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...

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

22 March: Holden vs the World

Fate, it seems, has a sense of irony. While the BMW M3, Ford Sierra RS Cosworth and Alfa Romeo 75 Turbo Evoluzione all made their world debut in lowly Australia, the new-model Holden Commodore made its racing debut at the grand and glamorous Autodromo Nazionale Monza, in the Royal Park some 20km north of Milan. At the helm were former Holden Dealer Team employees Allan Moffat and John Harvey, who were currently between jobs and just trying to keep the lights on... and about to deliver Holden one of the greatest upset victories of all time.

Deliberately Mis-lead
The new VL Commodore had launched in March 1986, a real make-or-break moment for Holden. The Oil Crisis of 1973 had forced the Big Three to rethink their strategies, and the less famous sequel, triggered by the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, had driven the message home: no more gas guzzlers. The car of the future must be efficient.

There was a difference of opinion as to how that should be achieved, however, and unfortunately for Holden, Ford got it right and they got it wrong. The XD Falcon remained a full-size family car with a more efficient engine range, crafted (at huge expense) by Honda in Japan. In contrast Holden had kept the engine range the same and made the car itself smaller, with a disastrous effect on sales. Ford's advertisers were handed a gift, able to argue that if it used no more fuel than its rival, why not buy the more spacious car? The result was that the VK and VL Commodores barely sold as many units combined as the XF Falcon did all on its own – perhaps the most stodgy, unsexy, willfully beige car ever built in Australia. The 1980s belonged to Ford, and Holden was left trading on the edge of insolvency.

You know something's wrong when this is wiping the floor with you. (source)

Then, in the middle of this long fightback, they copped another kick in the nuts with the introduction of unleaded petrol. Toxic lead buildup in children's blood had become a concern, the statistic being that every 10µg/dL (microgrammes per decilitre) of blood lead concentration lowered intelligence by 2-3 IQ points, not counting damage to liver, kidneys, blood stippling etc. It would take roughly 100,000 cars going past your doorstep per day to reach that figure, but given the presence of industrial lead and the leaded paint then common in homes, the threshold was within reach if you lived on a busy road. Even in the 1990s it was estimated as many as 220,000 preschoolers had more than the target 10µg/dL blood lead concentration.

Not many realise it now, but the resulting switch to unleaded petrol in 1986 completed a grand 63-year detour for the car, begun in 1923 when the growing U.S. automotive industry had faced a choice between adding toxic lead to petrol brews to control pinging, or equally-effective, non-toxic and endlessly renewable ethanol. They went for the lead, because Big Oil foresaw a future where ethanol made up an ever-greater percentage of fuel blends, or – God forbid – replaced oil entirely. They knew their tetraethyl lead (TEL) additive was toxic from day one, but protecting their profits was apparently worth poisoning the entire world, screwing over farmers and denying us 63 years of development on ethanol engines. And yes, although I don't like to sound like the tinfoil hat brigade, one of the ringleaders of the scam was indeed John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil – I roll my eyes at the idea his family is secretly controlling the world via the Illuminati and the Lizard People, but the bastard was a master at ordinary business-type evil.


Anyway, when we finally got back on track in 1986, unleaded petrol was proving a problem. TEL had been added to reduce pinging, so without it engine builders had to reduce compression and back off the spark, robbing their engines of power. Even BMW struggled with the change, switching over to its unloved, low-revving ETA engines to comply with the new fuel range – and if the Bavarians couldn’t stick the landing, what hope did a minnow like Holden have? They'd run out of couches to raid for small change, and facing the development bills to retune their Black straight-six and locally-built V8 engines for ULP, Holden bravely gave up and went looking for a turnkey solution instead.

That by itself kicked over a hornet's nest, because the engine they chose came from Japan. Although Holden called it the Powertech 6Ei, it was actually a Nissan RB30, obtained by a deal between Fisherman's Bend and Nissan in Japan. Yes, weather reporters at the scene could confirm blizzard conditions in Hell: Holden, a company set up in response to Japanese aggression in WWII, was getting a Japanese engine. The scandal that followed is beyond this article, but suffice to say it was immense: in 1986 the older generation were wall-to-wall war veterans (like my great-uncle), and everyone had been raised on stories of Japanese wartime atrocities, especially POW camps like Changi. Australia hadn't forgotten and hadn't forgiven: even forty years on, "Japan" was still a dirty word.

