But first, heads had to roll. Gregg Hansford's touring car career got a big jolt when Shell requested that another driver be found for the #18. The change was controversial, and there were reports Hansford didn't find out about his sacking until he read about it in a newspaper, but Dick categorically denies this.
I sacked Gregg at the Jack Newton Celebrity Pro-Am, a charity golf tournament [at Noosa] on the North Coast. It was an extremely awkward day. I hit woods and irons, fired balls into the sand, crippled by anxiety. He was with me the whole time, not a care in the world, and was really enjoying himself. I was a wreck because I knew what was coming. I meant to tell him on the course, but I couldn’t work up the courage so I waited until I had a stiff drink in my hand.
I grabbed a glass from the cupboard, threw in some ice and filled it to the brim before tipping my head back and downed the high-proof bourbon. I poured another and passed it to Gregg. I waited until he had a sip and then I gave him the bullet.
"What I have to say isn't real nice, mate," I blurted, the warm bourbon in my belly giving me courage.
"But I have to say it. I've been talking to the boys at the top, and we've come to the decision that we have to go in another direction. You won't be driving for us next year. I'm sorry."
Gregg went white. "What do you mean?" he said. "Are you serious?"
"Afraid so. It isn't totally my decision, but this is the way it has to go."
The poor bugger took it hard. He looked as though he was going to cry. I felt terrible. I had never sacked anyone in my life and to fire a bloke like Gregg was just heartbreaking. He was a good driver, and we had only given him a year to prove himself in what was ultimately a shit car.
I felt for him but I had no choice. The decision had been made. Shell was tipping in huge money and was very disappointed with the year we'd had. Gregg was an easy target and they told me he had to go. My hands were tied. – Dick Johnson, The Autobiography
|Gregg as he spent the 1970s, in Kawasaki green. He chased Ron Toombs up and down Mount Panorama before he ever chased Peter Brock.|
So leading up to Christmas '87, drivers still on the market had a sniff there might be a job opening at Dick Johnson Racing. Some took advantage better than others.
Not long after an envelope was lobbed over my way. Inside was a Christmas card, which was strange because I'd never received one addressed to the workshop before.He wasn't too shabby a driver, either. Bowe was a two-time CAMS Gold Star winner (1984 and '85), and at one point had driven the only ground-effect Formula 5000 car ever built, the Elfin MR9.
"Merry Christmas Dick," it said. "Heard you had a drive going? Would love to be involved. Best wishes, John Bowe."
I had a bit of a chuckle when I put the card down because John was pretty good when it came to playing the game. He was one of those blokes who was always hanging around the bigwigs, loitering with the journalists, and doing anything he could to further his name. He even had his own personal public relations agent, a bloke called David Segal, known as the "seagull." I would go as far as saying John Bowe was the best politician in motorsport. – Dick Johnson, The Autobiography
He'd also been Australian Sportscar Champion for 1986 in a frightening machine called the Veskanda C1, which still holds outright lap records at many tracks across Australia. Some said he could've taken over from Alan Jones as Australia's representative in Formula 1, but he'd elected to go tintop racing instead, and was best known as a former number two at Volvo and co-driver at Nissan. "I used to do a good Christmas card," Bowe laughed later. "In fact it kept me employed for 11 years!"
He probably didn't need to send me the card because he was already in my sights. John had been hanging around the Shell brass, never one to miss an opportunity. He told them how good he was and what he could do for the team. Even before we told Gregg he was no longer required, Shell had earmarked Bowe as their man.Digression: since the Motorola MicroTAC wasn't released until 1989, and was quite compact by the standards of the day, Dick is probably remembering it wrong. From the description it sounds more like a Mobira Cityman 900 or similar, like the one Danny Glover used in Lethal Weapon.
I can remember sitting with him on the way to the first race of the year.
"No, you drive, mate," he said. "I have work to do."
He pulled out this gigantic machine, all black box and twisted cords.
"What's that?" I asked.
"A phone," he said, surprised. I didn't know what his Motorola MicroTAC mobile phone was.
He spoke on the damn thing all the way to the track, selling and buying cars. When he wasn't making calls, he had his head buried in the classified ads. He was every bit the used car salesman. Needless to say, a good one at that. – Dick Johnson, The Autobiography
|The '80s really were glorious.|
Anyway, with the other side of the garage settled, the next job was to sort out the car, starting with the ECU. The engine management system was the key to squeezing more power out of the humble Ford block, but they were dependent on chips supplied by Andy Rouse, half a world away.
