 150 kW, which in competition tune went up to somewhere around 200 kW at 8,200rpm in its first year (estimates vary from 190 to 230), with about 270 Nm of torque at 7,000rpm.

Those might seem like pretty weedy figures compared to the Holden V8's brute 300 kW and 400 Nm, but remember it was being loaded into a vehicle that weighed an awful lot less. Group A's minimum weight for the 2,500cc tier was just 960kg, compared to the Holden's 1,325, plus another 8kg (give or take) if they both brimmed their fuel tanks, then more for the extra oil and coolant, and on it went. Allan Moffat once said, "Once you were over the 1,200kg mark, every extra kilo feels like a tonne," so the Holden would definitely feel the pain in those braking zones. With huge disc brakes (332mm front, 280mm rear) clamped by powerful four-pot callipers, the M3's braking at times seemed to defy the laws of physics.

The car's real secret, however, was how well it babied its rear tyres. Rear suspension typically makes some huge compromises in a road car – in that area of the car, you've got to pack in the suspension, rear seats, boot, usually a fuel tank and diff, and in the case of the Alfa Romeo 75, the gearbox as well. Something has to lose out, and given the importance of legroom and boot space to the customer, usually it's the suspension. Given how restricted 80s-era Falcons were in this area – especially the XD, which had a boot too small for an esky, and the XE, which had so little travel it had been binding up its rear springs in race trim – we may once again be grateful the XF never humiliated itself in Group A.

BMW, however, sacrificed everything to give the M3 proper rear suspension.
The suspension came first and the body was designed to fit around it. Read any road test of the car and you won't find many compliments about the rear seat room. Now you know why.

If there's one thing that Group A really sorts out, it's which cars give their tyres a hard time. The width limits are fairly narrow considering the amount of weight they have to carry over fairly long distances. What this adds up to is the importance of keeping the rubber as flat on the road as much as possible. Take into account the tendency of the latest radial racing tyres to slip sideways as their sidewalls flex under cornering loads and you've got to be able to set a fair amount of negative camber into the geometry.

Once again the limitations of production cars become apparent. They aren't designed with such radical modifications in mind. Front ends usually don't pose any problems; it's the rear where manufacturers leave race engineers no room to manoeuvre.

Even cars with independent rear suspensions rarely allow full-width racing tyres enough lateral and vertical movement. And as for dinosaurs like Holden's Commodore, they've got trouble with a capital T.

For [Frank] Gardner, who cut his teeth in racing and sports cars, it was a major improvement over earlier BMWs: "You take the temperatures across the tyres and if they're reading 120, 120, 120 [degrees C] then you've got the optimum camber and toe-in. With the 635 we couldn't get the tyres absolutely right." – Mike Jacobson, Australian Motor Racing Yearbook, cited by Mark Oastler, E30 BMW M3: The Purpose-Built Group A Racer That Conquered The World, Shannons Club
After a summer of rumours, the M3 had been revealed to the public at the Frankfurt Motor Show in the autumn of 1985. Although it was pricey and pitched against a rich field of similar homologation specials, the M3 was a big hit. It wasn't just the performance and exquisite handling, it just looked the goods – the whole car had been made wider and lower, even if it still had the narrow upright posture of a European car (which makes a lot more sense once you've tried to thread one through a medieval city – even the "compact" Commodore looked wide and flat compared to the M3). The rear window rake had been reduced, requiring a modified C-pillar that led down to a raised boot lid (made of plastic for lightness). Both the front and rear windscreens were bonded to the shell for extra rigidity, and the front and rear guards were flared to accommodate the intended 10-inch racing tyres. In fact, by the time the engineers were finished, the only panel carried over from the original E30 sedan was the bonnet. Since BMW were required to build 5,000 of them to qualify for Group A, this represented a considerable investment – but it paid off, because by the time BMW dropped it in 1990 the factory had churned out nearly 15,000, plus three extra runs of 500 to homologate new parts for racing.

