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Racing in Japan, with an Aussie flavour

The Group A formula during the 1980s was truly an international formula and Australia’s leading touring car contenders took on the globe’s best consistently, even travelling to Japan.

In 1986, competition was at its most fierce and manufacturers were evenly matched compared to the latter years of the Group A formula with the effects of the Evolution rule not being exploited yet. 

This rule allowed manufacturers to build 500 high performance Evolution models to be produced in order to be homologated in Group A. Volvo had began to take advantage by entering its 240 Turbo, while Ford, BMW and to a less successful extent Alfa Romeo followed when the World Touring Car Championship followed in 1987.

Preparations for the World Touring Car Championship were taking place for the Holden Dealer Team and Roadways by contesting the European Touring Car Championship in 1986 as a way to gauge the competition, gain circuit experience, assess the conditions with the goal of a full on assault the next season.

The Les Small and Allan Grice-led Roadways operation gave the Europeans a fright thanks in part to the no prisoners attitude of the privateer. Grice had the leg up on Brock and if it wasn’t for some questionable pay drivers the virgin white Commodore may have been more of a factor.

Brock joined by former rival Allan Moffat for a part-season campaign made ground on Grice throughout each event before returning to Australia to complete the touring car season.

Grice soldiered on as development from Europe transferred to the privateer Roadways-built entry of Graeme Bailey ending in the duo tasting ultimate success at Bathurst in October.

However, Roadways and the HDT were to battle again internationally before the year was out.

One of Japan’s largest racing events was on the radar, Fuji’s InterTEC 5 Hour.

It attracted a truly phenomenal field of entries including the pair of Commodores, Tom Walkinshaw Racing entered a pair of Jaguar XJSs and a Rover Vitesse, RAS Sport ran its factory Volvo 240 Turbos, Team Schnitzer ran a Bob Jane T-Marts-sponsored BMW for Charlie O’Brien and Emmanuele Pirro. Japan’s best was also represented by factory Nissan DR30 Skylines, Toyota Supras and Mitsubishi Starions ran by its works Ralliart concern featuring one Brad Jones as part of its line-up.

In fact, the Starions proved a surprise packet with one sharing the front row alongside Uncle Tom’s lead XJS.

Brock and Moffat qualified sixth, while Grice was joined by the fast Graeme Crosby in a strong driver pairing.

In what was a perfect ending to RAS Sport’s Volvo programme, Johnny Ceccotto and Anders Olofsson won from Pirro/O’Brien, while the Nissan DR30 Skyline of Masahiro Hasemi and Yoshiyasu Tachi rounded out the podium.

What about the Commodores?

Well Grice and Crosby combined to finish fifth four laps behind the winner, but the HDT Commodore retired halfway through the event. 

Mitsubishi ace Jones also retired the Starion he shared with Akihiko Nakaya as the TWR XJS entries didn’t make the finish either.

The Japanese tour proved successful for Brock as he sold the Commodore, which was used during its European campaign to a millionaire local businessman.

Grice’s Commodore is believed to have been sent back to the UK and used by Mike O’Brien in the British Touring Car Championship.