US F5000: Matich

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

It’s fit­ting that Matich was the first Aus­tralian to try his hand in US For­mula 5000. Af­ter all, Matich’s F5000 pro­gramme be­gan off the back of his US Can-Am sports car ef­fort.

It’s fit­ting that Matich was the first Aus­tralian to try his hand in US For­mula 5000. Af­ter all, Matich’s F5000 pro­gramme be­gan off the back of his US Can-Am sports car ef­fort. Things mightn’t have gone to plan with the sports cars, but the ex­pe­ri­ence of run­ning in the ’67 Can-Am at least meant Matich knew what he was in for rac­ing in the States.

For his brief 1971 US F5000 cam­paign, Matich would be driv­ing a McLaren rather than one of his own Matich cars (the first Matich A50 F5000 was still on the draw­ing board). But then by 1971, Matich’s M10B had been ex­ten­sively mod­i­fied. As Matich’s ex-McLaren me­chanic Derek Kneller re­flected re­cently: “It was a McLaren only for the first time we raced it. Af­ter that it was a Matich.”

Matich won the 1970 Aus­tralian Grand Prix in the McLaren in Novem­ber be­fore be­ing nar­rowly de­feated by archri­val Gra­ham McRae in the eight-round Jan­uary/Fe­bru­ary Tas­man Se­ries. Then it was off to the United States for the open­ing round of the L&M Con­ti­nen­tal F5000 se­ries in April.

Matich’s US F5000 de­but was a stun­ning suc­cess. First time out at River­side, he qual­i­fied third in the 35-car field and went on to to fin­ish sec­ond in each of the two heats – thereby win­ning the round over­all. He backed that up the fol­low­ing week­end at La­guna Seca with an­other pair of sec­ond places. When Matich left the States to re­turn home (he only planned to do the first two rounds), he was lead­ing the L&M se­ries…

His Amer­i­can cam­paign re­sulted in a re­veal­ing in­ter­view by Max Stahl in Rac­ing Car News in which Frank and his wife Joan were shown at Syd­ney air­port hold­ing up a wad of US dol­lars they’d won, part of the $13,500 they’d col­lected for do­ing just two rounds of the se­ries. That was a sub­stan­tial sum of money 46 years ago.

“We had the car in LA on the Satur­day prior to the race meet­ing which gave us one full week,” Matich told RCN.

He did a day’s test­ing at River­side “be­cause I hadn’t seen the cir­cuit for about four years and they’d done a lot of al­ter­ations” and then went straight into the of­fi­cial qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion on the Fri­day, which started 90 min­utes late, and then “un­for­tu­nately a chap got killed pretty early in the prac­tice ses­sion and that knocked an­other 40 min­utes off.”

Matich qual­i­fied third, which was high enough to prompt other teams to come over to check out this strange for­eign en­try pow­ered some un­known en­gine that wasn’t a Chev, wasn’t a Ford and wasn’t even a Ply­mouth or a Dodge. Many of them must have been won­der­ing just what a Holden was… “It was a dif­fer­ent car to them,” Matich told RCN, “dif­fer­ent in its con­cept – the only car for ex­am­ple that had en­gine cov­ers and cowl­ings. They couldn’t un­der­stand what this was and sort of felt that the idea was to make it look pretty! Lit­tle wheels, smaller tyres, gen­er­ally the whole en­gine. They just couldn’t un­der­stand why we’d bother. You know, what’s the point? Why don’t you use a Chev?” The Repco-Holden even sounded dif­fer­ent. “Oh, very dif­fer­ent. Didn’t sound hard – well, so I’m told, ev­ery­one com­mented it was a very soft sound­ing car and we weren’t revving as high as the other ones.” As it turned out, the Holden-pow­ered McLaren had a big ad­van­tage in the high speed, banked turn 9. “I took one look at it and thought, ‘Ooh hell, what am I go­ing to do with this lot?’ They would all come down the main straight and go straight into it. The quicker ones, like Sam Posey and David Hobbs, were get­ting to 172, 173mph (278km/h) or some­thing in the straight – we were

get­ting 168 – and they would brake and go back into fourth and hold it un­til they reached the pits.”

“And I was do­ing this too, for the first day, but on the sec­ond day I started us­ing top. I’d come down the straight and just brake and go into the thing in top gear and, oh boy, our car was just so bloody fast through this cor­ner it was tremen­dous… It was this cor­ner that won the event for us. Our car was just so su­pe­rior here. More sta­ble and in com­par­i­son to Posey and the other ones that came near. I would prob­a­bly get about three, maybe four lengths, on the av­er­age… and that was a hell of an ad­van­tage.” But then it rained. “It wasn’t just a wet track,” Matich con­tin­ued, “it was hail­ing and that was un­real. They didn’t de­lay the start or any­thing and just try­ing to stay on the road be­hind the pace car was some­thing un­real be­cause we were us­ing tyres that had no tread at all. Not the slight­est mark of tread­ing. David Hobbs (on pole) just spun off the road in the pace lap. The poor bug­ger just spun around in front of me and he was go­ing side­ways, back­wards, and it all hap­pened at 15 or 20 miles an hour… when they dropped the flag ev­ery­body sort of snaked and wob­bled away.”

