F5000: FORMULA ONE F
DR THE COMMON MAN
FOR SEVEN YEARS FORMULA 5000 PROVIDED ALL THE SPECTACLE OF Fl FOR A FRACTION OF THE PRICE. MARCUS SIMMONS REMEMBERS A WONDERFUL SERIES AND TALKS TO THOSE WHO MADE IT GREAT BRUCE MCLAREN WANDERED TO 11-IE FRONT ROW OF
the Oulton Park grid. Sitting there was his MIOA, with which he had led the development for a spectacular new formula. Inside it was Peter Gethin, for whom this series was a godsend. Last year, 1968, had brought promising results in F2, but there was little sign of a path to Fl. He would have to blitz this new championship, but there was a problem.
He knew the M10A, but had no idea how to get it off the line. He looked up at the Kiwi and said: “I’ve never done a start with this car. How do I get it off the liner His response? “Smoke the effing tyres.”
So armed, Gethin won the first four races on the trot, and the 1969 Guards European Formula 5000 Championship. In 70 he did it all again, launching himself into an Fl career with McLaren and BRM.
Formula 5000 had a seven-year run in Britain from 1969 to 75 and was the idea of Brands Hatch boss John Webb. Not satisfied with bringing racing to the ordinary man, through Formula Ford in ’67, he wanted a category which seasoned racers could afford and the public would want to watch.
Webb explains: “The cost of competing at an international level was restricting the amount of’ people that could go racing. I wanted a cheaper alternative, with roughly the same power as F!, for the guy who couldn’t afford the real thing.”
That was America’s Formula A, which he redubbed F5000. Together with BRSCC chief Nick Syrett, Webb made a 12-race calendar for 1969. And, while this pairing got on with the organisation, technical matters were left to Webb’s `confidantlacicie Epstein.
Epstein’s team had been forced from sportscar racing by the abolition of start money, so he became team manager for a semi-works Lola squad which was to enter a car for bike star and sometime Grand Prix racer Mike Hailwood. Team principal was racer Paul Hawkins, but when Hawkins was killed, Epstein and Nick Cuthbert took over the outfit.
But the spaceframe Lola T142 was no match for the monocoque McLaren or Surtees TS5, which was run initially for David Hobbs and then Trevor Taylor. “I was in touch with Eric Broadley,” remembers Epstein. “He asked me about Webb’s intentions vis-a-vis the new formula, and Eric said he’d build an F5000 car if there was to be a proper championship.
“The resulting T142 was an interim car, easy to drive and strong, and Mike did well with it, but it wasn’t as good as the McLaren M10A.” McLaren had taken the category seriously, entrusting Gethin’s car to semi-works Church Farm Racing Team. “It was a wonderful car,” Gethin P+
raves. “It handled incredibly, had loads of torque and was great fun. But during the season they outlawed big wings. The car changed dramatically — suddenly it was crap.”.
As well as that, Gethin and Church Farm had headed off to the US to try and win some dollars. While away, Taylor — who had missed the early races before substituting for the US-bound Hobbs — had eroded his championship lead. As they headed into the finale at Brands Hatch, it was showdown time… It is little known that Cooper designed an F5000 car. Two T90s were built., but both went when the team was sold at auction. It took until that last round at Brands for one to take to the track in the hands of unknown Chris Warwick-Drake, who appeared to be having great difficulty keeping it under control. Taylor led Gethin, for whom second would be
enough for the title, when they chanced upon the dawdling bacicmarker. He contrived to blunder into both front-runners, who had tried to go either side. Taylor and Gethin ended in the bank, while their nemesis was to be black-flagged for incompetence. Gethin won the championship.
The McLaren M 10B, with which Gethin defended his title with in 1970, was ‘pretty mediocre’, but that didn’t prevent him from wrapping up the title before the end of the season. A big help was the fact the Surtees TSSA. and Lola T190 didn’t immediately work either, both regularly crash-tested by Taylor and Hailwood respectively. “Over the winter of ’69 to 70 Broadley was going through what I call his short period,” says Epstein of the Lola. “He reasoned if he cut a foot out of the car it would be lighter, and he built the prototype
T190, which was beautiful. Hailwood and I tested it and we were under the existing lap records. Then Mike went on holiday, the team split up for the winter and the car was packed away.
“I came back, expecting to pick up where we left off, to find Eric had lent the car to Roger Penske, in the USA. It never came back.
“Eric built a new car and it was difficult to drive. Mike had more crashes than anyone knows about.” It took Frank Gardner, the brilliant Australian to sort the car out. “Frank, Mike and I went to Thruxton and at the end of it Frank said, ‘You’re going to have to increase the wheelbase’. He identified that if you had to play with the throttle you got an enormous torque reaction from its very heavy crank. It caused the car to roll around its centre on and off the power. Because it was short wheelbase and narrow track
Fortner Le Mans winner Giic van Lennep wan the 1972 F5000 title driv’ ing Surtees TS11 Big wings mounted high above small block Chevy V8 were banned during 1969 doing no favoursfor the handling qfGethin’s McLaren
it made the car unstable. Within a week Eric had increased the wheelbase by 9in and it was much
more driveable. Then all Lolas went long!”