VL Commodore SS Group A
So Holden had axed the Black engine, and cultural baggage aside, the unit that replaced it was very good. Holden's plan had been to make the RB30 the workhorse engine, and then market the Turbo version as the performance option. The idea what wasn't without merit, as it beat Ford to the turbo-six idea by 15 years, and the numbers were downright incredible for the time: 150 kW at 5,600rpm; 296 Nm at 3,200rpm; 0-100 in 7.8 seconds; and even the average driver could cover the quarter mile in 15.5 – less, with some slick gear changes. In the new lead-free era, when anything under 17 seconds was good, 15.5 in a family car with five seats and a boot was blinding. The Turbo gained a following, but it was more cult-classic than Spielberg blockbuster: it was Japanese, it was a turbo, and the only reason it was here at all to shuffle off the long-serving Holden V8.

Despite the similar 308ci capacity, this engine had nothing to do with Chevrolet's 307. The design was Holden's own, and although its best days weren't exactly in the past, it would be no lie to say it was getting long in the tooth. It had been released for the HT range in 1969, been a factor in the Supercar Scare in 1972, with Repco tuning part of the golden age of Australian Formula 5000, and been Holden's strike weapon at Bathurst since 1974. To a whole generation, the V8 was Holden, and they couldn't axe it without some serious blowback.

So when they announced they were dropping it, that's exactly what they got. Suddenly Australia was up in arms, with "Save the V8" campaigns popping up seemingly overnight. Street Machine magazine went with the slogan "V8s 'til '98" and mobilised more than 10,000 enthusiasts for their letter-writing campaign. Front and centre was of course Peter Brock, who pleaded with the Holden execs and even published managing director Chuck Chapman's personal fax number in the Sun Herald. Caving to public pressure, Holden put plans to kill the V8 on ice and got busy retuning it for ULP – though God only knows where they found the money.

When it re-emerged on the VL in October 1986, the V8 was no longer even marketed as a performance engine: Holden's ads focused on its alleged towing prowess instead, one ad showing it tugging an America's Cup yacht, another a 747. The brochure skited:
Only Holden torques your language. Torque is up, in spite of the demands of ULP, and so is power. It's the best engine around for towing trailers, boats, horse floats and caravans. The big 5.0 now drives more smoothly. There's still nothing quite like an Aussie Holden V8, with its legendary longevity and the laid-back, top-gear style of driving it allows. And only Holden can give you one.
Reading between the lines, it was clear Holden had struggled to give the VL any more power than the VK. Sure, outright figures were up – 122 kW at 4,400rpm and 323 Nm at 3,200 – but this was cheating, achieved by fitting the bigger valves from the racing version. Meanwhile, the RB30 Turbo – which produced max torque from only 3,200rpm, and wasn't being let down by the Aussie Trimatic ("Traumatic") gearbox – was actually an equally good option for towing, and once the aftermarket tuners started playing around with boost, the V8's figures were all-too-easy to eclipse.

