RETURNING a top-level open wheel category to Australia has been a long and often painful process.
Starting in March 2016 and evolving trough several interations, dramas, politics and more over a four-year period, the first S5000 race at Sandown last September represented something of a milestone for the people behind the class and for the sport itself.
This weekend the VHT Australian S5000 Championship proper commences at Albert Park with a 15-car grid and a host of experienced names and up-and-comers looking to make their mark.
Here’s a rundown of the steps taken to get to this point, and some of the drama that unfolded along the way..
MARCH 21, 2016 – FORMULA THUNDER LAUNCHED
THE Formula Thunder 5000 Prototype was rolled out to Media on Thursday morning, March 31 2016. In raw carbon fibre and sporting the massive airbox as an homage to the original F5000 racers, the car was an instant hit.
The initial plans included the use of a Swift designed Formula Nippon chassis, to which founder Chris Lambden had secured the IP and planned to build in Australia. A 5.0 litre Ford Coyote V8, run by a Motec ECU, would be mated to an Aussie-built Hollinger gearbox and the car was announced to be running SupaShock dampers.
Following the rollout, the car would continue to be developed by Melbourne-based Borland Racing developments ahead of a planned August or September test.
JULY 2016 – RIVAL 5000 SERIES STORY BROKEN
Motoring.com.au broke the story of a Supercars-backed plan to launch and develop their own big-banger open wheel category, pitched to series stakeholders at the Townsville 400 event.
As part of the ‘vision 2025’ plan rolled out to teams, reports indicated a bespoke chassis powered by existing Supercars drivelines.
Speedcafe reported that the plan was met by resistance by some teams, including Roland Dane who while admitting it was proposed, said it ‘has no place in our business.’.
AUGUST 2016 – SUPERCARS-BACKED 5000 PROJECT RUNS
Auto Action reported that the Supercars-backed product had already run for the first time, turning laps in a private test at Mallala in South Australia.
Their story also reported that the car was overseen by engineer Oscar Fiorinetto and his SupaShock engineering business in Adelaide, and backed by PAYCE and Wilson Security.
CAMS weigh in on the issue by sitting on the fence and stating that should any proposal get off the ground, they would first have to comply to FIA safety regulations and that the Australian Motor Racing Comission would need to make the final decision on which, if any, category would proceed.
OCTOBER 12, 2016 – FORMUMA THUNDER RUNS AT WINTON
The FT5000 prototype is shown running, in public, for the first time following a shakedown at Winton. A debut at Sydney’s Muscle Car Masters later that month is confirmed.
OCTOBER 31, 2016 – FORMULA THUNDER LAUNCHES
Resplendent in a racing livery and with Gold Star champion Tim Macrow behind the wheel, the FT5000 prototype makes a hugely popular public debut at Sydney Motorsport Park’s Muscle Car Masters event.
The Race Torque was first on the scene with images, which were supplied to the category and used in media around the world!
JUNE 2, 2017 – SUPER5000 LAUNCHED
THE PAYCE-backed Super5000 chassis is shown off for the first time, confirming several key details including the support of PAYCE / Wilson Security and Supashock’s involvement in developing the car.
The locally-designed chassis is full retro, harking back to the classic 1970s era F5000 cars, while the driveline is a Supercars engine and Albins transaxle lifted directly from the Touring Cars. It was also confirmed that Supercars retained the IP for the car and concept.
A later poll run by Speedcafe.com hinted at the direction the public wanted to go, while the ongoing drama provides plenty of fodder for the media to lap up. The basic understanding from most parties, however, was that two competing series wasn’t going to work and that if they didn’t find some common ground, there would be no series at all.
July 17, 2017 – PEACE IN OUR TIME
AFTER twelve months of building cold-war style rivalry between the competing bids to bring back big-banger wings and slicks racing to Australia, it is announced by both parties that they would now be working together to create a unified approach.
John Bowe helped facilitate introductions between the Super5000 and FT5000 concepts with discussions quickly becoming positive towards forming a unified future.
Plans announced included merging components of each unique car to create one ‘spectacular V8 open-wheeler category’. Plans suggested a late 2018 launch.
“This is the significant step forward which will allow the concept of a modern 5000-style race car and series to actually happen, and happen well, which is what we both started out to do. I am more than pleased with the way we have been able to reach this solution, which I happily endorse and support,” Lambden said at the time.
