The last 5000
Posted 05 February 2004 - 21:02
I'm thinking the McRae GM3 and the last Elfin - MR9?? are the obvious contenders.
Posted 05 February 2004 - 21:27
But there was the McLaren M26 that was converted by Ganley (?) and sold to Allan Hamilton, driven by Alfie Costanzo.
Were these the only two 'ground effect' F5000s built?
Posted 05 February 2004 - 22:17
Was it given side pods and skirts?
It didn't start life with them
Posted 05 February 2004 - 22:43
And I believe it was later taken back to original... but I may be wrong in that. I have a story somewhere...
During 1979 and 1980, Allan Hamilton’s car, driven by Alfredo Costanzo, had proven hard to beat. It was the Lola T430 brought to Australia by Team VDS for Warwick Brown, and development in the hands of its new owners had seen it become the leading car in a field that was getting ever older.
Undeterred by CAMS refusing to give any more than one-year extensions to the formula’s existence, Hamilton went ahead with the purchase of two new cars after a discussion with Vern Schuppan.
Schuppan had formed an alliance with Howden Ganley, the ‘ga’ in Tiga Cars (Tim Schenken had been the ‘Ti’), and they had purchased the James Hunt GP-winning M26 and its stablemate and started to convert one of the cars to F5000 trim.
The M26 had a chequered history, starting very slowly and not being thrown in at the deep end at a time when the M23 was still a good car to have. Jochen Mass raced the car in some events in 1976, but it wasn’t until the 1977 Spanish race that the team decided they had to get on with the job and just make it work.
Hunt was ultimately able to place fourth in France, take a win in Britain, then follow up with a sixth in Austria, another fourth in Italy and a win in the US. The car continued as the McLaren entry until the end of 1978, by which time it was well outclassed. Hunt and team mate Tambay both finished the series on a mere 8 points.
At the time the Can-Am series in America, the series in which Schuppan wanted to compete, was using all-enveloping bodies on single seaters in an effort to attract crowds more used to seeing Sports Cars in bygone days. Half way through the conversion, Ganley decided it was better to build a new car from scratch.
Schuppan’s talk with Hamilton came soon after the AGP at Calder in 1980. “Alf drove the wheels off the T430 at Calder, he was just inspired, he could have won that race if the F1 cars hadn’t been allowed to keep their skirts as was originally planned,” Allan says, “so I wanted to put a ground effect car under him.”
The money spent, there was a long period of stall as Ganley failed to get on with the job of completing the conversion. It was a big job. The original sides were cut off the tub and ground effect or wing sidepods installed. Much change was required at the rear to fit the Chevrolet V8 in place of the DFV Cosworth, and M28 rear suspension was grafted in place.
Additionally, the gearbox was changed to the normal F5000 equipment, the DG 300 Hewland.
Probably uniquely in a F5000 car, this one had the oil tank cast into the bellhousing, which undoubtedly presented a problem when converting from the DFV to Chevrolet power.
In contrast to John McCormack’s attitude when converting the M23 a few years before, no effort was made to ensure easy conversion back to original. If a panel needed to be cut, it was cut.
When it eventually did arrive, there were some headaches suffered as the team tried to make sense of the unsorted car. “It was very heavy to steer,” Alfie remembers, “and the brakes were very hard. It was very hard, physically, to drive.”
The team actually did little development work on it, and it was to have a very brief life.
It was longer and wider than the T430, and even with their lack of experience with ground effects (spring rates as supplied were far too soft and they had no idea how high to take them), Alfie says that the M26 “would have won in anybody’s hands!”
Alfie had his problems in the car, particularly to do with the physical side. “I used to turn in at Mazda House at Amaroo (the sweeper down the back of the circuit), then I would lock my elbow into the side of the car to hold it, otherwise I would have run out of strength to keep turning the corner,” he told us.
“I never got a nice seat in that car, either, and I would do the same thing turning the corner off the main straight at Adelaide International Raceway.”
The car rewarded the team quite well, though, especially at Sandown, where 60 seconds had been a bogey time for the cars for many years. Just a few laps into a practice session Alfie got down to 59.7s, even though the car was slower on the straights than the Lola.
It was the only car ever to lap the circuit under the minute, and Hamilton is sure that with heavier springs Alf would have got into 57s.
“I had the same engine and the same gearing as I had in the Lola,” Alf says, “yet in Shell Corner, where I had to get off the power normally a couple of times, with the McLaren it was just get on the power and keep going!”