But, nobody much cared. The V8 was back, loud and proud, and as if stage-managed from above, it had emerged just as Allan Grice had delivered Holden's first Bathurst win of the Group A era.
The timing could not have been better. Even if GM-H had master-planned it, no itinerary of success could have surpassed that of early October, which lead to the Sydney Motor Show launch of the VL group A Commodore on the 16th. That much maligned driver, Allan Grice, had just driven an impeccable Bathurst, proving that all the high technology that Nissan, BMW, Volvo, Mercedes and the rest could collectively throw at the Holden V8 wasn't going to be enough – the Chickadee Commodore romped to victory... The Group A racing Commodores were beginning to look as if they had the measure of the world. – Commodore Crazy, 1986
So the survival of the V8 had been assured, and with it the survival of the Group A homologation special. In the event, the VL Group A basically involved transferring the well-developed A9L-spec V8 from Blue Meanie into a VL bodyshell, which rather disappointed those who'd been hoping the delay in releasing the V8 had been due to fitting fuel injection. But no, induction was via the same old Rochester Quadrajet carburettor with port-matched inlet manifold, along with the familiar Crane "gold" roller rockers, heavy duty crankshaft and conrods. There were new cylinder head castings to eliminate hot spots and the head gasket failures which had haunted the VK, while the camshaft profiles, combustion chamber shapes and exhaust system were all tweaked, and the car was given a heavy-duty clutch with a clamping pressure of 1,150kg. The low-restriction exhaust also featured a flange only inches from the cylinder heads; the Group A rules allowed a free exhaust from the first flange, so they put it as close to the engine as possible to capitalise on the rules.

Power went up to 137 kW at 4,400rpm (and more like 300 kW in race tune) and torque to 345 Nm at 3,200, and mated to the now-standard Borg-Warner T5G 5-speed manual, 0-100 times dropped to 7.5 seconds. Standing quarter times, however, stayed stubbornly around the 15-second mark, Motor magazine's best effort a 15.54 that crossed the line at 141.7km/h.


Inside the cabin the Scheel bucket seats (with a simple grey wool or velour trim this time around), Momo steering wheel and mandatory HDT gear knob were all retained, and an anti-theft alarm system was added. But this edition of the Group A was more about homologating the body, which involved much less fibreglass than previous models. The most distinctive feature was the "NACA duct" air intake on the bonnet, the latest attempt to feed the Rochester carb with a smooth, dense supply of air. There was a new radiator grille, a ducted front splitter to keep the brakes cool, and a smaller "bird bath" rear spoiler than we'd seen on Blue Meanie, and that was about it – none of the fat side skirts or swollen wheel arches of previous HDT models. Options included air conditioning ($1,225), a sunroof and Calais side skirts & rear apron, while kerb weight was some 1,295kg. It rolled on 16x7 Momo star wheels from the LE Calais fitted with Bridgestone Potenzas, and was finished in a special shade called Permanent Red.


When parked alongside the super-aggressive steroid specials of previous HDT offerings, this was first one where the bodykit actually looked like it belonged to the car. And no wonder: the VL Group A was actually a product of Fisherman's Bend, not of Bertie Street, and although each car was stamped with a limited edition number between 001 and 500, only 173 got the prized Peter Brock signature (and Energy Polarizer). It was on sale for $29,600, or about $69,000 today – or, since you're probably used to hearing car prices in British pounds, about £43,000 pre-Brexit – just under the Hawke trigger price for the luxury car tax.

There is no Davide Cironi video describing what it was like to drive, but if there was it would probably start with him bemoaning the cheap feel and crude build quality of the thing, which was fair, because any Australian review of an Alfa Romeo would start with the word "shitbox." From there he would probably remark that the steering was okay, but the front end lacked balance and the rear end lacked everything, especially lateral grip and power-down. This made the Turbo a bit of a widowmaker, but the smoother power delivery of the V8 made it a bit more manageable. In fact it was a more manageable car overall than Blue Meanie, less hard-edged and raw, meaning it wasn't quite as delicious at carving up a mountain road, but it was something you could consider making an actual journey in...

And then he'd come to the crux of the matter, that engine. You couldn't get a 5.0-litre V8 in Europe, it just wouldn't happen, so the sensation of an oldschool muscle car engine in a modern sports sedan would probably be bewitching – any gear, any time, put your foot down and something would happen. And when it did, unlike the old days, the chassis would contain it. And as for the soundtrack... well, the first time the Holden blasted past the Monza pits in 1986, we're told the whole of pitlane stopped to watch. All Holdens have a baritone rumble to them, which I'm biased against because over here it's the sound of knuckle-draggers, but without that association it's probably a very pleasant sound. Add in the top notes of the big-bore exhaust, like a trumpet being blown by the lungs of a hurricane, and you had something very, very special. The combination of Holden novelty built upon Opel familiarity meant the Commodores of 1986 and 1987 gained a bit of a cult following in Europe, and for all its inherent Holden-ness, I'm sure Cironi would have a hoot driving it.

