Years of Turbulence
Wishing to repeat the glory achieved with the Escort in 1979, and trying to emulate Lancia’s 1983 World Rally Championship epic, Ford introduced the rear-wheel drive Sierra RS500 Cosworth for the 1987 and 1988 seasons.
The appearance of the Audi Quattro in competition in 1981 changed rally history forever, thanks to the incorporation of the all-wheel drive system. Even so, the Manufacturers’ championships obtained in 1982 and 1984 were interspersed by the crown achieved in 1983 by the Lancia Rally 037, the last one for a single-wheel drive car.
During those years, Ford had begun development of the rear-wheel drive, turbocharged Escort RS1700T, but they quickly understood that it would not be competitive. The answer was the RS200 with a Cosworth engine and all-wheel drive, although it was presented late in 1986, months before the definitive abolition of Group B and the confirmation of Group A as the main division from 1987. Suddenly, the oval mark was seen on the need to look for a new weapon and found it in the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth.
Introduced at the 1985 Geneva Motor Show, it featured a 1993 cc Cosworth-developed powerplant, 16-valve top, and a Garrett turbo that delivered 204 hp at 6,000 rpm. The five-speed gearbox was a Borg-Warner T5, while the suspension was four-wheel independent. It was the first mass-produced production vehicle to exceed 100 hp per liter of displacement. Its evolution for competition was the RS500, an improved version with 224 hp, double spark plugs per cylinder, double injector rail, modified suspension mounts and a double rear wing to increase downforce.
In 1987, the main contenders for the brand crown were the Lancia Delta HF, the Audi 200 Quattro and the Mazda 323, all with all-wheel drive. Ford alternated between the Sierra XR4x4 sedan – a version that did not have the necessary development – and the Sierra Cosworth coupe homologated that same year, whose debut took place at the Rally de Portugal under the leadership of the Joaquim Santos-Miguel Oliveira duo. The brand obtained second and third place on the podium in the 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland and in the British RAC Rally, ending the season with very good expectations for the next tournament.
Ford had not won a world rally since 1981, when the Ari Vatanen-David Richards pairing triumphed in the 1000 Lakes Rally aboard a Ford Escort RS 1800 MKII. For 1988, the brand concentrated its competition program on those rallies whose terrain could be favorable for single-wheel drive cars: Portugal, Corsica Finland, San Remo and the RAC. The team of pilots was made up of the Frenchman Didier Auriol, the Swede Stig Blomqvist and the Spanish Carlos Sainz.
Finally, glory would come on the fast asphalt of Corsica. Taking full advantage of the benefits of the Sierra RS Cosworth, Didier Auriol obtained the first of his twenty victories in the category and the model’s only World Cup victory, without imagining that this would be the last victory for a rear-wheel drive car in a world rally.