One of the most popular, well-remembered and most successful cars of the early years of the British Touring Car Championship was the Ford Sierra Cosworth. Its introduction to the BTCC came at a pivotal time in the series’ history, as the British Saloon Car Championship morphed into the series we know today, the BTCC. It was a popular feature on the grid during the final years of the Class format before Super Touring regulations became the norm in 1991. I’ve taken a look back at the fascinating, trophy-laden history of the Ford Sierra Cosworth in this edition of BTCC History.
Ford Sierra RS Cosworth
The RS Cosworth was built as a high-performance variant of the Ford Sierra, which was built between 1986 and 1992. With the RS Cosworth project born in 1983, the car was first presented to the public at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1985.
Sierra RS500 Cosworth
Whilst the high-performance variant of the Sierra was brilliant in its own right, Ford set about building a car which would dominate on racetracks around the world for the next four years. The RS500 Cosworth project was headed up by Mike Moreton, and Aston Martin and Tickford were bought on board to turn 500 models of the RS Cosworth into race winners on the track.
Announced in the July of 1987, the RS500 Cosworth was homologated just one month later at a time where it’s parent car, the RS Cosworth was already competing and successful in the BTCC
Exactly 500 RS500s were produced for sale in the UK only, with the cars being right-hand drive and featuring notable changes from the RS Cosworth model.
Among these were,
- Upgraded fuel pump, oil and cooling system
- A thicker walled cylinder block
- A larger turbocharger and air to air intercooler
A secondset of fuel injectors and a second fuel rail
- Increased engine output to 224 bhp at 6000
- Redesigned front bumper and spoiler to aid aerodynamics
- An additional lower spoiler on the rear tailgate
1987 – Debuts For The Sierra RS Cosworth and RS500
Entering the BTCC as the series morphed from the BSCC at the start of 1987, both the RS Cosworth and the RS500 found a home in Class A for cars with an engine displacement of over 2500cc. With the RS500 only homologated midseason, drivers began the year in the RS Cosworth before some switched when the RS500 became available.
Andy Rouse, Win Percy, Pete Hall, Graham Goode, Mike Smith, Rob Gravett, Jerry Mahony and Rex Muddon all campaigned in either the RS Cosworth or RS500 throughout 1987, with the car winning Class A in six out of twelve races. The RS Cosworth’s pace was immediate on its debut as Andy Rouse won the class at the season’s opening race at Silverstone. Rouse would win again three races later at Thruxton before Win Percy won the class at Silverstone in round six. Graham Goode won Class A at round nine at Donington Park before Rouse took the RS500’s first BTCC class victory at Donington during round eleven on the season. Rouse followed up his strong form by partnering Pete Hall to victory in the final race of the season at Silverstone, again in the RS500.
It was an immediate success, and although both the RS Cosworth and RS500 enjoyed Class A wins, it wasn’t enough to take the car to the title in its first season of competition. Andy Rouse finished highest of the Sierra drivers in 8th in the standings and 3rd in class, followed by Graham Goode just one point behind.
1988 – A Near Miss For The RS500
Following on from the immediate success of the RS500 Cosworth at the tail end of 1987, the car was well-represented on the BTCC grid in 1988 with all Class A teams running Fords choosing to race the RS500 model.
Tim Harvey, Steve Soper, Chris Hodgetts, Gianfranco Brancatelli, Mark Hales, Mike Newman, Karl Jones, Bob Sands, Laurence Bristow, Graham Hathaway, Rob Wilson, Guy Edwards would all appear in an RS500 during 1988, along with returnees Rouse, Hall, Gravett, Mahony and Goode.
The car was the best in its class right out of the box as Jerry Mahony won Class A at the first round of the season at Silverstone. Andy Rouse, Steve Soper and Gianfranco Brancatelli would all join Mahony in the winner’s circle throughout 1988 as the RS500 won its class in every single race of the year. It was a commanding performance and one which vindicated Ford’s decision to build the RS500 from the RS Cosworth.
In fact, Rouse would win nine out of twelve races outright in 1988 but the RS500 would still miss out on securing the overall BTCC title. Rouse finished 3rd in the point standings behind the Class C BMW M3 of Frank Sytner and the Class D Toyota Corolla FX GT of Phill Dowsett. Mahony would finished 7th in the overall standings and 2nd in Class, as the second RS500 driver in both the overall and Class A standings.
1989 – Overall Success Still Proves Elusive For The Sierra Cosworth RS500
As the BTCC moved into 1989 and the final year of the four-class format the RS500 was the car of choice for almost all of Class A, with Trident Motorsport the only team out of fourteen competing in the class to not run an RS500. They ran a Maserati Biturbo instead. The car was the dominant choice, but the likes of Rouse, Goode, Gravett and Mahony remained behind the wheel.
Unsurprisingly, the car was dominant in Class A winning every single race courtesy of Rob Gravett, Andy Rouse, Tim Harvey, Lawrence Bristow and Tif Nedell, but once again overall BTCC success proved to be elusive.
For the third season in a row, Andy Rouse was the highest Ford Sierra finisher as he raced to 3rd in the overall standings behind John Cleland and James Weaver. Rob Gravett followed closely in 4th just four points behind and Tim Harvey also featured in the top ten.
After three seasons and two near misses, the RS500 would have one more chance to drive itself into the BTCC history books in 1990 before Super Touring regulations became the dominant force in 1991.
1990 – Championship Success
1990 marked the final year of Group A regulations in the BTCC as the series pursued a move to a single class formula from 1991 onwards. With the four-class system gone, cars fitted into two classes. Class A remained for Group A cars with an engine displacement of over 3000cc, and Class B was now the home for the new 2-litre touring car class which formed the basis of Super Touring for 1991.
Like the year before, Class A was dominated by the RS500 with every single entrant throughout the season making the Ford Sierra their car of choice. Drivers who had been with the car since its BTCC debut such as Rouse, Goode and Gravett remained behind the wheel a final year, but the majority of the field had made the move to Class B in anticipation of 1991.
Andy Rouse started the season strongly again winning Class A and outright at the opening two races to take the championship lead, but it was Rob Gravett who eventually prevailed and took the Ford Sierra RS500’s first and only BTCC title. Gravett won nine out of thirteen Class A races to finish the season on 207 points, 27 points clear of the Class B BMW M3 of Frank Sytner and 34 points clear of his nearest RS500 rival Rouse who finished 3rd.
It was a fitting swansong year for the car which had been at the heart of the BTCC during its final five seasons as a class-based formula, and one which ensures that alongside its overwhelming popularity, the Ford Sierra Cosworth left the BTCC with a title to its name.
Two RS500s and one RS Cosworth did appear on the BTCC grid in for select races in 1991 in the hands of Sean Walker, Dennis Leach and Andy Middlehurst. The cars had been bought into line with Super Touring regulations and whilst Middlehurst finished 9th in the championship and scored an impressive 3rd place in the final race of the season, it was clear that the BTCC had evolved into a place where the RS500 was no longer the powerhouse car it once was.
By 1992 just one RS Cosworth remained as Leach campaigned at the tail of end the season without success and by 1993 the car’s BTCC run was over as the Ford Sierra Sapphire became the car of choice for the Super Touring independent runners.
The Ford Sierra Cosworth had driven itself into the BTCC history books and had become the car of choice for an overwhelming number of teams and drivers. It was an iconic car and one which is one of the most popular and well-remembered of the early days of the BTCC. With a title to its name, it sits firmly in the history books as a car which deserves its place in BTCC history.