View Full Version : 1978 Australian Grand Prix For Formula 5000 Cars

Steve Holmes
05-19-2011, 11:27 PM

Without wanting to overdo the Australian theme (having posted the 1980 Aussie Sports sedan race just recently), I just had to post this beautiful piece of footage from the 1978 Australian Grand Prix, for Formula 5000 cars.

Like many great categories of the 1960s and ‘70s, Formula 5000 (or Formula A as it was known in its home-land) was an American creation, dreamed up by the Sports Car Club of America, who, by 1967, were already enjoying steady growth with their Can-Am big-bore sports car series, and Trans-Am sedan series. Wanting a professional road racing series for open wheeler cars to complete the set, they formed the grandly named SCCA Grand Prix Championship, which was split into three classes, based on international FIA regulations, and determined by engine sizes. Formula C was for cars up to 1,100cc, Formula B up to 1,600cc, and Formula A up to 3,000cc (effectively Formula 1).

Its first season (1967) was not a success, Formula A in particular was poorly supported, and the SCCA made the smart decision to expand the engine capacity in the big class to 5,000cc, for stock block engines. Given the accessibility and affordability of stock block V8’s in the US, and the ready source of tuning companies able to race prepare them, Formula A established itself in 1968, and quickly gained popularity with racers throughout the country, and with it, race car manufacturers offering an array of chassis’.

Great Britain soon embraced Formula A (under the name Formula 5000, as it would become known elsewhere throughout the world), and created their own F5000 championship in 1969, which would hold rounds throughout Europe. Four F5000 cars were sent from the US to Bay Park Raceway in New Zealand in late 1968, to compete in a non-championship event, and such was their popularity, and apparent affordability, F5000 was established in NZ, from the 1969/70 season. The formula also spread into South Africa, and, finally, Australia, by 1971. In just three short years, F5000 had become a global phenomenon.

However, it wasn’t to last. Availability of the American V8 engines into Europe by the early ‘70s, combined with the weakened pound, meant that numbers began to dwindle in England, and by 1976, F5000 was being amalgamated with domestic non-world championship F1 cars. In New Zealand, rising costs of buying and maintaining F5000s eventually made the formula too expensive, and by 1976, only a handful of cars were still competing in domestic events.

In the US, the SCCA Can-Am and Trans-Am categories were struggling by 1974. The Can-Am was ended after the ’74 season, while the Trans-Am saw a mass-exodus of factory teams, and increased competition from the newly formed IMSA. In a desperate attempt to rekindle some of their earlier success, the SCCA announced Formula 5000/A would end following the ’76 season, and Can-Am resurrected, only as F5000 cars fitted with single seat sports car bodies.

Only Australia persevered with F5000, until 1981, and many of the worlds F5000 cars found their way there.

F5000 races were invariably processional affairs, with the cars chronic frailties often providing the only uncertainty as to the final result after the first dozen or so laps. But they were so charismatic, many forgave them of this.

This piece of footage, provides great insight into how incredible these cars were, when driven at 100% commitment by talented (and brave) gladiators, many of whom would suffer at least one major shunt in one of these machines during their careers, and on circuits lacking the safety standards to deal with them.

Steve Holmes
05-19-2011, 11:31 PM
Part 2


Steve Holmes
05-19-2011, 11:32 PM
Part 3


David McKinney
05-20-2011, 08:30 AM
Nice summary of the formula, Steve :cool:
Do you know where the clip comes from? I'd swear that's my voice doing the intro - I was working for TV One in NZ at the time (but don't remember the coverage...)

Steve Holmes
05-20-2011, 08:23 PM
Thanks David, its just a Youtube link. Do you want me to send you the original source of the Youtube video so you can ask the person who posted it?

David McKinney
05-21-2011, 08:43 AM
Would be interested, if it's not too much trouble


Steve Holmes
05-21-2011, 09:15 AM
PM sent David.

David McKinney
05-21-2011, 02:48 PM
Nothing under private messages - is that where I should be looking?

Steve Holmes
05-21-2011, 07:17 PM
When you click on "Notifications" at the very top of the page, is there anything to say you have a new message?

David McKinney
05-22-2011, 07:42 AM
Silly me - thinking a private message would be under 'Private Messages'

Thanks, Steve - got it now

(wouldn't life be boring if all forum websites worked the same?)

Ray Bell
01-08-2020, 12:35 AM
I have to say that this particular race turned out to be pretty lousy in the end...

Yes, I was there witnessing it first hand. I was outside the spectator fence not far past Dandenong Road corner for the race, though on practice day I had been walking around everywhere with a photographer's pass.

The deterioration of the race to a procession was fairly quick. Not that retirements caused that as McRae was well in charge after McCormack started with a lame Leyland and couldn't take advantage of his pole position and only lasted seven laps. But before half-distance a string of crashes started and that thinned the field further.

Cooper took a line similar to the one Walker had pioneered in 1975 near the top of the hill on the back straight, then the ambulances and rescue people were hardly over that when Schuppan and Davison tangled under brakes at Shell. McRae even kept his huge lead despite a spin about this time.

Alan Hamilton did gain some ground, however, when McRae slowed nearly to a stop to enquire what the 'bad sportsmanship' flag was about when it was given him for not slowing at Cooper's accident site. Then Hamilton crashed.

So the race finished with two laps between first and second, also between second and third, with a further three back to fourth and only one more to fifth. McRae won his third Australian Grand Prix, all of them having been won at Sandown.

And Sandown had proved it was still a dangerous place, a place where McCormack said, "When you're filling out that entry form, in the cold hard light of the kitchen late at night, you think long and hard about it. Because once you sign, you're committed!"

Martin Sampson, in fact, had not entered John Walker for this meeting because of the dangers of the circuit. But the grit, and the 'red mist' of the drivers was often shown in how hard they did race there. McCormack's dice with McRae in the 1973 AGP remains one of the grittiest drives I've ever seen, the bolt which held the stay for his rear coil/damper unit having been sheared off and that corner of the car sinking as the support to the main tube was lost. He was entering braking areas with the opposite front wheel barely touching the ground, but he was determined to press on in the hope he'd deprive McRae of the win.

But, for all of that, it was worth being at the meeting to see and hear Fangio braking near the point where Cooper went off, and to hear Jack Brabham say, "It gives you a lot of heart to see him still driving like that."