We needed more horsepower but had no clue how to get it. We weren't able to program our computer (even the ex-Gibson employee wasn't up to speed with the equipment we had) and, like I said, we became dependent on Andy Rouse and his company in England.Ideally DJR would've been mapping their own engines, but Rouse wouldn't allow that because the program was owned by him and built by Zytek. That might've been okay, except that Rouse had what you might call a British Empire moral conscience, and the computer chips he dispatched were an outright scam. He billed his customers thousands for chips that kept the horsepower well down and ensured they could never steal a win from his own Kaliber Ford team. Andy Rouse Racing wasn't a business, it was a racket.
So I called him up in desperation.
"Mate, we need more power," I said. "We're getting flogged."
"No worries," he said. "I'll send you the new customer chip. It'll do the job."
We sent Rouse $1,000 for the new chip, waiting anxiously for the parcel to arrive from England and thinking it was the solution to all our problems. We thought we could whack the little card into the engine and the car would be going two seconds quicker each lap. But we were wrong.
The chip did little. We didn't have the machinery to program the thing ourselves and could do nothing to adjust the engine. I called Rouse once more and forked out another $1,000, but again the new chip was no silver bullet.
The situation was a complete joke and we were being held to ransom because we operated under the Zytek engine management system, and the chips he sent us weren't specialised for this particular program, but simply upgrades he sent to everyone when he felt like making a buck. We tried to go around the problem by tricking the computer into making changes to other parts of the engine. It worked in theory, but in practice it was a disaster. We ended up blowing 37 turbos in the first year! – Dick Johnson, The Autobiography
|His bank manager had the same smile.|
I was at my wits' end and grabbed Jillie and my passport and jumped on the plane to the U.K. looking to start a fight.Dale-Jones had been contracted by Ford to work on the Group B rally programme, and the answer to Dick's woes lay in expertise and technology developed for the stillborn RS200 rally car. It was a Bosch 1.2 system that he would provide for a fee, then set up (and train them to use) free of charge. It wasn't as sophisticated as Rouse's Zytek system, but it would do the job.
"This is bullshit," I said, striding into Rouse's offices, trying hard to keep my cool. "I need to be able to have the machine in order to program the chips myself. I'm getting belted over there and this is the only way forward. I'm willing to pay you whatever you like so I can control things myself rather than rely on the customer chips you send out."
He shook his head.
"What do you mean no? I've spent a fortune on this!"
Rouse stayed silent and shook his head again.
I could feel my blood boiling.
"You are the biggest c*%t I have ever met in my life!" I screamed. "You can jam the whole deal right up your arse."
Jillie was there too and reckons that was the angriest she had ever seen me. I don't think I'd ever used the c-word in my life, and right there and then I blurted it out in front of my wife. I walked out of the office, feeling totally dejected, and with an icy breeze chilling me to my core, I looked to Jillie.
"We're stuffed," I said. "This could be the end because I really don't know where to go now."
Desperate, I called Doug Jacobi from Ford and told him of my seemingly hopeless situation.
"It's a long shot," Doug said. "But since you're there, why don't you pay John Griffiths a visit? He’s involved with the Sierra program for Ford."
So I followed Doug's advice and Griffiths ended up putting us in touch with the man who would become our saviour: Graham Dale-Jones. – Dick Johnson, The Autobiography
He went to America to do the Pikes Peak Hillclimb with a DFV Cosworth there with two big 1.2 systems on it. They were only basically for a four-cylinder car. On the way back from America to England I convinced him to to come via Australia and that's how he taught us to do it and we eventually got things happening.Within a year the Sierra was seeing up to 2.4 bar of boost in qualifying, and up to 2.0 in the races – well short of the 5.5 being achieved in Formula 1 at the time, but still impressive for a production block (at the time the average road car could barely handle 0.5). Claimed power outputs vary wildly, and given Dick drove the Sierra for six years and never stopped tinkering with it, probably varied quite a bit in practice too, but most estimates start at 450 kW, or 600hp. By comparison, Andy Rouse only found "about 520bhp for sprint racing": Eggenberger had no more, but made it last 500km instead of the 80 or so of the British series. There was just no comparison.
They were using a Bosch basic system, which was a lot different from what we had. He gave us a couple of lessons to Neal Lowe and myself and we started doing our own thing in Australia. – Dick Johnson, AMC #77
"That really unlocked the potential of the car," said Dick. "That's when we really started making inroads, because we had been restricted by not being able to make our own maps on the computer. It absolutely transformed power delivery."
|Looks so innocuous on its own, doesn't it? (Source)|
That much boost came at a price, however, and that price was catastrophic lag. In the '80s turbo lag wasn't measured in milliseconds, it was measured in seconds, and that required a unique driving style.