The Gold Star or Australian Drivers’ Championship had slipped into near-oblivion by the time this car appeared. That first round at Sandown was held on February 22, and the pole position time of 59.7 was enough to show that the balance of the small field might well go home.
John Wright led the field away, but Costanzo was able to stamp his mark on the race with a new lap record of 60.6 seconds and by putting almost a full lap on John Bowe, having his first drive of the ground-effect Elfin MR9 which featured in this series in MRA No ?????.
Next outing was Amaroo Park in July, with its two 20-lap heats, and again Wright got the better of Alf at the start of heat 1. Alf got by after a few laps with a better run onto the straight, and explains his starting problem as being with the engine. “We were using the alloy-headed engine,” he recalls, “and we got beaten to the first corner every time.”
He also remembers that the clutch had a very short travel, making it tricky, and especially tricky to drive around the pits. But around the pits is not where races are decided, and after Rob Butcher won the start of the second heat Alf got by and ran away and hid. Win number two, but the ailing nature of F5000 was seen in the lack of cars. Just six started, even the MR9 staying away.
The Gold Star had been reduced to just two rounds, one fewer than the previous year!
One other outing for the M26 had seen Alf take an easy win in the Colin Trengove Formula One Challenge race over fifteen laps. He didn’t even approach the lap record to take this race.
Another race at Sandown on September 13 for the abortive ‘Arco Graphite’ Series saw the lap record go down to 59.5 seconds in another demonstration of M26 superiority. They didn’t turn out to the Rose City 10,000 at Winton on October 25, fittingly won by John Wright after a year dogged with troubles.
Sadly, that was the end of F5000 in Australia, officially. The new category, Formula Pacific was up and running in separate races already, and the Grand Prix in November had already been announced as being for the smaller cars.
With the GP in view and Hamilton keen to see Alfie competitive, a deal was brokered to change mounts. This was aided by Bob Jane wanting Alf to be there too, and as the promoter he could see greater numbers through the turnstiles if the local hero was in there with a chance of matching the overseas stars committed to the event.
Jane bought the McLaren to encourage Hamilton to change to the smaller cars, Hamilton then went back to Ganley and his purchase of the two Tigas was to set the scene for the continued domination Alfie was to enjoy in the ensuing years.
But our concern here is with the McLaren, and it lay untouched with Jane for some time. Hamilton then bought it back and then sold it to Greg Jupp. Jupp ultimately sold the car back to McLaren International for their museum.
The second car was “still in boxes in our store in Noble Park,” Hamilton recalls, and was eventually sold to Perth’s Don O’Sullivan to be built up by Jamie Gard. The former WA Champion had ideas of keeping it for later use in Historics, or as an investment, but it was only a further three years on that an English buyer, Graham Storey, insisted on offering more than O’Sullivan could refuse, and the car left the country, later moving on to Switzerland.
The M26 F5000 was a major part of an ignominious end to a formula which had given Australian enthusiasts the greatest open-wheeler racing they had ever seen. With the noise and power, and the inherent lack of balance, F5000 was spectacular and exciting.
It also marked the end of an Australian tradition. From early times it had been popular to fit a big engine into a quality racing chassis, the first examples being Ford V8s in Bugattis and Ballots from about 1936, and successive examples followed right through until the seventies.
How sad it was to see the two fastest F5000s ever built coming onto the scene too late to make any real impact. Certainly Alfie won the series and the Elfin MR9 proved to have plenty of promise, but there were no more races and the politics of the day were edging the class closer and closer to extinction. The Gold Star had reached its lowest level of emaciation yet.
Sad, too, that the car would never see that further development, the testing to show that much harder springs were needed. “We had no experience with ground effect then,” says Hamilton, “bit if we had known what we learned later on . . .”
Posted 05 February 2004 - 23:01
Some confusion here, I think. Hunt was third (not fourth) in France, and won in Britain, USA and Japan. Mass was fourth in GB, sixth in Austria, fourth in Italy and third in Canada.
Originally posted by Ray Bell
Hunt was ultimately able to place fourth in France, take a win in Britain, then follow up with a sixth in Austria, another fourth in Italy and a win in the US.
Posted 05 February 2004 - 23:41
Just thinking about this, surely the rebuild on this car was sufficiently substantial to consider it a complete car for the sake of this discussion... ie a new car, and thus probably the last F5000?
Posted 06 February 2004 - 00:20
Posted 06 February 2004 - 01:21
But I daresay somebody has. I don't think it would have looked anything like what McLaren did in 1978, but I'm away from all my mags and books at the moment so I can't say.