By now the F5000 was beginning to acquire its own legend, and would continue to do so until the formula wound down in ’75. “Tremendous fun,” affirms Webb. “It brought back the spirit of the ’60s when Fl was getting commercial. It was a glorious time to be around — I’ve never had so much fun.”
Gardner’s intuition came up trumps midway through 71. He felt the T192 was falling off the pace, so shoehorned a Chevy into the F2 T240. The T300 was born, the slab-sided machine carrying him to the title. That car proved the basis for the classic 1:5000 ‘family’ of cars, the T330 and T332 lasting to the end of 1974.
At the end of 71, Gardner declared himself “too old and cautious” to continue single-seater racing.
So, with Gethin and Hailwood in Fl the path was cleared for a new F5000 elite.
In 1972 Epstein’s Speed International team ran the Surtees TS 1 I, built as an Fl or an F5000 car. Driven by Gijs van Lennep, it took the title after a battle with Graham McRae’s Leda LT27.
By this stage, Gethin was back on the scene after his F1 career had run out of steam. Driving a worksentered Chevron B24, he provided the most famous F5000 result of all, beating the Fl teams at the Race of Champions at Brand.s in 1973.
“The B24 wasn’t a great car but in those days there were a huge amount of people driving who I thought weren’t that good, so I could win by driving the Chevron’s wheels off,” he says today. “The car was finished on the Wednesday before the race at Brands. I won the F5000 race on Saturday and qualified well on the grid for the Fl race. The
car suited Brands, and I loved Brands in those days. I felt I was worth a second a lap.
“The torque helped. It wasn’t so peaky and Brands suited that. Even without so many retirements, I’d have been fourth in the Race of Champions.”
Gethin’s efforts were concentrated on America in 73, but Chevron took the European title thanks to Teddy Pilette at the wheel of Count Rudi van der Straten’s car. The Flemish nobleman’s VDS team, along with Alan McKechnie Racing, would be the category’s major players in its final years.
For 1974, McKechnie’s young charge Bob Evans would fight for the title with Gethin, lured to VDS “because he was prepared to give decent money”. Against the latter’s Chevron B28, Evans would give the Lola T332 a European championship win. “It gave more downforce than the Chevrons and it was wider track,” says Evans, “so it coped with wo
the Chevy engine a bit better, although the Chevron may have been a bit faster in a straight line.
“F5000 cars weren’t like an F! car they were like a shire horse to a thoroughbred. You couldn’t brake as late, and they had this inertia through fast corners, where the engine would make them float a little. You had to have a lot of throttle control basically you could have spun off on the straights. You had to treat the cars vvith respect, particularly the gearbox, which could break very easily. The engines didn’t like being overrevved or run too hot.
“I reckoned the quickest way round a corner was to go through in a higher gear, which with that Chevy you could do. People like Ian Ashley would brake hard and put everything into it, and Gethin to an extent as well. I always tried not to upset the car, just reckon on not braking and changing down if I could avoid it and then feathering the throttle.”
Then again, he did have the T332. “It was a very good car,” says Eric Broadley, “and still is. They still race in histories in the LIS and go very well. It was a good chassis, very stiff and aerodynamically good.”
The T332’s successor, the T400, was a beautiful car and was to give Pilette and VDS who had switched from Chevron the final European F5000 title. At first, however, it didn’t work.
“This was the age of progressive suspension,” Broadley remembers. “Everybody thought this was going to be the thing. It wasn’t. Once we scrapped the rising rate suspension the chassis was very good. Perhaps it would have worked even better if a young Finn by the name of Keke Kosberg had been allowed to race the can Bob Evans had gone to F1,
so McKechnie Racing replaced him with Richard Scott, who controversially brought Durex sponsorship into the sport.
Scott won on the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit, but otherwise his results were disappointing. Then Rosberg, 26 years old, tested the Lola. “After four laps he was 1.9 sec quicker than Scott had been,” says Thombum. “He was the best I’d ever seen.”
Time was running out on F5000 now anyway. Injected engines had been allowed for ’73, allowing more power and revs, but pushing costs further beyond the reach of the privateers on whom the category still relied to form the bulk of the grids. For 76, a new Webb idea would throw F5000, F], F2 and Formula Atlantic machinery together.
“By then there was an availability of second-hand Fl cars,” Webb explains. “When Gethin won the Race of Champions it crystallised it in my mind that F5000 cars weren’t too far apart from F I.”
The races may have been on occasion rather dull and strangulated by the frequent expiry of some illprepared machinery which formed the back half of the grids, but the end of F5000 was met with sorrow in Britain. “They were really exciting to watch,” says Gethin. “They were big and noisy and moved around, just what motor racing is about.” Webb recalls: “If one had to summarise it, it never lost a lot of money, it never made a lot of money, but it gave a lot of people who’d otherwise have had to go to a club meeting a sense of ground tremor.” And burning rubber. “They used to go off like dragsters, smoking the tyres,” reminisces Evans. “It really was something else.” III