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#1 Ray Bell

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Posted 12 October 2000 - 20:34

Thirty years ago we had the most exciting news…. Formula 5000 was coming!
For Australians, whose diet for a decade had been a combination of watching the dregs of the FPFs, then the Repco V8s, then the once-a –year intrusion of the sleeved-back F1 cars, this meant that we had a chance to see local drivers running in equal machinery with any visitors.
Frank Matich, of course, was expected to be difficult to beat. He was the first to produce a car, a McLaren M10, but before long we had his Sports Car challenger, Niel Allen indicating he also would be running in the class.
The Mildren team, who had staked all in the Waggott TC4V 2-litre engines, there was no immediate rush to gear up. They were backed by the Alfa Romeo dealer, and so the idea of stock-block V8s was something to almost be sneered at.
The drivers, Kevin Bartlett and Max Stewart, were hankering to get amongst the more powerful machines, but initially they would have to do it with their Waggott engines – and they did this quite successfully. F5000 came about with the option of 2.5-litre free-design engines, largely for their sake and the sake of others with investments in FVAs, Repco V8s and Lawrence’s Ferrari.
When the Tasman Cup series arrived on our shores, the pointscore was being led by Matich. Next was the 2.5-litre Ferrari driven by Graeme Lawrence, while the other 5000s strung out behind. The first race was at Surfers Paradise, where Matich led until he needed more fuel on the 43rd of the 50 laps. Allen assumed the front running, but his fuel pump drive belt let him down and McRae went through to win ahead of a very on-form Bartlett and Lawrence. Matich recovered to fourth.
Warwick Farm was to be different, as Warwick Farm always was. A sinuous circuit, demanding the utmost of a car’s cornering and braking abilities, it saw Lawrence take pole with Matich a tenth behind. With moisture on the circuit for the start, Matich was first away, Bartlett following him through and throwing out a challenge two thirds of a lap later that was to see the two cars touch and Matich spin off at the Causeway.
The race was a victory for the Waggott-powered team, filling first and second places ahead of Lawrence and Allen. So it was on to Sandown.
Here Allen set equal fastest time with Matich in practice, then won the start to take an easy win in the race – Matich having troubles, McRae blowing an engine and Lawrence finishing second to take the series for Ferrari.
So began our love affair with the Chevy-powered machines. It was an era that saw lap records fall and fall, that saw crowds enthralled, that saw the thunder and noise come into open-wheelers that the Touring Cars had enjoyed for five years.
For over ten years they would be our major Racing Car category, erupting to the echo of the Sandown grandstands, shattering the peace of Phillip Island, setting the final lap record for the Mt Panorama circuit at Bathurst.
Drivers who ultimately had a go at driving them included John Harvey, Max Stewart, Kevin Bartlett, Graeme Lawrence, Gary Campbell, Ken Smith, Colin Hyams, Alfredo Costanzo, Allan Hamilton, John Briggs, Terry Hook, Colin Trengove, Chas Talbot, Vern Schuppan, Frank Radisich, Larry Perkins, Howie Sangster, John Walker, John McCormack, Garrie Cooper, Errol Richardson, Bob Muir, Bruce Allison, Warwick Brown, Jon Davison, Kevin Loy, John Leffler, John Goss, Alan Jones, Ken Shirvington, Chris Milton, Dave Powell, Jim Richards, Colin Bond, Barry Singleton, Peter Edwards, John Wright, John Bowe, Rob Butcher, Ivan Tighe, Bob Minogue and Mel McEwin.
The size of this list emphasizes just how attractive these cars were to the drivers.
They would work their fingers to the bone to be able to drive them, they were driven to extraordinary lengths to find the sponsorship to enable them to carry on… and they risked life and limb by not replacing lifed components when they should to save money.
Colin Trengove and Max Stewart were to die in them, while Bartlett, Lawrence and others would come away from the era with severe limps after that heavy engine drove the front of their Lolas into some form of solid object.
For me, there are reflections that I must make. The first is that is such a shame that Longford never saw these cars. What a sight that would have been! Second is that these cars are the only ones that really excited me at Phillip Island, which became their spiritual home as they reached their dying days.
They took a long time to die. For about four years there were pressures to rid the circuits of these dinosaurs and let Formula Atlantics rule the roost.
Some exciting cars were a part of the field, too. The unique ones were the M26 that Alf Costanzo used in 1981 and the M23 John McCormack campaigned with the Leyland engine – a real orphan in a world of Chevys. Colin Bond and Kevin Bartlett also drove a Brabham BT43 at one time.
Engines were not exclusively Chevy, John Goss tried a Ford in his Matich and the Repco organization prepared a series of Holden engines that were every bit as good as the Morand and Bartz engines.
There were enthusiasts who trekked all over the country to see these cars, and there were circuits who put on special series for them. Calder’s Repco series and Oran Park’s Toby Lee races brought out the best in the fields and helped bolster the class as they awaited the National Championship events and the annual International races.
The best race I saw in these cars was at Adelaide International Raceway, where Vern Schuppan struggled with loose bodywork (holding it down down the straight) as he battled with Walker, Allison and McRae behind race-winner Brown, the first three finishing within 1.4 seconds as the field finally started to string out.
Ironies I find, looking back, are the lack of achievements for Allen, very much my favourite and in the running for the Tasman Cup one year… striding away from the field in the final race before he blew a head gasket.
That was at Sandown, where McRae was to take three Australian Grands Prix. He never contested an AGP at any other circuit, and he won each won he drove in at Sandown…
It was one of these races, that of 1978, that saw the most debilitating race of the era, too. McRae was two laps up on second place – despite a spin – and no two finishers came in on the same lap. Two drivers were severely injured in the race, which literally fell to bits.
Perhaps it was that race that led to the pressure to change categories, perhaps it had already begun before that, but there is no doubt in my mind about the value of F5000 the Australian racing at the time.
It was great.
It gave our drivers equal machinery to compete in America, and many did, and it provided a spectacle that left the crowds wondering if perhaps there was something other than Touring Cars to motor racing….




