Racing Reject - 1998 Rouse Sport Toyota Corolla Liftback BTCC
Powerless to the people
At the dawn of the 1990s, the world of touring car racing was heading into a new area. Since 1982, touring car racing had revolved around the tightly regulated, homologation-focused, and highly successful Group A category.
Under these regulations, manufacturers were required to produce 5000 examples of the car they wished to race, with an allowance for 500 "Evolution" models incorporating racing modifications. Almost every major part of the car had to have a production equivalent, making the fabrication of pure racing special that much more difficult.
Group A provided a great variety of recognizable racers.
However, major brands like Ford, Audi and Nissan managed to skirt around these rules anyway, bringing the class to its logical conclusion by 1990. As a result, the extreme Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500, Audi V8 quattro DTM and Nissan Skyline GT-R proceeded to dominate their respective championships, damaging the longevity of Group A as a whole in the process.
Whereas the V8 and the Skyline laid waste to their stubborn rivals in direct competition, the RS500 simply took over entirely. By 1990, it had become the only car to be fielded in the top class of the British Touring Car Championship. As the BTCC was populated by private teams, they simply adopted the car as it was the only real option to remain competitive.
The Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500 took over the BTCC in the late 80s.
Seeing the writing on the wall, BTCC elected to abandon the Group A class structure entirely for 1990. A new home grown formula would take its place, inspired by the lesser Group A7 subdivision. This 2 Litre Touring car spec called for 2000 cc engines as the name suggested, with a maximum of six cylinders and no forced induction of any kind. Aerodynamic aids were also outlawed, requiring the cars to retain their stock body shells.
BTCC's timing couldn't have been better, as the decreased competitiveness and rising costs of Group A coupled to an economic downturn saw the end of the class worldwide in 1993. In the meantime, the 2 Litre Touring Car specification attracted one manufacturer after another, pulling in Ford, Nissan, Peugeot, Volvo, Mazda, Renault, BMW, Vauxhall, Honda, Alfa Romeo and Toyota.
ARE's Toyota Carina broke the lance for the 2L era.
Toyota was one of the pioneers in what would later become known as FIA Class 2 Super Touring, fielding a Toyota Carina II in 1991. The project was spearheaded by Andy Rouse Engineering, the business set up by the four time British Saloon Car Champion of the same name in 1981.
Ironically, Rouse had helped make the Ford Sierra a success in both an engineering and driving sense, taking the title in the XR4Ti version in 1985, before starting development on the Cosworth RS500.
Unsurprisingly, the Toyota venture was a success as well, as Andy took 3rd in the championship. Last year's champion Will Hoy joined from BMW the following season, and manage to secure 2nd overall.
ARE went back to Ford for 1993.
Despite the early competitiveness, Andy Rouse decided to abandon the Toyota to accept a lucrative deal from Ford to develop the new Mondeo Si for 1993. ARE continued with the Mondeo through 1995, but failed to secure the title.
Ford's patience had run out, and the works deal was handed off to rival West Surrey Racing. The Blue Oval's departure lead to an uncompetitive season with semi works Nissans under the Rouse Sport banner in 1996. Following this, Andy Rouse decided to turn his franchise around.
Jamie Spence in the Rouse Sport Nissan Primera eGT, 1996.
After years of running factory efforts, Rouse had realized a gap in the market. The massive popularity and high manufacturer involvement in BTCC had made running a private team a very difficult proposition. Due to limited budget compared to the works teams, it was impossible for privateers to develop a competitive car on their own dime.
As such, they were relegated to buying last year's works car, still at comparatively great expense. With this in mind, Rouse settled on developing an independently sourced car, which he would then offer at a relatively affordable price to smaller teams.
The hum drum Corolla Liftback was chosen by Rouse to become their new budget super tourer.
To this end, Andy Rouse halted racing operations for 1997, instead devoting his time to the new costumer car project. After some deliberation, he settled on returning to his Toyota roots in Super Touring, selecting the Corolla Liftback as the base for the new racer.
In road trim, the Corolla wasn't much of a track weapon, as the most powerful European market variant only offered 110 horsepower from a 1.6 or 1.8L four cylinder. Clearly, a lot of work had to be done to bring the bland grocery-getter up to speed.
The 300 horsepower 3S-GE engine transformed the Corolla into a firebreathing track monster.
First order of business then, was finding a suitable engine. As the Corolla had no real competition-ready motor available, Rouse Sport pulled a 2.0L 3S-GE engine from the contemporaneous Celica. In stock form this motor produced 175 horsepower, which was bumped up to around 300.
The aluminium cylinder head was reversed in the process, in an effort to get cleaner, colder intake air at the front and simplify the exhaust arrangement at the back. A David Brown Racing 6-speed sequential transmission transferred the power to the front wheels.
