The Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500 touring car was an awesome machine. Although never sold in America, it was preceded by the Merkur XR4Ti, which was sold through Ford dealers in the 1980s. The Cosworth evolutions were never sold here, sadly, because with over 500bhp and rear wheel drive, they were very exciting racecars. Watching a whole field of these fire-belching monsters going wheel to wheel was an incredible sight.
The RS500 dominated touring car racing around the world from 1987 to 1990, with a world championship, European championships and many domestic series under its belt. They were last seen competing in Britain over 15 years ago in the 1990 BTCC. To commemorate this, and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the RS Owners Club, Martin Johnson organized the very first reunion of racing RS500s at the Donington GP circuit in England.
I myself have a particular interest in the RS500 since I was the chief technician and team manager for the Graham Goode Racing team, which took the RS500's first ever competitive race win.
Track ActionThe concept of the reunion was for the cars (and drivers) to have two sessions on the track to display the cars. In the drivers' briefing they were told to remember this was not a race. But when do racing drivers go slowly?
Seeing the ten cars back on the track was an incredible sight (and sound), and it brought the memories flooding back. The drivers and spectators enjoyed the spectacle and excitement. Unfortunately, some of the cars weren't able to run at their full potential because of aged components, and the drivers were all careful to preserve the racing history they were driving. But taking all this into account, it was still a memorable day. It also gave people who were too young to see these cars as they were in their heyday, the opportunity to witness a bunch of Group A RS500s in action; because if you saw these cars race, it stayed with you forever.
It's hoped this event will be held annually, and next year there could be even more cars on track. So visit rsownersclub.co.uk for details of its next National Day.
Defining The CarsThe FIA Group A regulations dictated that cars must be based on a production vehicle, with a minimum of 5,000 road cars built. To reach this target, Ford constructed over 5,000 Sierra RS Cosworths. The manufacturer was then allowed to produce an evolution model comprising 10% of the original quantity. It could incorporate changes to make the car more competitive. This led to the RS500. Racing enthusiasts will realize that Evolution versions of the M3, 190E and Integrale also followed this path, as did many others.
When the Sierra Cosworth (or Cossie) was first conceived, it was assumed that 300bhp would be more than adequate for success in touring car racing. By the time the cars were completed, however, it was obvious this wouldn't be enough. So the RS500 incorporated changes to make more power, including a larger turbo and intercooler as well as two injectors per cylinder. Other components were redesigned to survive the high boost levels. To aid high-speed stability, the enormous front and rear spoilers were also modified, along with the rear suspension geometry to aid traction.
The original RS Cosworth created a fast, tuneable car. The basic RS500 road car, however, gave the race engineers the materials to create a monster - the RS500 Group A touring car.
The TeamsAlthough the RS500s were built following a set of regulations, using parts that had been homologated, there was sufficient room for engineers to stamp their own individual mark on each car. There were a number of examples from different teams at Donington, which demonstrate this very well.
The Swiss Eggenberger Motorsport were the official Ford works team and built the famous Texaco-sponsored cars for the World Touring Car Championship. They were built at the team's headquarters in Lyss, in a multi-story building boasting an elevator large enough to carry a complete RS500 and a drawing office large enough for a full size drawing of the RS500 to be made!
The preparation of these cars was legendary, with the team's association with Ford enabling them to gather additional parts as and when they were needed. As these cars were built with 500km races in mind they supposedly had "low boost" endurance engines. However, they were also fast and reliable. The official "works" status granted them special treatment from Pirelli, whose development ensured more of the horsepower, braking and cornering forces were transmitted to the road.
In addition to building the Texaco cars, Eggenberger also provided cars for other teams around the world. The Eggenberger cars were also relatively unique for being left-hand drive, while British and Australian cars were all right-hand drive.
Andy Rouse Engineering
ARE were probably the world's biggest builder of racing RS500s and RS500 components. Team boss Andy Rouse is an experienced and successful racer, whose company built cars for himself and customers around the World. Both the Labatts and Brock cars at Donington were built by ARE.
