Caustic Colonist - 1992 Audi S4 GTO
In 1988, German luxury brand Audi had switched its focus from rally racing towards the highly competitive world of circuit racing. After spearheading the first genuine four wheel drive revolution in 1980 with the legendary quattro, the company had seen itself slowly overtaken by more advanced designs from Peugeot and Lancia. Just as the Germans were preparing to fight back with a mid-engined variant of the quattro, Group B ground to a halt after a series of devastating accidents.
Not wanting to waste the research and development and publicity opportunities racing presented, Audi instead turned to the lucrative American market. This resulted in the total domination of the famous Pikes Peak International Hillclimb in 1987, the Trans Am series in 1988, and the IMSA-series in 1989. For IMSA, the firm had built its most extreme competition machine yet.
This 90 IMSA GTO was a spectacular tube-frame special sitting on enormously wide tires, and powering its four wheels with 720 horsepower worth of turbocharged five cylinder fury. Like the slightly more docile 200 Trans Am before it, the 90 completely crushed any and all opposition during its reign of terror. Audi dominated the American series to such an extent that Trans Am banned four wheel drive and non-American engines, while IMSA banned four wheel drive after the 1989 season.
With both of their campaigns shut down by fearful governing bodies, Audi was forced to find a different arena for their titanic gladiators to compete in. As before with the demise of Group B, the company wasn’t satisfied with simply giving up.
Keen on expanding the brand even further, Audi went looking for another lucrative market in uncharted territory. Eventually the decision was made to move the racing activities to the southern most tip of Africa. Audi Sport South Africa had been looking to make the same switch from rallying to road racing its parent company had, and with the cancellation of the American program help wasn’t far away.
As soon as the Trans Am campaign was halted, one of the winning 200 Trans Ams driven by Hans-Joachim Stuck (GER) and Hurley Haywood (USA) was shipped down south in 1989. The car found a home in the Wesbank Modified Saloon series, which featured a motley crew of overpowered monsters. As the regulations stated any car competing had to be available for sale in the South African market, the big Audi was renamed 500 Turbo after its African counterpart.
Driven by Sarel van der Merwe, the car quickly subjugated the local heroes and comfortably took the title. A second car arrived in 1990 for Chris Aberdein. Issues with fuel regulations meant the team missed out on the title. Van de Merwe made way for Terry Moss in 1991, and together with Aberdein he secured another championship for Audi.
Although the exiled 200 Trans Ams were the fastest cars in the Wesbank series, Audi Sport South Africa felt it was time for a change. As the 500 model upon which the racer was based had been taken out of production, the car’s marketing value had fallen sharply.
Instead, the firm hoped to introduce the even faster Audi 90 IMSA GTO into the Wesbank Series to further assert their dominance. However, there was a problem. Even though the standard Audi 90 was still in production, it was not available in the South African market. This meant Audi Sport SA had to find a way to legalize the maniacal machine.
The solution to this problem was as simple as it was effective. Rather than building a completely new car from scratch, Audi Sport’s German chapter helpfully sent over one of two surviving 90 IMSA GTO’s for their African colleagues to study and reverse-engineer. As a result an almost exact replica of the 90’s tube frame chassis was produced.
The new car featured the same demonically powerful 20-valve turbocharged 2.2L straight five engine, which belted out 720 horsepower and 720 nm (531 lbs ft) of torque. Also identical was the drivetrain, consisting of a reinforced 6-speed manual transmission and the ubiquitous quattro four wheel drive system.
In essence, the only major difference between the two machines was the bodywork. In a successful effort to skate around the Wesbank homologation rules the car’s silhouette had been shaped to resemble the new C4-generation Audi S4, the successor to the 500 Turbo.
The new weapon was imaginatively named S4 GTO, and set to make its debut at the penultimate round of the 1992 Wesbank Modified Saloons season. While waiting for the GTO to reach completion, Audi Sport SA retained the 500 Turbo’s for Terry Moss and Chris Aberdein. The older car’s had been updated several times in the past seasons, and now sported large wings and modified bodywork.