And as Davide Cironi shows us, you definitely wanted one. The handling was absolutely electric, sharp and responsive and yet wayward enough to make sure you were still awake. Racecar accuracy scaled to road-tyre grip. The kind of handling keen drivers dream of.

The Terrytowel from Terrey Hills: Frank Gardner's M3s
JPS Team BMW had been running 325i's as class cars in 1986 – at least two of them, since that's how many had shown up for Symmons Plains that year – and had another one under construction the day BMW informed Gardner the M3 programme was a go. I'm guessing that was probably 3 January, the day the homologation papers had been rubber-stamped by the FIA, with their first day of eligibility being 1 March, race day at Calder. The Bavarians told Gardner a kit of parts was already on the way, so work was halted and what had started as a 325i became the first Australian M3 instead. They mostly used it for testing and development, and it was Tony Longhurst's racecar for the first half of the year, but it was "never quite right," according to chief mechanic Paul Baker. "It was just a bit heavy and not a good car." Longhurst's patience in bearing this says a lot about his attitude at the time: with a champion for a boss and another one for a teammate, he must've been very aware he was the apprentice in the team.

BMW then sent over another kit complete with a race-ready shell and a chrome-moly roll cage, and this became Jim Richards' car for the first two ATCC races (Calder and Symmons). It was then sold to New Zealand's John Whitehall, owner of Archibald Motors, whose driver Trevor Crowe had shared a 635 with Richards in Wellington and went on to be crowned both NZ and Asia-Pacific Touring Car Champion in '87-'88.

Gardner's crew then built a third car, which incorporated what they'd learned so far and so had a slightly different parts list. For one, they had their wheels made locally by Simmons Wheels rather than rely on the BBS units common in Europe. For another, Gardner insisted on roll cages made from low-carbon steel tube rather than chrome moly to provide greater rigidity, and he worked closely with Pirelli in Italy to develop a unique rubber compound tailored to Australia's warmer track temperatures – D3, D4 and D5 race tyres, and D7 qualifiers – rather than Yokohamas like the works teams.
We did try Yokohamas in the early days of the 635, but we stuck with the Pirellis for the M3. We did a lot of tyre testing and they were painful days changing springs and shocks to get it right. After that we didn’t want to walk away from it. – Paul Baker, AMC #93
Baker has also revealed the team acid-dipped its shells in Sydney ("...just to remove sealant..."), and at least once used lightweight panels and glass obtained from South Africa. However, these doors were so light the signwriter had trouble even applying the decals, and the glass was so thin it once shattered because a mechanic shut the door too hard. Baker doesn't believe these parts were used for long.

The biggest difference however came about because Frank Gardner insisted on doing all the testing and setup work himself, only letting his drivers change the anti-roll bars at the races (maybe). And in the U.K., where the weather could be incredibly changeable, Frank had absorbed the lesson that a forgiving car that worked in all conditions was a smarter bet than specialising in a smooth dry surface and getting lost when the rain came out, or even if the sun went behind a cloud (anyone who remembers the early 2000s in Formula 1 will know that's not an exaggeration). So the JPS M3s ended up being set up less stiffly than the works cars in Europe, a bit softer and more forgiving, with a different camber to ensure even temps across the face of the tyre, keeping wear under control. So in effect, Gardner had immediately identified the M3's main strength, and maximised it.

Race Day by the Lake
The case can be made that the ATCC was a tougher arena for the M3 than any in Europe. At home the M3s only had to cope with the relatively fragile Sierra RS Cosworths; there was no works Nissan Skyline team, and the Holden Commodore presence was token at best. That most Australian tracks favoured power-down over mid-corner speed didn't play to the M3's strengths either, nor did the shorter sprint format give them much chance to wear the opposition down.

