Dick Johnson’s Shell Sierra

Johnson Lakeside 1987While Saturday Sleuthing has generally revolved around the history and racing lives of modern-day V8 Supercars, more and more of our V8 Sleuth’s email is asking about older cars from the Group A and Group C era that helped pave the way for the V8 Supercars Championship that exists today.

Aaron Noonan is often asked about the histories of Dick Johnson’s Shell Sierras and a recent visit to Launceston (where a Shell Sierra show car sits in the National Automobile Museum of Tasmania) helped push the topic to the front of his mind.

So what happened to the very first Ford Sierra Johnson first raced as #17 way back in 1987?

It’s safe to say it has been on quite a journey!

The first of an eventual six Sierras built by DJR, the first car (DJR1) was built from a shell sourced from Europe as a right-hand drive car to RS Cosworth specifications for Johnson to drive as #17.

A left-hand drive version was also prepared (DJR2) and driven by the late Gregg Hansford as the #18 entry.

Johnson’s car debuted in the opening round of the 1987 Shell Australian Touring Car Championship at Calder and finished ninth before repeating the result in the next round in Tasmania.

A sparkling run at Lakeside – where he charged to the lead – all came to naught when a turbo popped and both Shell Sierras were pinged for what were deemed illegal turbo wheels.

Johnson 1987 Surfers ParadiseThe team reportedly had acquired several unfinished (and thus unmachined) turbo wheels from their manufacturer and machined them themselves, the end result being Johnson suspended for seven days.

He didn’t miss a race and bounced back with a second place at Wanneroo before claiming the first win for a Sierra in Australia at the next round at Adelaide International Raceway.

From there it would be miserable times with retirements from Surfers Paradise (turbo), Sandown (another turbo) and Amaroo Park (you guessed it, turbo!) before finishing the sprint season at Oran Park with a third place on the podium and sixth in the Championship.

For the endurance season, the Sierra was upgraded to the evolution edition RS500 – in essence it meant an uprated Cosworth engine with a larger turbo and intercooler as well as a range of other changes including re-designed front bumper and rear spoiler.

The endurance races were simply miserable for DJR1 – Johnson qualified it on pole for the Castrol 500 at Sandown but it suffered an engine failure in the warm-up, forcing he and Hansford into the #18 car.

Johnson AGP 1987 WinAt Bathurst both cars were excluded from the Top 10 Shootout for irregular fuel and Johnson’s car lasted just three laps with differential problems.

The Calder round of the World Touring Car Championship a week later was no kinder as oil pump problems took out the #17 Ford and the trip over to New Zealand for the Nissan Mobil 500 at Wellington also resulted in a failure to finish.

One shining light though was Johnson’s win in the non-Championship touring car race in Adelaide supporting the Australian Formula One Grand Prix.

But for all of the pain of the ’87 season, Johnson and Shell struck back in 1988.

DJR1 became new signing John Bowe’s car for his first year with the team – he won the Winton and Amaroo Park rounds and finished second to Johnson in the Championship as the Shell cars claimed victory in eight of the nine rounds.

The car stayed with the #18 plate for the Sandown and Bathurst enduros, though in the hands of open wheeler aces John Smith and Alfredo Costanzo.

Bathurst 1988At the Enzed 500 at Sandown it finished a delayed sixth after losing many laps replacing an axle and at Bathurst it was the third of three DJR Shell entries.

In fact, it was the last Shell Sierra left standing and after the failure of the #17 and #28 cars earlier in the race, Johnson and Bowe took over #18 after Smith had driven the first stint and brought it home in second place.

At the end of the season this car was sold to Trakstar Racing in the UK and competed in the British Touring Car Championship in the hands of Brit Robb Gravett in 1989 and then Graham Hathaway in 1990.

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