The Monza Campaign
The prototype racecar had been sitting in the Holden Dealer Team workshop, almost finished, the day Holden dumped Peter Brock. Their decision was enormously damaging for Peter: his operation was no longer the works race team, and now he was persona non grata at the Bend, all Holden signage had to be removed from the cars, and his endless free supply of GM parts and technical support was cut off. In fact, he wasn't even allowed to buy parts anymore. Desperate for cash, HDT merchandised like crazy, selling anything they could slap a logo on, but even so the team had to start selling off assets to generate cash flow. One of these was the prototype VL Commodore SS Group A, after Melbourne electrical contractor Phillip Ross made an offer Brock couldn't refuse.

It was only a month later, however, that it became clear Ross had just been an advocate for the real buyer – Mr Allan Moffat!

Taking delivery of the car (source)

Moffat had once again demonstrated his incredible ability to inspire belief in others, putting together an impressive deal with the ANZ bank to buy the prototype VL and take it racing on the far side of the world. Allan's annotations to How to Win Friends and Influence People would probably be worth a fortune.
The car that had been built for the World Touring Car Championship in 1987 had never turned a wheel and John said it would be a pity to lose it. I had just begun my association with ANZ and I borrowed $125,000 to buy the car, and shipped it to England where I got some Rothmans signwriting.

We shipped it down to Monza in Italy in March for the first WTCC round, the same track where I had driven with Brock the previous year in a round of the European championship. – Allan Moffat, Australian Muscle Car #78
Now, on paper, a World Touring Car Championship is a daft idea. Touring car racing is deeply rooted in the local market, and local markets tend to be, well, local. Look at the state of the world in the post-Group A era and you'll see business as usual: the world fragmented into V8 Supercars, DTM, Super Touring, Super GT, Stock Car Brasil and even NASCAR, the U.S. putting their own spin on the tintop concept. And no amount of fanwank could ever have brought them together. They were all very successful in their small national ponds, because they were all what their local audience wanted, but there was no compromise that would ever allow them to race against each other. "World Touring Cars" should make as much sense as the Cricket World Cup, which involves countries you've never heard of (Sri Lanka) in matches against countries that don't exist (West Indies) and countries that aren't even countries (England).

But in practice, of course, the World Cup is totally awesome. And in the mid-1980s, the FIA's Group A rulebook had been adopted by the Australian, British, German, Japanese and European championships alike, putting them, almost literally, on the same page. It was an opportunity like no other; the stars had aligned, destiny had called and left a dirty voice message. The FIA shrugged and signed the paperwork. The World Touring Car Championship was go, created by adding Bathurst, Wellington and Mt Fuji to the ETCC calendar.

And the first race was to be the Monza 500 – 87 laps of la Pista Magica, in the lake district of Lombardy, in early spring. It was a rough job sometimes...


Once they got to Europe, being Europe, there was a whiff of controversy in the air. Having dreamed up the World Touring Car Championship, the FIA had immediately strangled it in the cradle by appointing Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone to promote the damn thing. Fox, meet Henhouse: having put in the hard yards to make Formula 1 the commercial juggernaut (not to mention awesome spectacle) it had become, Bernie was in no mood to let a bunch of toy cars with number plates take his audience away. Group A was big and getting bigger, and that was going to stop right now.

