Under scrutiny

Andy Rouse Engineering


From the moment you walk into the new premises in Solihull and see the 24 trophies neatly lined up on a shelf in the reception room, you appreciate just how successful Andy Rouse Engineering is, despite only having been formed in 1981. It occupies a small site covering just 700 sq ft with a staff of just 18, yet it is a veritable powerhouse.

Like many racing drivers, there is nothing about Andy Rouse, the driving force behind the business, to suggest who he is and what he does for a living. It is doubtful if you would appreciate that he is Britain's best saloon car driver (pace Steve Soper) should you confront him in Tesco's, although the deft manoeuvring of his trolley might give you a hint.

The company might date back only seven years, but the man himself has been racing for a good deal longer, starting at 17 when he began grass track racing in a Wolseley Hornet Special. Three years later he won the Gloucestershire League championship, the first of many series he was destined to win. It was in 1969 that he began to race seriously by competing in a Formula Ford 1600. Despite a limited budget he was able to win the Townsend Thoresen Challenge in 1970, although the following year saw a reverse in his fortunes.

By now he was working at Broadspeed as a self-employed engineer and driver. At that time Ralph Broad's company was one of the leading touring car specialists, the Broadspeed saloons setting many a race track alight with their performance. As an engineer Rouse was in his element, but unfortunately Formula Ford preparation was not one of the company's strong points so his single-seater aspirations came to an end.

A great deal of Broadspeed's expertise at this time was in the preparation of the popular Escort Mexicos and so it was in that series that Rouse began his saloon car career. Winning the championship was a testament both to his driving and engineering skills, for although he could avail himself of the facilities at Broadspeed, he was running the car as a privateer. The following year he achieved further success when he won his class in the British Saloon Car Championship driving one of the 2-litre Broadspeed-built Group 2 Escorts.

1974 saw the introduction of Group 1 and the Triumph Dolomite Sprint was the obvious car to run. Andy again won his class but went one better the following year when he won the Championship, leading to an invitation to join the highly fancied Jaguar XJ12C team run by Broadspeed.

As it turned out this was to become a very unhappy time for Jaguar's racing aspirations, the memory of which has only just been exorcised by the marques success in sportscar racing. The XJ12Cs raced were glamorous beasts and the goodwill which greeted them as they began their campaign was quite emotive, but the cars suffered from a number of maladies and simply never delivered the expected results. For two years the sad story continued proving an embarrassment to all concerned. In the first year Rouse did not race even once.

It seemed that at every meeting some different problem would occur to sideline the cars, but if the first year was bad, compounded by the team being on a sharp learning curve, 1977 was a catalogue of disasters. The first race was marred by oil-surge problems followed by a spate of races when broken drive-shaft flanges halted the cars. Oil problems arose again in the sixth race although Rouse, teamed with Derek Bell, was able to take an unexpected second place. Problems with the new dry-sump oil system hit one car in the next race while the differential packed up on the other. After the ninth race, having raced in seven with two cars and scored just a second and fourth place, the team withdrew from the championship under the full glare of a disappointed and hostile press.

At the time, though, the invitation to join the new team seemed a golden opportunity. Even after many years, the bitterness and frustration that Rouse feels about the project is still apparent. "The whole thing was such a farce, such a cock-up! Leyland Cars did not realise what they were into and nor did Ralph Broad. They were trying to force the project along too quickly, it was too complicated a car for that.

"The wet sump, for instance, was probably the car's biggest handicap for such a big engine. Towards the end of the '77 season a dry sump was fitted but it did not make any difference by then. If it had gone on for another year, and Leyland Cars would have been smart to have carried on, they then would have got all the results they needed.

"The whole project began to go wrong when Broad's daughter was killed in a road accident and he never got over it. He was not the same man again afterwards. He just lost interest in motor sport, waited for the Jaguar project to finish and then never did much after that."

While Broad's career headed for terminal decline, Rouse wisely decided for fresh pastures and became a freelance engineer and driver specialising in racing saloons. There followed two years of varied racing driving a Porsche 924 and BMW 520i in 1978 in their respective series and Alan Minshaw's Opel Commodore in production saloon racing.

After first being Saloon Car Champion in 1975 and then touring around Europe for the next two years, it seemed at the time that perhaps he was another Broadspeed casualty. It was, however, just Rouse's way of earning some money and it would only be a question of time before his considerable talent as a driver came to the fore.

It was another driver-cum-team-owner who brought Rouse back into the fold of the RAC Championship again and no it was that Andy found himself driving a Capri as partner to Gordon Spice. The season was quite successful for the team and although Spice became class winner it was generally felt that Rouse pulled his punches to finish behind his team-mate whereas he could have scored more than the three victories he did actually win.

With his propensity for racing saloons so quickly, it was not a great surprise to see him invited to Le Mans for the first time in 1980 by Porsche to drive one of the 924 Carrera GTs in the GTP class. He and Tony Dron finished 12th. A year later he drove another works 924 GTR in the IMSA class and finished 11th in a car shared with Manfred Schurti, but his final Sarthe appearance was not so successful. Sharing the GTI Engineering 924 GTR with Richard Lloyd in 1982, the car was disqualified in the sixth hour while in 23rd place.

