DJR RS 500 Sierra #4
DJR RS 500 Sierra #4
DJR chassis #4 was the fourth of six Ford Sierra Group A race cars produced by Dick Johnson Racing in Queensland. It was built new as a Sierra RS500 and raced in Australia across four seasons before being sold to New Zealand and then returned to Australia as part of the Bowden Collection.
DJR Sierra 4 was built new in 1988 and made its racing debut at the Enzed 500 endurance race at Sandown as the #17 entry with Dick Johnson and John Bowe driving having not tested it prior to arriving in Melbourne.
It was the one of what the team deemed its ‘second generation’ build cars and the first one to be built under the full supervision of team manager Neal Lowe in Queensland.
It was built to replace the car Johnson had used during the 1988 Australian Touring Car Championship, which had been prepared and taken to England for the Tourist Trophy round of the European Touring Car Championship.
That car was still on its way back from England when this car made its racing debut on the next weekend.
It started from pole position and led the early stages of the race before the engine began misfiring and forced Johnson to pit. He and Bowe clawed their way back up the field only to have the engine die late in the race and ‘JB’ was forced to drive it on the starter motor down the sloping pit lane exit and across the line to be classified in third place, four laps down on the winning ANZ car of Allan Moffat and former DJR pilot Gregg Hansford.
It was later found that the fault causing the engine cutout was in the new car’s wiring system.
This chassis was again the #17 car for the Tooheys 1000 at Bathurst and the lead car of three entries from DJR.
Johnson qualified it on pole (he was fourth fastest in the Shootout but due to the race being under FISA regulations it was not permitted to count for the grid) and led from the rolling start (the first and only time such a start was used for the Bathurst 1000).
A tyre blew on lap 20 on Conrod Straight, sending Johnson on a wild ride. He touched the wall and made it back to the pits, though it soon was apparent there were further problems with a vibration and it was retired.
Johnson again drove the car in the non-championship Adelaide Grand Prix Group A support race, though the hot conditions took their toll on the turbo Sierras.
Despite taking the car’s third straight pole, Johnson and teammate Bowe fell victim to the cars not getting enough fuel, which was apparently almost boiling in the tank and vapourising in the hot engine bay.
Both drivers limped and spluttered their way around but gave up and retired when it got beyond a joke.
It’s understood that the team took one of its older Sierras (DJR#3) to New Zealand between Bathurst and Adelaide for the Wellington and Pukekohe events.
The DJR Sierra 4 car remained the #17 Shell Ultra-Hi Sierra in 1989 and it was again driven by Dick Johnson, this time taking him to his second Australian Touring Car Championship in a row.
He won his fourth of five championships, claiming four round wins from the eight rounds and leading home a 1-2 in the championship with team-mate Bowe.
Johnson won at Symmons Plains, Lakeside (a race affected by a fiery crash and subsequent restart), Mallala (the first round held there since the 1970s) and Sandown (the return of the original 3.1-kilometre circuit including the Esses).
Johnson claimed six podium finishes from the eight rounds, winning round 2 at Symmons Plains, round 3 at his home track Lakeside, round 5 at Mallala, round 6 at Sandown. His worst result of seventh coming at a wet and miserable Winton round. He scored 107 points to beat Bowe to the title for the second year in a row. It was to be Johnsons fifth and final championship win, equalling the record of Ian "Pete" Geoghegan.
The DJR Sierra 4 chassis then became a spare and was not raced at the Sandown and Bathurst endurance races, though it did appear at the Adelaide Grand Prix support event as #18 with Bowe behind the wheel.
An engine problem eliminated him from Race 1 on Saturday and he started from the back for the wet race on Sunday to finish 12th.
After moving into this car for the Adelaide Grand Prix event in 1989, DJR Sierra 4 remained John Bowe’s #18 Shell Ultra-Hi car for the 1990 season.
He drove it throughout the Australian Touring Car Championship that season and finished fifth in the pointscore with three podium finishes in the first three rounds and just one finish outside the top six in that year’s championship.
Bowe finished runner-up to Jim Richards’ Nissan Skyline GTS-R in the opening round at Amaroo and then scored third at Symmons Plains as teammate Dick Johnson won.
The return of touring car racing to Phillip Island for the first time since the late 1970s saw Bowe cop a hit from Alan Jones and spin off at Siberia. He recovered to finish second in a Shell team 1-2.
At Winton the Shell team struggled and Bowe finished sixth before both drivers needed to pit for tyres at Lakeside and that left Bowe to finish fourth.
Mallala was a tough round for Bowe after he was involved in a touch with Andrew Miedecke’s Mobil 1 Sierra that sent the latter onto his roof.
Bowe was forced to pit for a tyre change but the left rear wheel nut was not secured properly and the wheel fell off, forcing another pit stop and a lowly 14th place finish, three laps down.
A sixth place at Wanneroo was followed by a fifth place in the final round at Oran Park for Bowe.
This car remained as the #18 Sierra for the Sandown 500 with Brit Jeff Allam joined by Kiwi Paul Radisich in this chassis.