When they got to the first cor­ner, most of them hit the brakes, locked up and dis­cov­ered that they couldn’t turn. Matich was forced off the road by an­other car on the in­side that had its wheels turned but was plough­ing straight ahead.

“He just couldn’t do any­thing about it. So I can’t turn and I’m def­i­nitely lim­ited in what I can do be­cause they’re slow­ing up too much. I want to turn the cor­ner but this guy’s in there, and I can’t go for­ward and get away from him, which I could if these bas­tards weren’t slow­ing up so much. So I just kept go­ing straight and it’s pretty smooth, a bit un­du­lat­ing, and I miss two curves com­pletely and try to join up on Turn 6. But I can’t be­cause there’s cars just ev­ery­where... it was just un­be­liev­able.

“Bud Mor­ley – his feet were hang­ing out the front of the Lola. So there I had to stop and un­til they moved cars I couldn’t get through. Any­way from there I just tippy-toed along un­til the thing grad­u­ally got dry and I just sort of grad­u­ally worked my way back up. Our Repco en­gine, with the cov­ers and that over it, is a very re­spon­sive en­gine, whereas those guys with peaky en­gines were in a lot more trou­ble than I was.”

Us­ing his Turn 9 top gear tech­nique, Matich passed Jim Dit­te­more’s Lola on the fi­nal lap to fin­ished sec­ond.

“The sec­ond heat (in the dry) was a good race. There were a lot of wrecked cars again though, I think 10 to 12 cars writ­ten off in this heat, and I mean de­mol­ished.”

Amid the car­nage Matich sur­vived to win his first Amer­i­can race and the River­side round over­all. Next week­end Matich was a solid sec­ond to Sam Posey at La­guna Seca. And that was the end of a brief but suc­cess­ful cam­paign.

Matich tried again in 1973 with a two-car team of a new Matich A51 chas­sis and an ear­lier A50 as a spare. These were en­tered and fi­nanced by Ear­ley Rac­ing, a team run by a fa­ther and son, both po­di­a­trists from Ohio. There were as many as four Matich cars there that year, with John Walker run­ning his A50 (although not part of the Matich team) in ad­di­tion to the Amer­i­can-based Ford­pow­ered A50 of John Gim­bel. This car had been driven to 11th at La­guna Seca in 1972 by no less than George Follmer, that year’s Can-Am se­ries

He took an Aus­tralian-de­vel­oped car, with an Aus­tralian en­gine, to the other side of the world, to a For­mula 5000 scene much big­ger and much more com­pet­i­tive than ours, and came out on top.

win­ner (at the wheel of the fear­some Porsche 917/30KL).

Matich qual­i­fied fifth at the first round at River­side and went on to fin­ish a strong third in the first heat. He didn’t fin­ish in the sec­ond. A promis­ing start, but things went down­hill from there.

At La­guna Seca he qual­i­fied 11th but re­tired in both heats. At Michi­gan he broke a gear­box in the first heat, then came through from the rear in heat two to fin­ish fifth.

At Mid-Ohio Matich was 13th over­all but at Watkins Glen, with Vern Schup­pan now in the spare Matich, they de­stroyed (at least) three Repco en­gines in prac­tice be­cause of oil surge prob­lems. Both cars were with­drawn from that event and a frus­trated Matich abruptly called time on the US cam­paign.

It was a dis­ap­point­ing end to his in­ter­na­tional ef­forts: no doubt it was a well-re­sourced cam­paign (par­tic­u­larly in com­par­i­son with the other Aus­tralians that year) that should have de­liv­ered more. But the fail­ures of ’73 shouldn’t dis­tract from the mag­ni­tude of what Matich achieved in 1971. He took an Aus­tralian-de­vel­oped car, with an Aus­tralian en­gine, to the other side of the world, to a For­mula 5000 scene much big­ger and much more com­pet­i­tive than ours, and came out on top. In terms of in­ter­na­tional suc­cess for an Aus­tralian driver and Aus­tralian tech­nol­ogy and equip­ment, it’s prob­a­bly sec­ond only to Sir Jack Brab­ham’s For­mula 1 achieve­ments. It was also the first in­ter­na­tional race vic­tory for a Holden en­gine!

Frank Matich’s brief ‘71 US cam­paign was a re­sound­ing suc­cess. The Repco-Holden V8 was some­thing of a cu­rios­ity but the Amer­i­cans soon came to un­der­stand it was the equal of their Chevs.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.