Asked whether the proposed rule-changes in sports-car racing would tempt him back to Le Mans as entrant as well as driver, Rouse was cautious. "The trouble is that they keep changing the rules and it represents a massive investment at that level." He did confirm, however, that if there was stability in the rules and if the finance was available, the prospect of a Group C Rouse could be something his company might contemplate.

Andy Rouse turned entrepreneur in 1981 when Andy Rouse Engineering was formed after a deal to run a two-car team for Charles Sawyer-Hoare at Broadspeed fell through when the company ran into financial difficulties. Rouse and Vic Drake, the former manager at Broadspeed and who now looks after the engine side of the business, consequently formed their own company to continue the work that Broadspeed had hitherto been doing.

Their first job was preparing Sawyer-Hoare's Group 1 Capris, beginning a lengthy but not continuous association with Fords. In 1982 Rouse again teamed up with Spice in Capris but success with the cars was elusive. It was not until the following year, when Rouse ran an Alfa Romeo GTV6, that he won his second championship. A year later he became champion again, this time at the wheel of a Rover Vitesse, and he achieved a hat-trick in 1985 in a Ford Sierra XR4Ti.

While his second championship was very satisfying as it proved the worth of his business, it was not particularly lucrative as there was little spin-off in engineering terms. But victories in both the Rover and the Ford proved very beneficial. Success with the Vitesse led to a successful development of the Rover, engine for both TVR and Range Rover, while the XR4Ti, otherwise known as the Merkur in the States, from where this model originated, gave the company a head start in the development of the Sierra Cosworth and attracted a queue of customers willing to pay for that knowledge.

Following an unsuccessful foray into the World Championship in 1987, Andy Rouse Engineering was back in winning mode again in 1988 with the two Kaliber-backed Sierra Cosworths. "The Kaliber sponsorship has been a classic case of clever marketing. The high-profile promotion has been backed up by good results all season," but what has been particularly pleasing to Rouse is the fact that the touring car championship has been used in Kaliber's television advertising which has obviously brought a new level of awareness. Putting the froth on top of the beer is the fact that Rouse is seen in the advert beating an Eggenberger car to the chequered flag.

Although the two white-and-blue cars attracted all the publicity, Andy Rouse Engineering also prepared the cars of Laurence Bristow and Rob Gravett. "The company will tackle the preparation of any car, but the Sierra Cosworth, as far as Group A is concerned, is the car to have, so there is no point in taking anything else."

It is because the company is an independent engineering concern that winning the Tourist Trophy was so important even if it meant putting an end to the title aspirations of a Ford driver. For Rouse's business, it has meant a further upturn in work.

It is not just in Britain, however, that Andy Rouse Engineering run a team: it has been running Alain Ferte in the French Touring Car Championship on behalf of Ford France. This is in addition to dealing with teams from all over the world, particularly Japan and Australia.

The cancellation of the European Touring Car Championship this year has knocked on the head plans the team had for contesting it. While Rouse was to continue running a two-car team in the British series, he was also in negotiation to run a team in Europe. Rouse feels strongly about the matter as it has stopped his company from growing and expanding into European racing. It is not surprising, therefore, that he has little regard for FISA. The excuse given for the cancellation of the ETC — that there were only two manufacturers involved — cuts no ice with him and he quotes that a 54-car entry for the Tourist Trophy hardly shows the ETC being in a weak position.

"The ETC was officially regarded as a manufacturer's championship, but FISA does not give them what they want from it. FISA has done a very poor job with the ETC and touring cars in general have now reached the same stage that Group C was at a few years ago. The ETC was not promoted, it was a Mickey Mouse series of races spread out all over Europe at circuits nobody wanted to go to and they wondered why nobody wanted to do them all and why manufacturers did not want to get involved. It seems that it is yet another effort to try and force manufacturers in the direction of FISA 's ProCar series which is of no interest to ourselves, Eggenberger or any other private team as only the manufacturers will be allowed to enter the series."

Like many involved in the sport as a business, Rouse cannot believe that this highly touted ProCar series will ever get off the ground . The cost to manufacturers will be enormous and there is not even the guarantee of television coverage. Grand Prix racing took years to reach the level of awareness it has now attained, but to put the coverage into context, at the BBC Television's annual Sports Review of the Year in December Formula One was reviewed in approximately 75 seconds in a programme lasting over 90 minutes.

As far as Rouse is concerned there is probably a middle ground between Group A and what FISA is proposing, where there could be a very successful series. In fact Rouse has submitted a set of technical regulations to FISA which is a very realistic formula and gives every manufacturer a chance to run a car at a price not much greater than it into run in Group A: it is similar in concept to the new French "Supertourisme" series, a touring car championship into which a great deal of work has been carried out by the French Federation.

Andy Rouse Engineering is inextricably bound up with preparing and selling parts for the Sierra RS500 and has rather dangerously got all its eggs in one basket, but there is so much work at present that there has not been the need to diversify. If the national touring car championship was ever felt to be in jeopardy, however, then obviously the company would look into expanding other aspects of its business and in particular the engine side.

Rouse rejected the notion that Andy Rouse Engineering could enter the after-market business very much as TWR has done with Jaguar because Ford does have that aspect of business very much tied up. Very much a firm of the "Eighties", it is nevertheless the spiritual successor to the highly respected and much missed Broadspeed, but with the benefit of having a man in charge who has learned from the mistakes of others on the way. WPK