The lead #17 Johnson/Bowe car dropped out in the first stint when a gearbox bearing failed, so Bowe took over the #18 car from Allam at the first pit stop under the ‘cross-entering’ rules of the era that allowed drivers to swap cars mid-race within their own team. The same problem afflicted the #18 car and it was retired after 60 laps without Radisich getting to drive in the race.
This chassis was the spare car for DJR at Bathurst in 1990 and was run on Wednesday in practice with Radisich given some laps in it. It was distinguishable from the actual #17 and #18 race cars by the fact that while it was carrying the #18 on the door, its windscreen strip banner read ‘Dick Johnson’ rather than ‘Johnson Bowe’ and ‘Allam Radisich’ as per the race cars.
Bowe then raced the car at the end-of-season Adelaide Grand Prix support events, finishing runner-up to Jim Richards’ Nissan GT-R in Race 1.
He had contact on the opening lap of Race 2 with the Nissan which saw the #18 Sierra’s stainless steel exhaust pipe close over and he pitted, unable to have it prized open and, thus, unable to re-join the race!
The DJR Sierra 4 chassis made one more appearance in 1990 at the newly opened Eastern Creek circuit for the Nissan 500 endurance race where Johnson and Bowe piloted it as the #17 entry.
They held second place at the completion of the final pit stop behind Larry Perkins with a final sprint to the end beckoning. However, a rod in the engine let go with just two laps to go, Bowe spun in his own oil and the Sierra was a non-finisher.
The DJR Sierra 4 chassis was absent from the racetrack in the early part of the 1991 season as it was being re-furbished.
It’s not entirely clear as to when it returned to the track to again become John Bowe’s #18 Shell Sierra for the large portion of the championship, however a hint to this comes from researching the late Jon Evans’ Auto Action report of the third round of the Australian Touring Car Championship at Wanneroo.
It was reported that “the oldest of the Shell team’s entourage of Sierras was giving John Bowe a hard time, so much so that the mechanics decided that ‘this car is a Sheila, it’s so temperamental..’”
DJR Sierra 4 was the oldest car the team had in its possession at that time, so it was clearly this car that was referred to.
Given the opening round of the 1991 ATCC at Sandown and the next round at Symmons Plains in Tasmania were only a fortnight apart, it makes sense that the car could have returned to racing duty at Wanneroo, though that remains an open question – DJR Sierra 4 could have raced at Symmons Plains too.
The Perth round was not kind to Bowe, who made a pit stop for tyres and had a left rear half shaft let go, forcing him to limp home five laps down on winner Mark Skaife.
In short, the Shell Sierras just were no match for the new Nissan GT-Rs and the nimble BMW M3s as the turbocharged red RS500s struggled to keep their Dunlop tyres underneath them.
A touch with Seton at Lakeside forced Bowe to pit for a guard to be peeled off a tyre and thus he finished 10th.
At Winton Bowe finished seventh but at least there was something to take from from the next round at Amaroo Park – a pole position. However the race didn’t provide a result and Bowe finished fourth.
Contact with Win Percy’s HRT Commodore at Mallala on the opening lap squashed the #18 car’s exhaust and he suffered a loss of power for the rest of the race on his way to finishing seventh.
The second round for the ATCC at Lakeside in 1991 saw Bowe retire with broken steering before the final round at Oran Park saw him sidelined with an engine misfire within 12 laps.
At the completion of the ATCC, the DJR#4 chassis was sold to Kiwi motorsport identity Mark Petch, though it was prepared for the Tooheys 1000 at Bathurst by DJR and run as a third entry (#19) for young New Zealand drivers Kayne Scott and Greg Taylor. The rookies qualified back in the pack in 25th and lasted 90 laps before the tailshaft let go and took them out of the race.
New owner Petch took the car across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand for the end-of-season Nissan Mobil 500 endurance races at Wellington and Pukekohe, though it retained Shell livery and ran as #17 with Johnson joined by local Paul Radisich.
A driveline problem delayed the car on the bumpy street circuit in Wellington and they finished a delayed 12th, 16 laps down on the winning BMW M3 of Emanuele Pirro and Joachim Winkelhock.
At Pukekohe a week later they had to cobble together an engine for the race after two failures in the lead-up. Just 24 laps into the race the left rear suspension was hanging by one rose joint and was broken beyond repair – a ‘DNF’ was not the nicest way for it to round out its Group A racing career.
BEYOND GROUP A
The DJR #4 chassis was then raced in a variety of New Zealand events before it was purchased by the Bowden family in the mid to late 1990s and returned to Australia.
It featured as part of a unique challenge at the 2002 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix at Albert Park where Dick and Steven Johnson joined forces to drive the car in a special series of challenge match races against the 1987 #05 Mobil HDT Racing Commodore VL of Peter Brock and son James.
The DJR #4 now lives in the Bowden Collection on the Sunshine Coast in Qld, still gets out for occasional stretches of it legs and is right next to its slighly more famous sibling DJR #5.
Track Images are from an Ellen Dewar shoot for Unique Cars magazine. Period race images are from the Coventry Collection.