But if any local track was going to bend their way, it was Lakeside, the swooping, awkward rollercoaster beside Lake Kurwongbah to the north of Bris Vegas. Lakeside's blind off-camber turns did a marvelous job of neutering cars with too much power, and the only length of straight, which blasted by the pits and start/finish line, still had a kink called BP Bend which none of the Skylines, Sierras or Commodores could quite take flat-out. Only the M3s could go through there without a lift.

Even better, the race distance this year had been increased from 35 laps, or 84km, to 60 laps, or 145km. Game on.

The entry list included most of the usual suspects: Being Dick Johnson's home track, both he and Gregg Hansford were present in their Shell Sierras, although a cloud of controversy hung over them as some of the scrutineers had taken exception to their new turbo impellers and had stepped in to seal some components. Quite sensibly they'd elected to let him race and sort it out afterwards – not even the maddest of CAMS officials would come between Dick Johnson and a Queensland crowd. Backing him up were the Oxo Sierras of Don Smith and Andrew Miedecke, as well as former F1 World Champion Denny Hulme in Neville Crichton's older-model XR4 Ti (Crichton himself was in the U.S. on business).

As at Symmons, sunlight suggests this was a practice shot taken on Friday; race day was overcast.

There were also the two Peter Jackson Skylines of George Fury and Glenn Seton. They'd won the first two races of the year, and were angling to make it a hat-trick thanks to some new engine management made by a company in the U.S. (the TV says a name that sounds like ACCUmotive, but the only ACCUmotive I can find is from Germany. Any readers got any hints? The comment box is all yours). Also wading in with new engine management was Colin Bond, whose Alfa Romeo 75 had found another 35-45 kW thanks to Melbourne Alfa specialist Joe Beninca (whose brother Dominic was a presence in Sports Sedans).

Peter Brock was present in a Mobil VK Commodore, but it was the #6, not his usual 05: teammate Gary Scott had been bedding in engine and brakes on the Thursday when he'd fired it off the track and straight into a wall. Since the 05 had contained the newest engine and other parts, this was just the sort of disaster Brock's Holden Dealer Team couldn't afford. More by necessity than as punishment Scott was relieved of a drive for the weekend, as Brock took over his car.

Behind Brock were the usual swathe of Commodore owner-drivers. The best of them was once again Larry Perkins in the #11 Enzed car, but there were plenty of weekend warriors as well: Lester Smerdon, Wayne Clift (a white car with a yellow band), Wayne Park (in Bob Jane T-Marts orange), and Alf Grant (red, black and yellow Dulux car). Graeme Crosby hadn't been able to find sponsorship and so hadn't made the trip, but his Roadways pseudo-teammate Allan Grice had – and his car wasn't a VK, but a VL, the new model finally making its debut down under. Gricey was having the expected teething troubles, but his car had 315 kW; backing from Chickadee, Nordbank, Valvoline and Bob Jane; a Channel Seven RaceCam; and a set of 17-inch Yokohamas, which he may still have been getting for free. He was ready for the VL's first serious outing.
[Side Note: All this development points to something I noticed in the broadcast – the date of the race listed on Wikipedia has to be wrong. At the time of writing it still reads 13 March 1987, which is impossible, because the commentators mention the events at Monza on 22 March. At first I assumed this was down to the delay between filming and broadcast, since in those days Channel Seven didn't show the races live, but recorded them and sent them out the following week, usually Saturday night about 10pm. But then they started talking to people in the pits, and they were aware of the shenanigans at Monza as well. So that finally forced me to notice that the 13 March date is only five days after Symmons Plains, which is a pretty tight schedule. Getting all your cars and equipment from Tasmania to Queensland in only five days is a tall order; also fitting in a couple of weeks' worth of development as listed above is flat-out impossible – the commentators even mentioned DJR having breathing space for "two weeks of testing." So I went looking, and found this site listing an alternative date of Saturday, 4 April, 1987. This just seems all-round more plausible. I'm not sure where Wikipedia got the 13 March date from, but it seems most of the other sources on the internet have cribbed it unquestioningly (including me until I watched the footage). So this'll be an interesting test of how read/regarded The Cutting is – will the date on the Wikipedia page be changed just on my say-so, and if yes, how soon?]
Your time starts now.