So at the last minute, Bernie had imposed a U.S.$60,000 fee to enter the WTCC – per car. You could still enter the races as you pleased, but with no fee, you weren't eligible for points or prizemoney. At current wage rates, that works out as U.S.$126,000 today, which was pretty hefty for a glorified cover charge. But it did its job – several top teams baulked and pulled out of the championship altogether, most notably Tom Walkinshaw Racing, who'd been the team to beat in the ETCC in recent years. In the end, only fifteen cars were entered for the inaugural World Touring Car Championship: three Sierras (the works Texaco cars of Eggenberger Motorsport, and the works-supported entry of Andy Rouse Racing), four BMW M3s (two German, two Italian, all works), six Alfa Romeo 75s (divided between Alfa Corse in gorgeous red works colours; the Beretta-sponsored Brixia Motor Sport that later became the Scuderia Italia F1 team; and the white Albatech cars), and the real oddballs of the series, a single Alfa Romeo 33 (surely that was a dare?) and red #1 Maserati Biturbo, the car Jeremy Clarkson dropped a skip full of scrap metal on for being an offense to one of the best badges in the business.

Although here photographed at Dijon, this was the car that ultimately banked the points at Monza (source)

And that was it: the World Championship would be fought out between just these 15 cars, of which just 11 showed up at Monza. This would lead to some confusion – as Bernie no doubt intended – because there were 38 actual cars on the grid that day, including the classy blue-and-white Rothmans Commodore of Allan Moffat Racing. Despite the tight four-week deadline, Moffat and Harvey managed to recruit a crew of mechanics, score a supply of Dunlop tyres, borrow a truck and ship the car to Milan in time for the race, but they had precious little in the way of spares – only some head gaskets and spark plugs, with just one engine and gearbox to get them through the whole weekend.

With Tom Walkinshaw having withdrawn his Commodores in protest and the Eggenberger Texaco Sierras parked with fuel injection irregularities, Andy Rouse’s private Sierra took pole with a lap of 1:57.0, with Moffat/Harvey a lowly 9th on 2:00.39. Without spares, keeping the car off the high Monza kerbs was imperative, and qualifying meant little in a 500km race. And of all circuits, Monza was sure to be kind to the Commodore, maximising its power and aero package and minimising the penalty of its massive weight on tyres and brakes. Built for the long straights and steep climbs of Mt Panorama, the Commodore was sure to find the Grand Old Lady to its liking (even if her straights were slightly shorter...).*

The Andy Rouse/Thierry Tassin Sierra led the hordes of BMWs early from the rolling start, with Moffat starting in the Commodore and engaging in a great scrap for 4th with the M3s of Ricardo Patrese, Ivan Capelli and Winni Vogt. But the Sierra blew a head gasket after just 11 laps, and the spinning Maserati Biturbo shared by Armin Hahne and Bruno Giacomelli hampered Moffat soon after and he was forced to jump on the brakes to avoid contact. That meant he lost the aerodynamic tow from the BMWs and, despite some 315 kW from the Holden V8, he couldn’t catch back up.

He made it past half distance and was 6th when he came in for fuel and to hand over to Harvey. John lapped steadily during his stint, but eased back towards the end as the tyres began to overheat. This dropped them one place and they eventually came home a creditable 7th, behind the six works and semi-works M3s, Patrese and Johnny Cecotto winning on the road clear of Emanuele Pirro and Roland Ratzenberger.
We finished seventh, but that wasn’t the end of the story. There were six factory BMW M3s that finished one through six on the road and after the race they went through scrutineering and headed back to their Schnitzer, Bigazzi and CiBiEmme trucks.

All they did on our car was lift the bonnet and admire the big engine, but then a privateer BMW M3 arrived and his car was 85 kilos heavier. So they got the factory cars back and discovered they had carbon fibre bonnets and guards and roofs and stuff under the cars made from titanium. They were out, but one thing the organisers forgot was to get the winner’s trophy back.

While this was going on, we had already gone back to the hotel and decided we had won our class. John and I had an early dinner and went to bed, but in the morning when we came down the reception guy was very excited. "Magnifico, numero uno," he said, and pointed to the front page of the paper which said the Aussies had won at Monza. John lit up like a Roman candle and I said, "Not everyone gets away with murder all the time." It was joyous. We phoned everyone we knew in Australia to tell them. It must have been about 60 people. It was one of those things you never forget. – Allan Moffat, AMC #78
It was a difficult concept to grasp, but the winning Moffat/Harvey Commodore actually finished the 87-lap race in 7th, having done only 86 laps, and the car that had scored the "victory" points towards the WTCC had actually finished 13th (that was the #79 Albatech Alfa Romeo 75 of Walter Voulaz and Marcello Cipriani, since I know you were wondering). Imagine explaining that to an Aussie TV audience used to nothing more demanding than Hey Hey It's Saturday!

