While I enjoy watching the modern day spectacle of the BTCC and WTCC, I often find myself thinking back to the final days of the Group A Touring Car regulations that were in use before the introduction of the FIA Class 2 / Super Touring regulations that replaced them
Ironically as this era was winding down, it was also my introduction to Touring Car racing. So I thought I would share a few thoughts with you all about it.
My first love in the Group A era is the Ford Sierra RS500. This is the case due to two facts. A: My Dad drove a Ford Capri and many of my school friends parents had Ford Escorts and Sierra's. B: Andy Rouse drove one in the BTCC 1987 WTCC and 1988 ETCC and was my first Touring Car hero. So Ford was sealed as my first manufacturer love.
Seeing the 1988 battle at Brands Hatch between Rouse in his Kaliber sponsored RS500 and Steve Soper in his works Texaco sponsored RS500 is a memory that never goes away. They blitzed the field and were locked in their own battle for the lead race long. It was enthralling to see Rouse overcome Soper through Pilgrims Drop and Hawthorn Hill, only for Soper to fight back at Druids.
Soper and Rouse clashed 4 times in 1988. Soper won their first encounter at Thruxton. This was due to Rouse using softer tyres than Soper on the abrasive Thruxton surface. However Rouse won at their second encounter at Brands Hatch. This was due to Rouse's Sierra running a higher boost.
Round 3 took place at Silverstone, scene of the 1988 Tourist Trophy, which was also a round of the ETCC. Ford needed a win from either of the Eggenberger Texaco Sierra's to seal the manufacturers title...
However, things didnt exactly go to plan...
During the race weekend the works Eggenberger cars faced stiff competition. Australian Dick Johnson took part with 2 RS500's, both built by his own team. Andy Rouse entered 2 RS500's as well and the lead of the race was contested by Rouse, Soper and Johnson before the driver changes took place. Johnson had held a comfortable lead until that point while Rouse fought with the Texaco Ford's for 2nd.
Johnson suffered overheating issues and fell out of the lead fight, leaving Rouse and the Texaco Ford's to fight it out. Now remember, a win for either Texaco entries seals the manufacturer titles. Well Rouse had other ideas...
He took the fight to both cars and took the lead of the race, keeping it in the process to win the race. Ford were unhappy with this and pushed every effort to seal the ETCC title before the end of the season. They suceeded in doing this while BMW's Roberto Ravaglia took the drivers title. Shortly after the ETCC was put to rest by the FIA due to the spiralling costs of the Group A Evolution cars that were racing.
However, Eggenberger took revenge in the final envounter, the BTCC Finale at Silverstone and it was Sopers team mate Gianfranco Brancatelli that denied Rouse win number 10 in the race. History records Rouse winning 9 out of the 12 BTCC rounds that year but due to the 4 class system Class B driver Frank Sytner won the overall title in his BMW Finance M3. Rouse finished 3rd in the title behind Class D driver Phil Dowsett.
Again in 1989 and 1990, the Sierra dominated the races outright taking the overall race wins. Jerry Mahoney, Robb Gravett, Tim Harvey and Laurence Bristow offered Rouse the stiffest competition in the last years of Class A. Gravett won the 1990 title, beating Rouse in a Dick Johnson built RS500.
However again due to the complicated BTCC Class system, John Cleland won the 1989 title in his Class C Vauxhall Astra. Even though Rouse won races from the front, he was often defeated by the Class system where win in your own class was equal to the overall race win.
Even now, I recall how the sight of those 300bhp monsters had me hooked as I watched the highlights programmes on a Saturday Afternoon on BBC Grandstand. Spitting flames on gear changes and twitching through every corner as the power poured through the rear wheels. An awesome sight. Often I would be out in the garden afterwards playing with my toy cars in my sandpit.
Its amazing how many times my Ford Sierra's won the races in that sandpit...
The Sierra wasn't just a dominant force in the BTCC, WTCC and ETCC. But it was also the car to beat abroad in the German Touring Car Championship or DTM, with german Klaus Ludwig winning the 1988 title in a Ford and the Eggenberger Texaco Team winning races outright in the 1987 WTCC and 1988 ETCC.
So that was one of my favourite Group A Touring Cars. What I did plan on was writing about my other favourite car, the BMW M3. However this one blog is long enough so I'll write about that next time.
Besides...that Kettle is calling...