Green for Go!
Glenn Seton started from pole thanks to a lap of 56.1 seconds, and from there he leapt into an immediate early race lead, with Brock following after and getting busy trying to keep the two M3s behind him. Dick Johnson, however, was waiting for no-one, taking his new turbo in one hand and his home turf advantage in the other and beating the other drivers over the head with them. On lap 3 he got past Larry Perkins at BP Bend, and by lap 5 was trying it again on Tony Longhurst, kicking off a great scrap with the youngster.

Bob Jane Racing Heritage Collection. Check it out.

Lap 6, however, saw the first green bottle fall, as George Fury pulled over at the Karussel and climbed out of his Skyline. A white flag warned the other drivers of a service vehicle dispatched to pick him up, and frankly in his place I'd wouldn't have minded a lift either. He told Seven interviewer Colin Young: "Well I was just braking for bottom corner, the Karussel there, and the whole car just seemed to explode inside and it started burning, all the bits and pieces inside the car started to burn..."

Most of what he said was muffled by the roar of passing race engines, but what we heard was enough. There must've been a fuel leak somewhere, which had filled the cabin with petrol vapour which had, inevitably, ignited. In other words, he’d sat inside an explosion and still managed to pull over safely and escape with his eyebrows intact to deliver the news in the same bored monotone as every other interview. A unique breed of person, your racing driver.

Meanwhile, Richards was starting to get a bonnet ahead of Brock into some turns. Pushing hard to stay ahead, Brock overcooked it over the rise at the Eastern Loop, setting off a chain reaction back down the hill. With nowhere to get past Brock's slide slowed Richards, who slowed Longhurst, which gave Johnson the edge he needed to come storming down the hill and relieve Longhurst of the place.

Richards tried to carve Brock up the inside on the entry to the Eastern Loop on the following lap, but was firmly rebuffed, Brock keeping his foot in it and using the brute strength of his Holden V8 to haul him up the hill faster than the BMW's little four. Finding himself on the outside line for the run through the fast and scary Ford Corner wasn’t part of the plan, but now Brock had held the line it was the only plan. Brock and Richards came down the hill side-by-side – and right behind Brock was Dick Johnson, who made hay while the Queensland sun shone and finally had his way past Jim Richards.

Across the line for lap 10, it was Seton far off in the lead, Brock 2nd and Johnson 3rd, with the two BMWs 4th and 5th. 6th not far behind was Larry Perkins, and then Allan Grice. And then through Dunlop Bridge, Johnson's Sierra had a moment, a wisp of smoke from the left-rear tyre as it snapped sideways and had to be saved by Dick's impressive reflexes, and Neil Crompton said something very interesting: "Notice the bodywork rubbing on the tyre that time as the car really started to roll-steer through that corner..." Remember that, it'll come up again in October...

Down the front straight Brock got just a tiny bit baulked by a backmarker, John Donnelly in the #50 Rover SD1. Donnelly waved him past but even so Brock must've had a lift, as behind him Dick had his foot hard on the power, pulling out and around Donnelly and then further out to go around Brock as well! Brock made his Commodore as wide as he dared, forcing Johnson to the right and drop a wheel in the grass as they passed the pits, but Johnson was in his native Queensland and wasn’t backing off for anyone. Through BP Bend Johnson held his nerve, held his line and soon it was all over red Rover (heh). 2nd place had finally gone to someone other than Brock.