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#2 fines

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Posted 12 October 2000 - 21:51

Oh, and I thought this thread was about your 5000 posts... Excuse my disturbing :lol:!

#3 Ray Bell

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Posted 12 October 2000 - 22:09

It's what you might call a parallel thread.

#4 fines

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Posted 12 October 2000 - 22:22

I was just checking... Have you ever heard about something like Formula 57 :blush:?

#5 Ray Bell

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Posted 12 October 2000 - 23:34

Not at all.

#6 Ray Bell

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Posted 13 October 2000 - 00:41

Another Australian who drove F5000, but never on home soil, was Brian Maguire.

#7 Don Capps

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Posted 13 October 2000 - 03:07

I really enjoyed the US F5000 series. There were some great races and it was really a blast to wander thru the pits and have talks with folks like Dick Smothers, Sam Posey, David Hobbs, Brett Lunger, Gus Hutchinson, Skip Barber, and so on. Then towards the end you had Mario and Al Senior in the series as well.

#8 Ray Bell

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Posted 13 October 2000 - 03:25

Let's give credit, too, to the Baron van der Straaten. He had cars that ran in the major series in both America and Australia, with drivers like Warwick Brown, Peter Gethin, Alan Jones and Teddy Pilette.
His aging and slim countenance was right on the spot no matter whether they were winning or losing... and it was usually winning or retiring.. and he was generous enough to help out other runners, too, as I recall.

#9 Falcadore

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Posted 16 October 2000 - 03:51

Despite growing experience in all manners of the great art of four wheels and a number on the side, I'm an irredeemable Touring Car fan. Not of the Ford vs Holden set though, but more of a purer era, or less contrived at any rate, of Group A where the thundering Holden V8 did not fear to tread in the wheel tracks of indomitable BMW's, high strung Euro Fords, the impossible Volvo's, the defiant Alfa Romeos, the scientific Nissans, the undeniable Toyotas, the sheer presense of Jaguar, or of decades prior series production where an Alfa Romeo could beat V8 Falcon, where the word Cortina actually carried respect.

But occasionally something comes along to challenge that mid set. The way Ray describes the Australian Formula 5000 era, it sounds like a category like an era I could really have sunk my teeth into, had it not been for the tyrranny of age and distance. Formula 5000 was in it's death throes before I reached double figures, and my F5000 memories consist of distant images of that strange hybrid 1980 Australian Grand Prix, and the occasional more recent appearances of the Tighe family Chevron at historic events in Queensland, although the Chevron now carries a 6 litre Chevvy, I suspect sourced from Sports Sedans, and no longer seems to appear at all.

Thanks Ray, and Don too of course for the RVM, and indeed this whole forum, for challenging my viewpoint and prejudices over why I like what I like and telling me what I have missed out on.

And for re-affirming why I chase the dream.

#10 Ray Bell

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Posted 16 October 2000 - 04:33

Mark, there's no doubt in my mind at all that everyone who doesn't have F1 in their presence should have the next best thing... F5000!

#11 Brent

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Posted 25 October 2000 - 04:17

F5000 was it for me. The ultimate. Just plain drop dead gorgeous. Also did you forget David Oxton?