The wheels in question were 19" Dymag centrelock examples, fashioned from lightweight magnesium. Inside, 375 mm Brembo brakes with eight piston calipers were found at the front, with 280 mm discs and four piston calipers at the rear. Penske coilovers kept the car planted to the road, assisted by front and rear anti-roll bars which would be adjusted from the cockpit.
As per regulations, the body remained relatively stock. However, limited aerodynamic aids had been allowed into the championship in 1995 after a controversial wing arrangement had been fielded by Alfa Romeo in 1994. As a result, the Corolla received a front airdam and a sizable rear spoiler.
Just as the car was engaging in its first tests and the team was starting to develop the package, Andy Rouse received some bad news. The prototype had been based around a Corolla shell provided by Toyota GB, with the understanding that Toyota would start production of the model in the UK.
This was a crucial factor in the survival of the project, as the FIA stipulated the application for homologation of a Super Touring car would have to be submitted in the country where the regular model was being produced. However, Toyota cancelled plans to open a factory in the UK, making Toyota GB unable to submit the application.
As the entire effort was now on loose screws, Rouse Sport cancelled its development program on the Corolla until the issue could be resolved. Andy Rouse was forced to reach out to the headquarters of Toyota Japan to secure an application. Sadly though, the Japanese weren't as enthusiastic about his plans.
Their reluctance lead to a series of discussions, with Andy Rouse trying desperately to convince them of the merits of a private Toyota in BTCC. Though Toyota never stated an official reason, the independent nature of the project probably didn't sit well with its officials.
The Corolla WRC made life difficult for its BTCC cousin.
Giving the car to unknown privateers was a great risk for the company, as it wouldn't exactly guarantee success. This gave little confidence the Toyota name would be held high in a championship full of its direct rivals in the British market. Additionally, having a Corolla take part could take away publicity from the Corolla World Rally Car Toyota was already running, hurting their marketing strategy along the way.
Months later, Toyota Japan finally gave the green light for the BTCC venture. The application forms were finally sent to the FIA and approved on July 1, 1998. At last, Rouse was able to resume testing with ex-Peugeot works driver Patrick Watts behind the wheel. The team aimed for a debut at Snetterton three weeks later, but the tests revealed much more work needed to be done.
Castle Combe, 1999.
Andy Rouse readjusted his target to the Brands Hatch meeting on August 31, but by this time funding was drying up. Realizing he wouldn't be able to run the car in the way he wanted, he pulled the entry just a week before the race. A third attempt involving Jamie Spence was also cancelled in similar circumstances.
As the 1998 season drew to a close, the Corolla's chances of racing didn't improve. Eventually, Andy Rouse pulled the plug entirely due to a lack of funds and development, and sold the car off. Following this, the car would make an appearance in a club race at Castle Combe on May 1999 in the hands of Brian Chatfield, before being loaded onto a cargo ship headed for New Zealand.
The Corolla fell into disrepair after being sold off.
Once dropped off in Kiwiland, the unique machine spent its days wasting away in storage. It took until 2010 for the car to be rescued, as it was discovered by local racer Kane Walmsley. The decade of neglect and salty air had taken its toll on the car, which had fallen prey to the rust devil.
The Corolla being transported in true Kiwi style.
Walmsley set about trying to restore the Corolla, trying to eliminate all of the corroded parts while salvaging some of the unique pieces which had been custom built for the car. This included the at the time highly advanced electronic systems, the specialized engine, and swaths of carbon fiber.
After an extensive restoration and engine rebuild, the car was finally returned to competition in October of 2012. Kane Walmsley entered the car in the SS2000 Championship, a series for various types of saloon cars with engine displacement up to 2.5L. Its first outing at Taupo Motorsport Park was successful, taking 2nd and 5th in the two heat event.
The car won its first ever race during the New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing in January 2013, being entered in the Group A & Touring Cars category. Another win came that season at the Taupo SS2000 race.
Four more heat wins were scored at the 2014 NZFMR, where it was entered as a Heritage Touring Car. Following this, it was entered for the 2018 Historic Touring Car Series, but it did not compete.
At long last, the Corolla has found a home.
After leading a long and lonely life, the one of a kind Rouse Sport Corolla finally found a home on the other side of the planet. Though it was conceived as a cheap alternative to the extremely expensive factory machines, it would ironically be slain by a lack of money.
Toyota's reluctance to accept its child out of wedlock created a gap in Andy Rouse's budget, effectively dooming the project. However, it has since fallen into the possession of Kane Walmsley, who has finally realized the car's purpose to provide an eager privateer with a competitive track weapon.