Meanwhile, Jim Richards was really starting to get hot under the collar and putting the moves on Brock. A huge gamble to throw it up the inside at Karussel failed with nothing but a huge brake lock-up, but Richards didn’t lose the scent. Brock had gone in too deep as well and that left him running wide through the Karussel, opening the door for Richards to turn just a little bit tighter and run it up the inside. Even so Brock wasn’t giving up, the pair exiting the corner side-by-side, but in his eagerness to keep up Brock again overcooked it slightly and ran out of grip at the back. The Commodore got sideways, lost momentum and Richards kept the line... but Brock still refused to concede the place. It was only as they came through Dunlop Bridge, where the Commodore was all thumbs, that Richards finally asserted his authority and virtually pushed Brock aside. Richards accelerated away – and so did Tony Longhurst, playing follow-the-leader with Richards, and Perkins, who capitalised and arrived at the Eastern Loop ahead of his old boss.

A couple more laps and Johnson was starting to pressure young Seton. The interesting thing about this was that for the first time ever, the Sierra was looking like it had more power than the Skyline – it had been over 12 months since anything had been able to catch a Nissan on the straights. The pressure told and Seton got a little sideways as they emerged from Ford Corner. Johnson once more kept his foot in it and pulled out to make the move on Seton, and – incredibly – he did it. Around the outside of BP Bend, the local hero simply out-muscled Seton to take the race lead, to a thunderous cheer from the partisan Queensland crowd.

And from there Dick didn’t back off, driving the wheels off that Sierra to build a cushion over Seton, 3.8 seconds in 5 laps. In truth, by now the Skyline was starting to slow. The lack of downforce meant it was very nervous over the bumps – bumps Johnson knew better than the contours of his own face – and couldn't take BP Bend flat, penalising the Skyline right at the point on the track it really needed to maximise itself. That meant by lap 22, Jim Richards too was starting to think about where to pass Seton – the traditional passing spots were all being covered, and whatever gains he made through the back part of the course were eaten up by the power of the Skyline once they came back to the front straight. But think about it he did: inching up lap after lap, Richards finally made his move – into Hungry Corner, so-named because it was so tempting to bite off more than you could chew. The off-camber turn was not forgiving of excess entry speed, but Richards judged it to perfection, pulling out from behind Seton, deftly outbraked him, rotating the car and accelerating off again. It was such a brilliant move that, for once, Tony Longhurst wasn’t able to follow. Differences in car aside, sometimes where was a real difference between an embryonic racing driver and the mature form.

As if to prove the point, Longhurst tried to get tough on Seton and make use of the backmarker Dulux Commodore of Alf Grant. With Grant hogging the inside line, Longhurst boxed Seton in and forced him to sit behind the slow Commodore – but the BMW didn’t have the power to capitalise climbing the hill, and he’d only forced himself onto the outside line for the Eastern Loop. Back down the hill Grant kept to the left, leaving the battling youngsters clear to take the inside line back onto the main straight – where of course the Skyline did its best work. Despite which, there was a glimmer of hope – Seton's tyres looked like they were starting to die now, the Skyline was getting more and more sideways without any appreciable increase in speed. Indeed, Dick Johnson's gap over Seton was now up to 5 seconds... but of course, Seton was no longer 2nd, and the man who was, Jim Richards, was only 3 seconds behind and closing the gap by four tenths a lap.

And then suddenly, on lap 35, Dick Johnson slowed. As Richards was rocketing past, unable to believe his luck, the Sierra was heading for the pits with the odd flame coming from the exhaust. Something had gone majorly wrong. A few laps later they had Johnson for an interview:
Colin Young: Dick, out of the race, what’s the problem?

Dick Johnson: Well actually Cole, I thought we’d make a bit of a race of it this weekend, you know, being our home track and all. So we turned the wick up, it was giving us 1.8 bar of boost, which is great stuff, mate, because it means you can blow 'em away in a straight line which is the way the Commodores have been doing it all the time. So I thought, well, the ol' Henry can go past them any day. And unfortunately, the teeny little turbo that they got just couldn't hack the pace. But we know how to fix the problem and we'll fix it before next race.

Young: Been a lot of talk about your turbo today, is it legal?