“I’d like to thank John Bowe who, knowing all the parties involved, organised an initial meeting with John McMellan (Wilson). It was from this meeting that John McMellan basically said ‘Let’s just get this sorted and find the solution to work together.’
“He then coordinated bringing all the relevant parties together and from there it all came together very quickly and easily.
“The one thing that became apparent quite soon was that we all are primarily what I’d call ‘motorsport people’, and our motivation for getting into all this was the same. It didn’t take that long to agree a sensible way forward.”
Added John McMellan: “I think it’s important to highlight that the team at PAYCE, who are involved in the development of the S5000, have been responsible for the progress that has been made in getting both parties aligned. I merely assisted in the parties coming together after JB and I met with Chris. This decision to work together is a credit to their vision and flexibility.
“It’s also good to have Chris on board, who will play a role in the ongoing technical discussion.
“An outcome such as this will only result in a better outcome both commercially and technically as well as for the sport.
“The project team will take the best elements of both designs and thinking along with some other new thoughts to ensure we have a stand-out category that results in exciting, fast and action-packed open-wheeler racing.”
OCTOBER 19, 2017 – GOLD COAST DEMO
BOTH cars run at the Supercars’ Gold Coast 600 event, the FT5000 racer sporing a new, lower airbox.
The cars also head to Pukekohe in New Zealand for the kiwi fans to get a first look at what could be come a future Tasman series racer.
The process now begins to pin together the correct chassis / engine combination for the new category, with neither car likely to progress forward.
EARLY 2018 – SAFETY FIRST
PROGRESS feels slow, but behind the scenes much is going on. The biggest delay comes in chasing an appropriate chassis, after CAMS refused to let the car progress to a racing stage without the FIA-specification Halo rollover / frontal impact protection. A global search begins to find a suitable tub.
AUGUST 23, 2018 – ANNOUNCEMENT
FINALLY! Firm plans are announced for the category, which will be called S5000.
The Australian Racing Group (ARG) were confirmed as CAMS-approved category administrators with the governing body also signing off on the technical package as well.
After plans were abandoned to utilise either the Swift-based FT5000 or locally designed Super5000 chassis, plans were confirmed to utilise the Onroak/Ligier Formula 3 chassis mated to an updated version of the Coyote V8 and Hollinger gearbox driveline developed for the FT5000 project.
The car would also utilise the FIA approved Halo and 2018-specification impact structures and formed a modern interpretation of the classic Formula 5000 category and ‘Australia’s IndyCar’.
SEPTEMBER 10, 2018 – NEW CAR SHOWN OFF
THE First S5000 chassis, mated to the engine and gearbox, is shown off to a select group of motorsport media at Borland Racing Developments HQ, on the eve of the Sandown 500.
NOVEMBER 19, 2018 – FORMAL LAUNCH
The final version of the S5000 racer is launched at Sydney Motorsport Park, the car turning its first public laps at a combined TCR / S5000 launch event at the Sydney circuit.
It comes three years and one month following the initial launch of Lambden’s FT5000 car at the same venue.
The car begins an intensive program running at several key events, including the Adelaide Motorsport Festival and the Newcastle Supercars season finale’.
DECEMBER 17, 2018 – GRM TAKE OVER
Announced earlier in the month, Garry Rogers Motorsport were confirmed to assume the development and roll-out of the S5000 project, including the construction of an initial batch of 13 cars, plus the initial launch vehicle.
The process, alongside developmental testing and finalisation of the package to be raced late in 2019, would unfold for much of the next six months.
APRIL 5, 2019 – SANDOWN LAUNCH CONFIRMED
Sandown was announced as the first S5000 race, a non-points event at the famous Victorian venue to be followed by a similar one at The Bend two months later. This comes after the series elected to delay the scheduled introduction of the category from a may kick-off at Sydney Motorsport Park
JULY 5, 2019 – CARS ARRIVE
A Milestone with all 14 cars that formed part of the initial order are now arrived in Australia from Onroak/Ligier.
AUGUST 16, 2019 – RUBENS CONFIRMED
11-time Grand Prix winner Rubens Barrichello is confirmed for the opening round of the series at Sandown, a high-profile addition to the grid and a certainty to gain significant media attention when the series kicks off.
SEPTEMBER 21, 2019 – RACING
TIM MACROW wins the first ever S5000 race at Sandown, more than four and a half years after the initial concept was announced back in 2016.