Biante 1/18 Ford Sierra RS500 1991 Tooheys 1000 #17 Dick Johnson/John Bowe
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In 1991 the winds of change were blowing in the Australian Touring Car Championship. For the last three years the Ford Sierra RS500 had been the gun car to race, with grids dominated by the turbo rocket ship. You could almost guarantee a Sierra was going to win on Sunday, the only question remaining was which one. But in 1991 there was a new kid on the block ... Nissan...s GT-R dubbed ...Godzilla.... After overcoming early teething problems the four wheel drive Japanese machine was fully dialled in and taking no prisoners.
Never one to shy away from a fight, Ford legend Dick Johnson primed himself with a three-car bid on the Tooheys 1000 at Bathurst in a bid to go toe-to-toe with the mighty Nissan squad. His revered Shell Sierras had experienced a quiet season by their illustrious standards having not scored a round win during the Australian Touring Car Championship. Johnson even elected to skip the Sandown 500, the traditional lead-up race to Bathurst, to focus his efforts on having everything right for Mount Panorama.
He entered three Shell Sierras for that year...s Great Race, the famous #17 for himself and John Bowe, #18 for Paul Radisich and Terry Shiel and #19 for Kiwis Kayne Scott and Greg Taylor. The Johnson/Bowe car was the sixth and final DJR-built Sierra and had been used by Bowe the early part of that year...s championship. It was rested for the later part of the year and returned to the track wearing the famous #17 for Bathurst.
Practice for the race didn...t begin well with Johnson melting a piston early on Wednesday, blowing the engine. The problem repeated itself on Friday. This issue more than perplexed the team, as they hadn...t blown an engine for years. The issue was traced to two Channel Seven microwave dishes on Conrod Straight, their narrow signal beam interfering with the engine management system and duping it into believing the air temperature had risen to 40 degrees, at which point it went into full advance and excessive ignition destroyed the engine. Engine management issues behind him, Johnson managed fifth position on the grid behind the pole-sitting GT-R of Mark Skaife and the GIO customer version of Mark Gibbs and the Sierras of Glenn Seton and Bowe who was cross-entered in #18 and drove it in the Top 10 Shootout.
Johnson started the race in #17 and ran in the top five for much of the early running. He inherited the lead as the first round of pit-stops began, but was soon to relinquish it to Skaife, who breezed by on lap 36 with a full tank to record a time four seconds faster than the #17 on that very same lap.
Bowe, who had started the race in #18, took over from Johnson and resumed in fifth place, but charged hard to claim second position just 23 laps later. By that point Skaife...s Nissan held a two-minute-plus lead and Johnson took over the Sierra just in time for ...Godzilla... to roll past and put the #17 Sierra a lap down. Both Johnson and Bowe saw off a fast-charging Seton in the Peter Jackson Sierra and settled into a comfortable second place as the race hit the 100-lap mark.
While the Skaife/Richards GT-R was well up the road the #17 Sierra was poised for a second place finish and even better should the leading Nissan strike any form of problems. Instead it was the Shell Ford that was the one that struck problems. On lap 123, after almost five hours of racing, Bowe pitted car #17 with a haze of oil smoke signifying the end of the day.
Their chances of taking a podium finish were blown ... literally ... and the Holden Racing Team Commodore VN of defending winners Win Percy and Allan Grice claimed second spot behind the winning Nissan. The 1991 Tooheys 1000 was a miserable weekend for Johnson...s team, all three of his Shell Sierras failing to finish in the penultimate appearance of the turbo Ford at the Mountain.
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