#12 Barry Lake

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Posted 25 October 2000 - 06:44

I have to say it took me a while to warm to F5000. I didn't see it as a worthwhile substitute for the F1-based cars and world champion drivers we'd had visiting Australia and New Zealand for most of the 1960s.

In place of Clark and Lotus, Stewart and BRM, Amon and that beautiful Ferrari, Brabham and Brabham etc, we had Ulf Norinder and other "Rich Wallies" in monstrosities that looked and handled like a pod of beached whales on wheels.

But F5000 grew in stature, and the cars became more sophisticated - while maintaining the brute power. It evolved into a really worthwhile category with many excellent cars and promotable drivers.

So what did they do with it? Dumped it for Formula Pacific/Atlantic. That at least brought the F1 drivers back for the Australian GP each year (on the old one-mile Calder goat track!) but I can't help thinking that if the same sort of effort and money had been poured into F5000, it could have lived a lot longer.

It could even have evolved into Australia's present-day Formula Holden only with V8s rather than V6s, in modern F3000 chassis.

Perhaps, had there been an unbroken run of top-line V8 open-wheeler racing from then until now, it might have held its own with Touring Car racing in Australia.

#13 Ray Bell

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Posted 25 October 2000 - 08:14

I agree. It was a real shame it lost its stature as the argument evolved, Shead and company pressuring CAMS to dump them, New Zealand going their own way anyway...

David Oxton? Real interloper, I thought... drove the car David Walker should have been in, the Lotus 70.

#14 Ray Bell

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 03:19

Never should a thread die like this!

So, with a view to rekindling the dying interest, I'll add a bit...

Today I was talking to John Leffler... he drove the Bowin P8 and almost won the very wet Australian Grand Prix of 1975 in it. Later he had a Lola T400... two ugly duckling cars, but all he has about it all is good memories!

This came up as we talked about the loss of John Joyce and the fact that he still had the Bowin chassis in the loft. Some might recall that John's son Adam posted here just after his father died.

Leffo reckoned that there was someone who would buy the chassis if they could... he was talking about the West Australian who has the sister car. He bought that as an F2 (1600 2-valve) car but tired of running it against FAtlantics in Historic Racing. He's taken it back to the Bob Jane form... F5000 as John Harvey drove it.

He talks about getting more power out of the Repco V8... 600hp is the projection. "I'll bet you'd love to screw your bum into that!" I said to Leffo, "And take it around Phillip Island..."

"Hooo yes!" was the response. "Or Warwick Farm or Bathurst," he added.

The fire is still there for that very special kind of car that the F5000s were. And are. And on the circuits that Leffo says 'have a special kind of challenge' especially.

#15 BruceTC

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 05:02

You're right - we shouldn't let this die. It was a great era in NZ motor racing as well.

You did David Oxton a dis-service too - he won a lot of races and titles in NZ, mainly in the Begg F5000 cars before doing very well in the Pacifics/Atlantics including running one of the first Ralt RT4s (with help from Dick Bennets). Anyway thats another story.

There's still a lot of interest in F5000s in NZ to the extent of almost another racing series - our NZ people may be able to give more details.

But the Begg F5000 story is an intersting one too - the last one 018 was still quite active in historic racing in the 90s - in the same colurs, etc as when in its heyday (it was never rebuilt).

And of course the last wordin F5000 was the last Elfin - MR9 (?) - with ground effect tunnels and all, last I saw this it was in the museum outside of Adelaide.

#16 Head Rev

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 05:12

Ray, is there any video footage around of the F5000 racing in Australia? My first race meeting as a Flag Marshall was the Rothmans Series at Oran Park in '76 - yes - they were truly awesome machines.
Dave

#17 Mac Lark

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 05:25

On Friday morning Milan and I and a few others will fly down to Ruapuna for the 'Skope Classic' meeting that not only features F5000s but also a former star - Bobby Muir.

The organisers have asked me to help with the commentary of the 5000s but I'll be just as happy to keep quiet - and listen.

Well done Ray for reviving this thread that happened before most of us came along.

From memory, this weekend we'll have:

3 or 4 T330/332s
Perhaps a T400
At least 1 T432
Aaron Lewis from Aus in an Elfin (MR8?)
A Talon/GM2
2 or 3 GM1s
The Begg 018 and a Begg FM5
A Lola T192 and perhaps a Ford powered/high winged T140
Bobby Muir in a Matich A50

I think that's about it - so we're missing Chevron, Surtees, Trojan, Eagle...

Just one thing i can't agree with Ray on - a Lola T400 started out as a dog, but visually it was sure no "ugly duckling"

#18 Ray Bell

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 05:36

And Bowin, of course... as well as some American cars, Eagles etc...

Muir once raced a Matich, actually, but IIRC it was the A53. Can you get his contact details for me, please?

