It was a one-off affair. Never before had there been a World Championship for Touring Cars, and after that 1987 season it took 18 years before there was another. From purely a sporting perspective, it all looked pretty good. All of the usual suspects from the Touring Car scene were involved, and BMW, Ford, and Alfa Romeo had been staging great Touring Car battles since the early 1970s.
There were some quality drivers in the mix too, with former European Touring Car Champions joined by former and current Formula 1 drivers, Formula 3000 drivers, and some of the best young talent getting around.
Unfortunately, all of this was repeatedly overshadowed by unclear regulations that were dubiously handled by the officials.
The 1980s were, as far as Touring Car sport is concerned, the Group A era – regulations defined as being for ‘large-scale production cars’. The cornerstones of Group A were four doors and 5,000 road-going production cars, which had to be built within twelve consecutive months. Another 500 cars were required to homologate certain evolutionary parts as well.
Since 1982 there had been a European-based Group A championship. But for the ‘87 season, four new events were added to the seven European rounds at Monza, Jarama, Dijon, Nürburgring, Spa, Brno, and Silverstone. The new additions were two races at Bathurst and Calder Park in Australia, one in Wellington, New Zealand, and the season finale at Fuji in Japan.
The races were all long distance, contested over at least 500 kilometres. At Bathurst it was 1,000 kilometres, while the Spa 24 Hours covered something more like 3,300 kilometres.
There were two championships, one for drivers and one for ‘entrants’. The second wasn’t a manufacturers' or teams' championship in the traditional sense, as not all cars from a manufacturer or team were grouped together. Rather, the points went to an ‘entrant’. As a result, it wasn’t Ford or Eggenberger Motorsport that won the World Championship in 1987, it was the Number 7 entrant.
Points were awarded on both an overall basis and for three different classes – under 1,600 cc, 1,601 to 2,500 cc, and over 2,500 cc. In both cases the scoring system was the same, 20-15-12-10-8-6-4-3-2-1 for the Top 10. An Entrant could score a maximum 40 points per race if it won in its class and overall.
Just four weeks before the season-opener at Monza, the FIA decided to complicate things further by making the first political decision that had a direct impact on the championship. It was the introduction of a $60,000 entry fee (about $127,000 in today's money) for each entrant that wanted to be eligible for points. Behind the last-minute entry fee was that the FIA hadn’t been able to lock down a series sponsor. For the $60,000, the FIA promised the professional organisation of the World Championship – something that should have been a given, anyway.
Some of the teams and manufacturers, like Alfa Romeo, BMW, and Ford, begrudgingly paid up, simply as not doing so would have meant their elaborate pre-season programmes had been for nothing. In total 15 entrants made up the field, with seven teams from Italy and one each from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and England.
Others, such as Tom Walkinshaw Racing, made the decision to withdraw from the championship at short notice. The British team didn’t want to invest the $60,000 with no concrete evidence it would be worth it. Even without paying teams could compete, they just wouldn’t be able to score World Championship points. It became a science to try and work out who was going to score what, where. And there was another small condition; to be eligible for the entrants’ championship, the entrant had to take part in every single round.
No sooner had the championship kicked off at Monza than the officials and the rulebook were both in the limelight. The Italian stewards elected to exclude two of the heavyweights (and title aspirants) from Round 1, Ford before the race meeting had even begun and BMW after the race.
It all started when the Ford Sierras, prepared on behalf of Ford by Ruedi Eggenberger, failed to pass scrutineering. The Italian stewards determined that the Bosch Motronic ECU was illegal, given that the road cars had Weber-Marelli electronics. The racing Sierras had run the Bosch system the year before, and Eggenberger quickly produced a FISA bulletin, just several weeks old, that claimed that last year’s regulations were still valid. He swore that his team wasn’t trying to deceive anyone, but it didn’t work. His team was resigned to being spectators at Monza, anyway…
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by Harold Schwarz
Photographs: LAT, Walter Wilbert, Ray Berghouse, BMW, Kräling