Post-Scriptum: The Only Legal BMW at Monza
An interesting side note is the BMW that caused all the trouble. The cars that had been excluded were all works cars that had been built by professional teams with the factory's blessing. The other two M3s in the race had been privately entered, and only one of them had finished – the #49 of Hungarian artist and chemist turned hillclimb legend, József Cserkúti. His Külker SC Team had been entering BMWs in hillclimbs all over Europe, and thought the WTCC race at Monza was worth a crack. And indeed, after the factory cars were excluded, he found himself only one step away from the podium, in 4th. The translation of his comments, made to a Hungarian magazine immediately after the race, make for fascinating reading:
Q: Your results surprised everyone! Many people had had no idea that you had been building a new racing car. (...)

CSJ: Ever since I first heard of the new BMW M3, I had been playing with the idea to build such a car for myself. The first components had arrived on 3rd January, since I had been working flat out. (...) We finished the car just a week before the (Monza) race. I tested it on the Hungaroring, and the team practiced refuelling tyre changes. The car was disasterous: the back end had been wobbling and the engine hadn't been perfect either.

Q: What kind of changes did take place at Monza?

CSJ: At Monza, we talked to the members of BMW Motorsport GmbH and they told us what to change. They gave us new spings and suspension parts, altered the electronics of the engine, changed the exhaust system, thus they found an extra 15 hp, so the power output increased to 295 hp. The factory team lent me two mechanics to look after my car and they changed everything on the car for free. Also, Pirelli supplied us with tyres. During practice, the car was running perfectly. All three of us had recorded a time enough for qualification.

Q: You had been partnered by a German driver.

CSJ: I'm lacking financial funds, so I hired out the car for spare parts. Also I would like to have Hungarian driver in the team, that's why I took András Szabó with me. He also did a time which would qualify us for the race. My other team-mate was German Anton Fischaber, who not only brought spare spare parts along, but he is a good driver as well. He had already competed in the European Touring Car series, and been the member of the Alfa works team testing the car at Monza for months. He is a five-time European hillclimb champion as well.

Q: What was the race like?

CSJ: To be honest, when we had arrived, I wanted to return to Hungary immediately. The entry list was full of F1 drivers, like Giacomelli, Nannini, Patrese, Danner, not to mention Johnny Ceccoto and Michael Andretti. Even the name of Niki Lauda was on the list! We were dreaming about qualifying for the race. But my fears disappeared during practice. It was Fischaber, who had started the race, I took over the car on lap 42, which time we were lying 11th. It turned out, I had made a mistake building the car, when I put the throttle and the brake pedal too close to each other and at a wrong moment I pressed them both. I spun, and flat spotted the tyres. By the time I settled down, I lost such a great deal of time, that the eventual class winners, Klammer and Oberdorfer lapped us. Circuit racing was a new experience for me, I'm not getting used to do 250 kmh! (...)

Q: According to the press agencies, you had finished seven places lower where you were actually classified. What happened?

CSJ: The Holden team had launced an appeal and all BMW M3 had been disqualified, except for mine.

Q: Your plans?

CSJ: Because of the new car, we spent all money available. We don't have the financial assets to enter the World Championship for 60,000 bucks, nor the European Series for 6,000. We're going to do some races both WC and EC to learn something about circuit racing. But we emphasize our efforts on the European hillclimb championship.
So just think: if BMW hadn't given him any help, left him to limp around and eventually break down like the other BMW in the race, they might've got away with it. Somehow, though, I don't imagine Allan Moffat sent him a thankyou card after the race. That sort of thing was never his style...

Photographed here at Brno.

* Yes, really. The front straight at Monza is 1,120 metres long, Conrod is 1,916. But Monza is Monza: the Grand Old Lady stands alone.