THE EARTH MOVERS
Single-seaters that made the ground shake. By Paul Lawrence and Kevin Turner
life, but it was incredibly spectacular and made a big impression on the drivers and fans of the era.
Initially styled on the success of the Can-am sports car category, Formula A was introduced in the US in 1968 to offer powerful but affordable single-seater racing with cars using production-based V8 engines.
In less than a year, Brands Hatch promoter John Webb concluded a deal to bring the category to Europe where it was badged as Formula 5000. The early cars were pretty agricultural but Lola, in particular, led chassis development and into the early 1970s the cars became very effective.
At the same time, falling entries were affecting the early season nonchampionship Formula 1 races like the Silverstone International Trophy and the Brands Hatch Race of Champions. Adding F5000s to the field was the obvious solution, but the thundering V8s were never intended to beat the grand prix cars and drivers.
At Silverstone in April 1973, David Hobbs (Lola T330) traded lap times with Jackie Stewart and Emerson Fittipaldi but it was Peter Gethin’s overall win in the Race of Champions three weeks earlier that really grabbed the headlines. Gethin’s works five-litre Chevron B24 beat Denny Hulme and James Hunt to the chagrin of the grand prix establishment.
The F5000 category enjoyed a European Championship for seven seasons from 1969 and titles fell to Gethin (twice), Frank Gardner, Gijs van Lennep, Teddy Pilette (twice) and Bob Evans. Across the continents, drivers like Brian Redman, Graham Mcrae, Jody Scheckter, Alan Jones, Frank Matich, John Mccormack, David Oxton and Graeme Lawrence were at the sharp end of Formula 5000. Mclaren, Lola, Surtees and Chevron all took European titles and it was Lola, with the T330 and its T332 and T400 evolutions that topped the manufacturer stakes.
The category survived longer in the US and also enjoyed popularity in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. But it did not last and US support dwindled in the mid-70s as cars were converted to sports car bodywork for the re-born Can-am class. In Europe, the 1973 oil crisis made US engines more expensive and a move to allow the 3.4-litre Cosworth GA engine did not really inject the new life needed. The class morphed into the ‘run what you brung’ Group 8 category and then the ill-starred British F1 Championship as the F5000s quietly dropped from view.
However, there is no question that in its pomp, Formula 5000 was loud, brash, and spectacular and contested by some quality drivers. A grid full of the 5-litre monsters really did make the ground shake. The fact that they were able to race at circuits like Mallory Park and Castle Combe gave fans of the era some unforgettable memories.
Fortunately, Formula 5000 lives on today in historic racing and the cars are still raced hard in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US as the rolling thunder of 40 years ago continues to thrill race fans.