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When Dick took on the world and nearly won

Dick Johnson was out for revenge in 1988 and by gee, he nearly pulled off a major coup at Silverstone.

A year after the World Touring Car Championship had blazed the globe and quickly dissolved due to FIA politics, but this didn’t stop Johnson from testing his locally developed Sierras against the best globally.

Silverstone was the venue at the traditional Tourist Trophy meeting doubling as a round of the European Touring Car Championship where the likes of Andy Rouse and Rudi Eggenberger were to go head-to-head.

Johnson had a statement to make after being embarrassed at the previous year’s James-Hardie 1000 where both his Sierra RS500 Cosworths retired during the early stages of the race and were not on the pace of the Europeans.

As it turned out, Rouse’s entry alongside Allan Moffat failed at the end of the first stint and the Texaco Eggenberger examples were disqualified due to illegal wheel arches many months later.

Through the support of Ross Palmer through his Redkote steel brand, Johnson took chassis DJR3, teammate John Bowe and an operation spearheaded by New Zealand engineering whiz Neal Lowe across to Silverstone to shove it up the Euros.

DJR had completed a dominating Australian Touring Car Championship campaign after developing various components for its Sierras including a Bosch ECU and a new diff.

“I had conned my way there, intent on restoring Australian pride, and flogging these arrogant know-it-alls. It began when I phoned Ross Palmer,” said Johnson in his autobiography

“Palmer was launching his company in the US and the UK, and was about to hit the two whopping markets with a product called Redkote.

“’What better way to launch yourself in the U.K. than have me go over with a car and give it to them?’ I said.

“’You reckon you can match it with the Europeans?’ he replied.

“’My oath. You know I can.’

“He agreed. Shell also offered to pay.

“With a decent budget, a dream and a truckload of Aussie fighting spirit, I loaded all my gear into two air-freight containers, grabbed my passport and headed straight into enemy territory.”

Although Johnson and Bowe had never been to Silverstone, the Redkote Sierra RS500 Cosworth was flying, so much so that it was more than a second clear of the Europeans.

This continued when Johnson set a 1m 35.49s time in qualifying to be nearly four seconds better than Rouse’s previous lap record.

Qualifying on pole was one thing, leading after the rolling start was another, but Johnson gunned it and went on to dominate the first stint.

Continuing this momentum after an early safety car, Johnson set a new lap record at 1m 36.57s to put it to the Europeans.

A slow pit stop delayed the duo before a water pump gasket failed ending the Australian’s attack, but not before proving DJR had the fastest Sierras in the world.

A footnote to this story is English team Trackstar Racing winning the 1990 British Touring Car Championship in an ex-DJR Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth with Robb Gravett at the wheel.