History shows that Dick Johnson isn’t one for backing down from a challenge. He’s the guy who bounced back from the rock incident at Bathurst in 1980 to build a new car, win the 1981 Australian Touring Car Championship and then the Great Race at Mount Panorama. He’s the guy whose race team has been to the brink of financial collapse on more than one occasion and has recently emerged with none other than global motorsport powerhouse Roger Penske as a new majority owner of what will become DJR Team Penske.
Put a wall or challenge up in front of Johnson and he always finds a way through it or over it.
The same was the case when it came to his team’s six-year period, from 1987 to 1992, racing turbocharged Ford Sierras.
The British-conceived four-cylinder turbo rocket ship flooded the world of Group A touring car racing, in particular once its RS500 evolution model was released later in 1987, which helped to fix many of the initial RS Cosworth model’s shortcomings.
The domain of European teams with the relationship and experience to dub themselves as rulers of the ‘world of Sierras’, the unique rear-wheel drive cars from overseas however weren’t as good as they could have been. And Johnson knew it.
It was his team in Queensland that used some local nous, lateral ingenuity and a willingness not to cop a back seat to anyone that helped make Dick Johnson Racing’s Sierras the fastest in the world – with the race results to back it up.
Traditional thinking would label an ‘Australian muscle car’ as a V8-powered Falcon, Monaro, Charger, Commodore or the like. But while its bodyshell may have originated at Ford Motorsport in Europe (Ghent in Belgium to be exact), the red Shell Sierras very much deserve respect for their credentials as homegrown high performance racing machines. After all, they were developed and tested locally and dominated results sheets on the domestic scene.
What’s more, in the ultimate coals-to-Newcastle story, DJR-built Sierras beat the Poms at their own game, as we will detail over the coming pages.
Any car that can pump nearly 700 horsepower from a four-cylinder, turbo-charged engine that wheelspins in fourth gear is muscular in its own special way…
Some 22 years on from the last time DJR raced a Sierra – and 25 since the redback’s finest moment locally, victory in the 1989 Tooheys 1000 at Bathurst – Johnson himself takes enormous pride in the ‘world’s fastest Sierra’ label that is attached to his cars rather than those of Ruedi Eggenberger or Andy Rouse.
“I take a lot of pride from when people say we had the world’s fastest Sierras for the simple reason that at the beginning we were virtually the colonials from down under that had to spend time sending all the stuff to and from the UK to get any adjustments made,” Johnson explains to AMC.
Read on to learn about the day Johnson effectively declared war on former supplier Rouse; how DJR overcame early reliability issues; received a boost from the crack McLaren Formula 1 team courtesy of shared sponsor Shell; and supplied cars that won multiple BTCC rounds (and races in Asia).