On the dyno we used to run the cars with absolutely no turbo hooked up at all and flat-out they'd honestly have 90 horsepower. Hook the turbo up, give it 2.4 bar boost and suddenly it’d have 680 horsepower. Many good drivers would jump into one of these things, and they wouldn't get around a lap before spinning it. They'd put their boot into it and it would go from nothing to 600-plus horsepower in a nanosecond and they'd be backwards somewhere. – Dick JohnsonIn fact, even before the RS500 was homologated it had been clear that the existing 7.5-inch "Morris Minor rear end" couldn't withstand the massive torque of a race-tuned Cosworth. Rudi Eggenberger had responded with a diff made of what he called "panzer steel," which since "panzer" translates literally to "armoured," suggests some sort of expensive heat or chemical treatment. Either way, it still wasn’t up to the job.
I'd driven the Volvo and Nissan turbos in the two seasons before I joined DJR so I was familiar with the turbo style of driving, but I remember clearly the first time I ever drove a Sierra and being totally amazed by the lag. It had absolutely no boost below 4,500rpm, but when you hit that it was like being fired out of a cannon!
Basically it was the complete opposite to any other car. Let's take Turn 1 at Sandown, for example [a basic 90-degree left-hander]. You brake and go down through the gears and before you even really start to turn in you come off the brake and push the throttle to the floor. Then you coast into the apex and as you start to leave the corner the boost comes on in a rush, so you suddenly have another 400hp in a millisecond. So as the boost comes on you actually wind off the throttle rather than progressively put it on, as today's drivers do. If you didn't, the car would break into wheelspin and fire you in the opposite direction. – John Bowe
We now had the Bosch system and were growing more confident with our ability to control it with every passing day. But computer aside, there were still problems with the car. We were still blowing things left, right and centre. Components were breaking and we needed to improve them if we were to redeem ourselves. The biggest issue was the diff: we were using an extremely expensive Rudi Eggenberger model and it was rubbish. Apparently the best Ford bit in the world, it had a limited range of ratios and there was always something wrong with it. The piece of metal just couldn’t handle the power. – Dick Johnson, The Autobiography
So we decided to build our own. I spoke to master engineer Ron Harrop and came up with an idea.The Ford 9-inch diff, originally from the F150 "pickup," had been standard fit on V8 Falcons from the Phase II (1970) through to the XC Cobra (1978). It was now technically out of production, but they had lived on in the XD and XE Falcon touring cars because they were cheap, you could order ratios from the U.S. for peanuts, and they were simply unbreakable. Dick probably had a couple sitting on a shelf at Acacia Ridge already. Since diffs were free under the rules, provided they could fit in the standard housing, the new homologation papers could only have been for the housing itself, cast by Harrop to fit in the normal position on the Sierra (although the unit used for the homologation photos was allegedly a fibreglass mockup). Since it was a spool diff that locked both wheels together, it wasn't quite as user-friendly as a proper LSD, but once the driver re-calibrated their brain the handling it offered was at least predictable.
"I reckon a nine-inch ring and pinion will do the job," he said. "It will be strong, and it'll give us flexibility with the ratios."
He built it and the diff was ironclad. Indestructible. But we still had to homologate it. We rang Ford and they agreed to help.
"Send it over and we'll get the job done," they said.
Ford did and the new diff was bulletproof. A godsend. – Dick Johnson, The Autobiography
|After all the trouble with viscous LSDs, the answer came from Detroit muscle. (Source)|
In fact, there were two different 9-inch diffs homologated that year, a British one made by FF Developments, and the Harrop-made "Dicky diff," as the British teams would come to call it. Confusion has led to claims Harrop's diff ended up on every racing Sierra in the world, but that wasn't quite true, as plenty of teams opted for the FF instead (although it proved almost as fragile as the original). But apparently they did end up fitted to Rudi Eggenberger's cars. Stop and bask in that for a moment.
With Ford's help we also homologated a Holinger 6-speed gearbox. The Getrag unit we were using was hopeless, the sort of thing you would find in a BMW road car. The Holinger was another giant leap forward and gave us reliability and added performance. – Dick Johnson, The AutobiographyAfter struggling along with the Mustang and American insularity, it was nice for Dick Johnson to have the factory behind him again – even if that factory was on the other side of the world.
John Griffiths, from Ford over in England, was pretty accommodating. They were very co-operative and he got to a point where we would ask for something and he could see what we were trying to do and pushed it through the FIA. We had tried to do a few things with the Mustang, with the Americans; to them, Group A was something they weren't interested in at all, but the Poms were still keen to see the Sierra become a winner. – Dick Johnson, AMC #77With the driveline sorted Dick started sourcing brakes: ventilated discs all-round, 330mm rotors up front and 300 at the rear.