Because the 500’s were still at the head of the field, Audi decided to send over touring car legend, double Le Mans winner, 1985 World Sportscar Champion and former F1-driver Hans-Joachim stuck to give the S4 GTO its first competitive outing. Since the cancellation of the Trans Am and IMSA expeditions, Stuck had given Audi its first Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft title in 1990 with the incongruously fast Audi V8 DTM. The tall German seemed to be the ideal man for the job at hand.
Utilizing his inexhaustible experience and talent, Hans-Joachim Stuck put the new car on third in his first ever race in South Africa. Despite knowing little about the track, he was still very close to the mad three-rotor MAzda 323 of Ben Morgenrood, and the older 500 Turbo of Chris Aberdein. Behind him Sarel van de Merwe was ready to pounce in his Ford-branded Mercury Cougar IMSA GTO, followed by the second Audi 500 driven by Terry Moss to complete the top level Class A.
Stuck profited from the savage power of his Audi even with a rolling start, as he immediately relegated Morgenrood to third. Local boy Chris Aberdein tried his best to fight the German off and retain the lead, but the much bigger production-based 500 Turbo was no match for the super-light S4.
The newer car provided better acceleration, better braking and much faster cornering, while also being easier on the brakes and tires. It was clear the S4 GTO was the way to go for Audi Sport SA. Despite never having driven there before, Hans-Joachim Stuck took a commanding double victory at Killarney.
With the debut of the S4 GTO a resounding success, the team immediately moved to running two cars fulltime. The second machine was given to Terry Moss, with Chris Aberdein and Graham Duxbury competing in the 500 Turbo’s. Both S4 GTO’s were adorned with the lovely colors of tobacco-company Rothmans, and proceeded to continue their dominant form.
The 1993 season would be the first full effort for the new car. Hans-Joachim Stuck moved back to support Audi’s European exploits, leaving room for Chris Aberdein to finally claim an S4 as his own. The 500’s had meanwhile been sold off to privateers to decrease running costs.
Moss and Aberdein duly picked up where they had left off in 1992, and claimed many victories over the course of the season. In the end Moss had once again gained enough points to take both titles in the Wesbank series.
Unsurprisingly, Audi's African adventure proved to be a repeat of their previous successes in the United States. Between the 500 Turbo and S4 GTO, the Germans had been dominating the Wesbank Modified series for four years.
With the advent of the even faster GTO-machine, its competitors and the series' governing body had had enough. As a result the cars were slapped with boost restrictors and weight penalties, which finally brought them down to an acceptable level. The Audi's lost their dominant form, but Chris Aberdein still managed to score a convincing double victory at Killarney
Chris Aberdein's wins would prove to be the last for the traditional Wesbank Modified Saloons, as the series switched to an over-regulated V8-only series in the vein of NASCAR and V8 Supercars. The change brought an end to one of the most exiting forms of motorsport the country had ever seen.
In the process it also killed off the Audi S4 GTO, along with Ben Morgenrood's 26B-engined Mazda MX6 and the brutal V8-engined Ford Mustang piloted by Sarel van der Merwe. Instead a bland silhouette racing championship was put forward, but to many fans it would never be the same.
The Audi S4 GTO successfully reinforced the reputation of the brand as a dominant force on the South African racing scene. After being terrorized by the 500 Turbo for two three years, the hapless locals were faced with another dangerous invader. Taking the lessons learned from the certifiably insane 90 IMSA GTO, the new machine showed the astonished competition that the 500 had only been the beginning.
The resulting domination was however quickly stifled by inevitable performance restrictions, but Audi Sport South Africa prevailed in the end by taking the final victories the country’s most famous touring car series. Today both machines live on as a testament of the Teutonic touring car tyranny of the late 1980’s-early 1990’s.