Alan Jones

Australian Muscle Car - - US F5000 -

The 1976 sea­son was a piv­otal one in Alan Jones’ ca­reer. He might have al­ready been a For­mula One driver, but by no means was he a star. In 1975 he’d raced for pri­va­teer Harry Stiller and the team owned by for­mer dual world cham­pion Gra­ham Hill. For ’76 he signed with an­other ex-world cham­pion team owner, John Sur­tees. But these teams were among the al­so­rans. For the mo­ment in F1, Jones was rel­a­tively un­known; a mid-field driver at best, mak­ing up the num­bers at worst.

These were frus­trat­ing times for Jones. His spells with Hill and Sur­tees were un­happy ex­pe­ri­ences. In AJ’s view, both Hill and Sur­tees had not come to terms with the fact that they were no longer driv­ing, and nei­ther was will­ing to ac­cept the opin­ion of their ac­tual driver.

By the end of ’76, af­ter a wretched year of Sur­tees’ in­ter­fer­ence, Jones was al­most will­ing to give up the dream of F1 and look for some­thing else. In his book, Driv­ing Am­bi­tion, pub­lished just af­ter he’d won the 1980 world cham­pi­onship, Jones re­flected on the sit­u­a­tion he’d been in dur­ing the mid’ 70s: “…hav­ing raced for Hes­keth and Gra­ham Hill and John Sur­tees, I was ac­tu­ally no longer in­ter­ested in an­other For­mula One drive unless I could get my­self into a prop­erly pro­fes­sional team.

“I felt I couldn’t keep run­ning around in cir­cles any more, and if Sur­tees didn’t re­lease me from my con­tract, I’d go over to the United States and do a sea­son of USAC rac­ing.”

Or For­mula 5000, which he in fact had al­ready been do­ing. As a pro­fes­sional driver, while try­ing to es­tab­lish him­self in F1 he sought ex­tra cur­ric­u­lar rac­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in both F5000 and the Can-Am. In­deed, his ex­ploits in these spheres of rac­ing would con­tinue to over­lap over the fol­low­ing two years – and by then he re­ally was a bona fide F1 star – as de­tailed in our Can-Am MkII fea­ture in AMC #96.

Jones’ en­tre in F5000 came not in a five-litre V8 car but rather a March pow­ered by a 3.4-litre V6 Ford Cos­worth Capri en­gine sim­i­lar to the one pow­er­ing Al­lan Mof­fat’s Cologne Capri Jones raced the Capri-en­gined March in 1975 in Euro­pean F5000 rac­ing with some suc­cess.

For ’76 he got the op­por­tu­nity to sam­ple a Chev-pow­ered Lola in the US se­ries.

As Jones ex­plains in his re­cently re­leased au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, AJ – how Alan Jones climbed to the top of For­mula One: “I had a re­la­tion­ship with Teddy Yip, be­cause I knew him from run­ning in the Ma­cau Grand Prix on my way home each year. I got on well with him, and as it turns out he was look­ing for a driver for the SCCA/USAC For­mula 5000 Cham­pi­onship in the States.”

The Amer­i­can sched­ule clashed with the F1 cal­en­dar only once; Jones would miss the sec­ond of two Elkhart Lake rounds while con­test­ing the Dutch Grand Prix. It would be a busy time in­volv­ing lots of trans-At­lantic flights to and from the States: the se­ries opener at Po­cono was held on the week­end be­tween the Span­ish and Bel­gium GPs.

At Po­cono Jones was ac­com­pa­nied by an Aus­tralian team­mate in Bruce Al­li­son. The lat­ter’s 10th place would be his only re­sult for the se­ries. Jones was sev­enth. He’d qual­i­fied third but fin­ished a lap down ‘af­ter some dra­mas’.

At Mosport in Canada for round two, Jones won, head­ing home Jackie Oliver’s Dodge- pow­ered Shadow by a slen­der mar­gin. Oliver had led for the first 36 laps, then Jones slipped ahead when Oliver was baulked by the lapped Horst Kroll (this led to a post-race punch up, which left Kroll threat­en­ing to sue Oliver…).

No ag­gro for AJ, though, es­pe­cially given open­ing round win­ner Brian Redman had only fin­ish­ing eighth. For Jones, it was ‘an al­most per­fect week­end’.

For the next round, at Watkins Glen, Jones switched to Theodore’s other chas­sis, a March. The re­sult was the same, although it came af­ter a strug­gle.

“Qual­i­fy­ing didn’t go so well as I ad­justed to the March 76A I was given that week­end, but I came sec­ond in my heat which im­proved my grid po­si­tion and then I just had to take over the run­ning in the main race from Al Unser, and I won the race from him by quite a mar­gin.”

Mid Ohio was, ac­cord­ing to Jones, ‘a great track but in the mid­dle of nowhere’. There he qual­i­fied third fastest and fin­ished third in his heat (just ahead of, by coin­ci­dence, Sur­tees F1 team­mate Brett Lunger) but did not start the fi­nal.

Miss­ing the sec­ond Elkhart Lake round did not help when it came to Jones’ hopes of win­ning the se­ries. At least the fi­nal, at River­side, didn’t clash with an F1 race, although like the first Elkhart Lake round, it had F1 en­gage­ments on ei­ther side.

At River­side Jones qual­i­fied third, fin­ished third in his heat and then fourth in the fi­nale. Fol­low­ing Jones home at day were Vern Schup­pan and War­wick Brown.

Three Aus­tralians in the top 10 in the fi­nal SCCA F5000 race was a fit­ting re­flec­tion of how well the Aus­tralian driv­ers ac­quit­ted them­selves on the US F5000 stage right through that pe­riod.

Jones and Brown would go on to star in the sub­se­quent Can-Am ‘MkII’, but for the mo­ment Jones would have to be con­tent with fourth over­all, be­hind Brian Redman, ‘Big Al’ Unser and Jackie Oliver. It was dur­ing the ’76 US F5000 sea­son that Jones made the ac­quain­tance of Shadow’s Jackie Oliver. Over the com­ing months Oliver would lure Jones to Shadow to drive the team’s F1 car. And that’s when AJ’s F1 ca­reer re­ally started to take off.

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