It stopped really well. It had six-pot callipers at the front and four at the back, but the stopping power was limited by the small tyre. The brakes were good, though. – Dick JohnsonIn 1987 the Sierra had embarrassed Dick by dominating one week and then blowing up the next. But once he found the sweet spot between maximum power and reliability, he had what were quite simply the fastest Sierras in the world. "We really thought outside the square and pushed everything to the limit," said Dick. "We pushed the rulebook, but all the cars were legal at the end of the day. Once we got our point across, anyway…"
Ford had finally developed the car they had wanted. It looked as though it was going to be a real weapon, and we had the best of the best thanks to some Aussie ingenuity. It will come as no surprise that we went into the season full of hope, brimming with optimism. We had the cars, the drivers, the money and, most importantly, a point to prove. – Dick Johnson, The Autobiography
Unleash the Beast: ATCC '88
He certainly proved it. Dick took everything he'd learned in 1987 and poured it into a brand-new car for the '88 season, chassis DJR3. Bowe got Dick's old car from last year, DJR1, with the hapless Gregg Hansford's left-hand drive experimental, DJR2, kept as the team spare. With 450+ kilowatts DJR3 was in a class of its own, and Dick led the opening round at Melbourne's Calder Park, and then the second round at Tasmania's Symmons Plains, from lights to flag. He might've done the same at Winton Motor Raceway in rural Victoria, had a first-lap altercation with Larry Perkins' HSV Commodore not taken both of them out. In the boss's absence, Bowe proved his selection wise by stepping up and taking the win, giving DJR three wins from three.
Dick was back on form a fortnight later at WA's Wanneroo Park, where Allan Moffat's much-feared Eggenberger Sierra made its debut. It failed to impress, DNF-ing with a clutch failure, leaving Dick free to romp home to another win.
But it was Round 5 at Adelaide International Raceway that really put the cherry on top of Johnson's season. With its long front straight AIR was all about horsepower, and a 1-2 for the Shell Sierras proved they had the legs on everybody – Bond, Longhurst, Miedecke, the lot. But poor Moffat, he had it the worst, not just beaten, but lapped – yes, he finished a full lap down, in an Eggenberger Sierra.
I can still remember the look on Allan Moffat’s face when I lapped him at Adelaide International Raceway. I was running first and Bowe second, the next challenger ten seconds behind. I came onto the straight and saw Moffat in front, almost a lap behind. He was driving a Sierra, an Eggenberger car he had paid more than $1 million for. Moffat was halfway down the straight when I turned the corner. With my foot flat to the floor, I passed him.Johnson was riding high as he headed to his home Queensland round, but at Lakeside – a track he all but owned – the DJR steamroller finally hit a snag. Although starting from pole, a long hold on the start line led to a slipping clutch and some creeping before the green. That earned him a 1-minute penalty for jumping the start, so although he still won on the road, once the penalty was applied he worked out as only a 2nd place. Despite a brief spin that cost him 10 seconds and left him crossing the line behind Johnson, Tony Longhurst was declared the winner, making him the only driver to break the DJR stranglehold on the championship.
My Sierra looked like an F-111, his like a Corolla. I could see the steam pouring from his ears, the anger consuming his face. Moffat had the shits and I was over the moon. – Dick Johnson, The Autobiography
Another 1-2 for Johnson and Bowe at Melbourne's Sandown Raceway set them up for a championship run, and although Dick developed a misfire at Sydney's Amaroo Park and dropped back behind his new teammate, they still finished 1st and 2nd to clinch it for DJR. A dominant drive at Oran Park a month later merely made it official, anointing Dick Johnson Australian Touring Car Champion for the fourth time in his remarkable career – the first Australian to win the title under Group A regulations.
|Longhurst, the only other driver to win a championship round, seen here at Oran Park. (Source)|
1988 was a year of crushing dominance in motorsport, and some might huff that 8 out of 9 ATCC rounds can't compare with, say, McLaren's 15 out of 16 in that year's F1 championship. But consider that no-one else in Formula 1 was driving what was (in theory) the same car – no other team had the McLaren MP4/4, and only one other team had the advantage of the Honda engine. Johnson's 1988 was different: like Michael Schumacher in 2002, Dick never finished lower than 2nd (as long as he finished at all), and he did it against a grid of other Sierras. In fact, of the top 45 finishing positions in the championship, Sierras had filled 30 of them; five out of nine rounds had seen Sierra drivers occupy all three steps on the podium. Formula Sierra was here, but one of them had proven more equal than all the others.
And yet DJR3 wasn't quite done. Before Dick could consider his revenge complete, he'd have to rub Andy Rouse's nose in it in his own backyard – in the U.K.