Johnson: Mate, I reckon around about midnight tonight might show whether it's legal or illegal. I reckon we’ve got a really good case otherwise we wouldn't've put it on the car.

Young: Okay. Dick Johnson, a great drive early in the race but he’s not going to win today here at Lakeside in front of his home crowd.
DJR team manager (and former HDT man) Neil Lowe said something similar when asked: "At the moment it’s only a lot of discussion, and all the discussion’s just come from the other teams. They just don’t like to see the potential of the Cosworth start to come out. These are an exceptionally powerful motor car. We ran the car for the last two meetings in a standard form, exactly as we bought the engine from England. And, in the last two weeks we’ve put in a bit of time and effort and development and this is the result." Yes, a DNF would be a pretty common result for the Sierra at this stage, unfortunately – none of the four RS Cosworths entered saw the chequered flag, and the only Ford that did was the single-cam, two-valve XR4 Ti of Denny Hulme, which finished dead last.

Once Richards was in the lead, there was nothing anyone else could do – he'd simply run them all into the ground. Allan Grice even had to pit for new tyres in his new VL, and although that meant he enlivened the final laps with a nice scrap with Longhurst, it was academic because he was a lap down. Colin Young then made a rookie mistake and tried interviewing Frank Gardner, who had his usual sour face on and offered a typically unsparing assessment of things.
Colin Young: Well Frank, you should be happy, Jim's leading the race but Tony's got some problems?

Frank Gardner: Tony hit a kerb nice & early on and he's had a bit of a wheel alignment problem, so he’s a bit of a tyre worry at the moment. But if his tyres hold out he's still in good shape.

Young: Can he get past Seton for 2nd, do you think?

Gardner: If Seton has his way, no.

Young: Well Frank, a lot of controversy a couple of weeks ago in Italy, with the [muffled]... but a fine performance here today?

Gardner: Well, the scrutineers are sat on us a few days, so whatever happened in Italy goodness only knows, but we’re not involved in it. So we’re just here to have a motor race.

Young: What about... You had some comments earlier on about the increased performance of Dick Johnson’s Ford Sierras?

Gardner: Well it’s pretty impressive. Rumours have it that there’s a little bit of a scrutineering problem with it. The scrutineers are going to look at the turbo on it, whether or not there’s anything illegal only time will tell.
Time did tell: after the race, when the huge crowd of Johnson supporters had gone home and the danger to their persons had dissipated, the scrutineers declared the impellers on the #17 and #18 Sierras illegal. Dick could only throw his hands up and tell them they were the same as the ones used in Europe. DJR was still slapped with a ban by CAMS, although it was a soft penalty that extended only for seven days, which coincidentally didn't actually exclude him from any races. In truth, with a DNF at his best track, after leading the race, there wasn't much more damage could be done. This would get worse before it got better.

Bond had a good day for once. Not great, just good.

When it all shook out Richards had won the race, with Seton 2nd and Longhurst completing the podium in 3rd. On the championship table it was now Richards leading on 70 points ahead of Seton on 67, with Fury the big loser in the shuffle as his DNF saw him tumble from first to third with 45 – just ahead of Longhurst, now on 44. Brock and Perkins collected some minor points, while Bondy actually doubled his score from 8 to 16. But the hapless DJR drivers still sat on the bottom rung, Dick himself left with nothing but the 4 points he'd picked up at Calder.

On the Manufacturer's table, it was just another round of business as usual: Nissan and BMW equal first on 60, Holden on 45 and Alfa Romeo on 36. The only movement was well down the order, where Toyota picked up 10 points to jump to 6th with 16, just behind Ford's static 18 – and Rover, who joined the party with 2 whole points.

But the headline was clear: Richo had won a race outright, which was pretty impressive in what was supposed to be a class car. In fact, JPS Team BMW had now given the M3 its race debut, its first pole position and its first (legal) race win – not that you'd know it from the European press...