Without the budget of the works team, ARE cars were built to a slightly lower spec, but it didn't hamper their performance, and the teams always got the best results from these cars. In fact, in 1990 the Eggenberger team sent a car to contest a few rounds of the BTCC and only beat Andy Rouse when tire failure lost him time in the pits.
Dick Johnson Racing
DJR was a successful touring car team in Australia. Headed by racer Dick Johnson, they realized the RS500 had more potential than their beloved Falcon V8 and decided to build their own. Some of the parts were similar to European teams (Eggenberger-style magnesium rear suspension, for example, rather than strengthened stock ones from ARE). Other parts were designed, built and distributed by DJR. One such part was the rear differential. It was soon apparent the standard diff wasn't strong enough, so Ford homologated the RS200 rally car's larger diff. The Australians, however, were skeptical about its strength, so they produced their own stronger unit.
DJR only raced once in the UK, in the 1988 500km Tourist Trophy. He shocked everybody by disappearing into the distance, only to retire when his (standard) water pump failed. To the annoyance of Ford, the race was won by Andy Rouse. They would have preferred the Eggenberger team to take the glory. Two DJR cars raced in the UK when the Trakstar team bought Johnson's '87 cars.
A number of other companies built cars for the BTCC. Graham Goode Racing initially bought a kit from Andy Rouse Engineernig and this formed the basis of our Listerine-sponsored '87 car, with the distinctive pink dragon on the hood. For '88-90 GGR campaigned cars built solely by us for Graham, Mike Newman and Sean Walker. Although giving the impression of large sponsorship, the cars were run on a shoestring. We still managed respectable results, however, thanks to our high standard of preparation.
Not only was Graham the first driver to win a race in an RS500 (August 1, 1987, Donington Park), he was probably the last person to win an International Group A race in one, too. He was invited to race in Malaysian rounds of the South East Asian Touring Car championship during '92-94, where he won every race but one (he finished second in that other race).
Brodie Brittan Racing was another successful UK team. Dave Brodie had his own tuning and vehicle preparation company and raced an RS500 in the BTCC when funds allowed. Despite being under-financed, Brodie produced some spectacular performances.
Karl Jones: "These cars were awesome, very special cars. Out of everything I've ever driven, they were just the best. They had so much power and torque it made them seriously quick. It was fantastic fun trying to tame one of these beasts. My best memory was in the BTCC at Thruxton. My car was run on a very low budget and we couldn't afford proper race suspension, so I ran with tarmac rally suspension, which was slightly more forgiving. I'd hit the bumps at Noble (a fast left hander) and the car would launch into the air, lap after lap. At 140mph it was very exciting. If anybody asked me what these cars were like to drive, I'd say they were like driving a very powerful RWD car in the wet, but that was in the dry! When it was actually raining they were something else altogether! A fantastic triumph of raw engine power over grip."
Sean Walker: "When I first drove an RS500 in '88 nobody had told me how fast the damned things were. When I tested Graham Goode's car I just couldn't believe it. It was ridiculous! I got into what I thought was going to be a moderately fast car and found myself in a projectile. I decided there and then I had to race one in the BTCC."
Tim Harvey: "The RS500 is simply the best touring car ever. They had significantly more power than grip, make them very satisfying to drive. Since their demise, touring cars have never been as good."
Graham Goode: Graham is my boss, a very experienced and talented driver and engineer. His legendary standard of car preparation was established before I worked for him, so I can't take full credit. Graham's claim to fame is that he was the first person to win a race in an RS500, on August 1, 1987 - the same day the car became eligible for competition. There was also a WTCC race the same day, but time differences meant he won first! His views on the car at the Donington reunion: "Driving the RS500 for the first time in 11 years reminded me of how fortunate I'd been to be part of what most people consider to be the most legendary era in the BTCC."
Mike Newman: "I've always said to own an RS500 was a passion. It's more than just a racecar and that's why I still own my car and will never sell it."