#19 Mac Lark

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 05:49

I'd be only too happy Ray

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#20 MCS

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 09:20

Originally posted by Don Capps
Then towards the end you had Mario and Al Senior in the series as well.


Not to mention Brian Redman who, to my mind at least, must go down as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) F5000 driver of all time.

Maybe a poll could sort that out for us...?

Now there's a thought.

What about some recommendations for a short list to begin with then?

Assuming Redman, Gethin, Scheckter, Andretti, etc...

Mark

#21 Stephen W

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 10:50

You can add Frank Gardner to the list of top F5000 drivers along with Alan Jones both Aussies if my aged memory banks are correct :rotfl:

I was fortunate enough to go to Oulton Park, Cheshire for the FIRST F5000 race in the UK back in '69. Despite the newness of the cars and the mechanical frailty it struck me I was in at the begining of a CLASSIC.

#22 275 GTB-4

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 10:52

I heart F5000!

Unfortunately I took the races I saw as great to watch, spectacles but didn't really realise how good a spectacle. Surfers was a good place to watch em...and Oran Park.

I was lucky enough a couple years back to Flag at the Historic Sandown and witnessed the earth shaking Trans Tasman Challenge....a field of about 20-25 cars (half Kiwis/half Aussies)....

With the writing on the wall for Sandown will this fantastic Historic F5000 group be lost??

Will F5000s be running at the big PI meet prior to the GP??

#23 FLB

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 13:36

Are there any books on Australian F5000 like Wolfgang Klopfer's for Formula A and Euro F5000?

#24 Mallory Dan

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 13:42

Bearing in mind Scheckter only had one year in it, I don't see how we could include him as one of the great F5000 drivers. Pillette did win the series twice over here, how about him, he also went well down under and in the States. David Hobbs too, and what about Keith Holland on longevity grounds as much as anything else.

Good thread though !

#25 Ray Bell

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 13:51

Originally posted by FLB
Are there any books on Australian F5000 like Wolfgang Klopfer's for Formula A and Euro F5000?


No, but the Official 50-Race History of the Australian Grand Prix and a number of the Australian Motor Racing Yearbooks do cover their main races in detail.

Subsequent articles in Motor Racing Australia by both Graham Howard and myself detail the history of individual cars or types.

#26 MCS

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 14:05

Okay then, we now have Redman, Gethin, Scheckter, Andretti, Gardner, Jones, Hobbs, Pilette and Holland (?!)

Any more suggestions ??? Graham McRae? Bob Evans?

Ray, it's your thread :up: - do you want to create a poll?

Given the level of worldwide interest (and personal favourites!) it could be really quite close...

Mark

#27 ian senior

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 14:29

Originally posted by MCS
Okay then, we now have Redman, Gethin, Scheckter, Andretti, Gardner, Jones, Hobbs, Pilette and Holland (?!)

Any more suggestions ??? Graham McRae? Bob Evans?

Ray, it's your thread :up: - do you want to create a poll?

Given the level of worldwide interest (and personal favourites!) it could be really quite close...

Mark


Add Mike Hailwood surely.

I think we once punted a few names of very bad F5000 drivers around - Colin Hyams and Jake Allport being amongst them - but let's try to be positive and only remember the good things about this much-missed formula!

#28 Ray Bell

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 14:37

Originally posted by MCS
Ray, it's your thread - do you want to create a poll?


Thanks, but no thanks...

I would rather see the thread devoted to great moments of F5000 spectacle. Like the one I saw at Phillip Island when the final round of the Gold Star was on there... standing with the flaggies on the top of Lukey Heights in the relative still of the pre-race moments.

Out there with a magnificent vista out over Bass Strait, at the highest point on the circuit and a clear view of maybe two thirds of it. But the grid was mostly hidden from view by the pit buildings etc. And, of course, we couldn't discern what the public address system was spruking.

But we knew. The cars had been by us on their warm up lap just a minute ago, the start was imminent. So we heard the revs rise... and rise, the sound echoing across the shallow vale, across the paddock, filling the air and then it sharply increased and we knew those V8s were digging in as the clutches bit. We knew that the cars were on their way... away from us, of course, at the start, but they would return to us as surely as day followed night.

But we saw something else. As that sound echoed around, as the cars shot toward the shoreline, as the rumble reached through the earth to touch every living creature in some small way, a flock of seagulls rose from the Southern Loop. They flew into the air... I don't know if they looked back and saw that this had been a good plan, but thankfully they weren't there when sixteen or eighteen of the fastest cars in this country arrived in deadly earnest!

We could, with something of a delay in the sound (they were about a mile from us at this point...), hear the balancing of the throttles, the roar of the V8s coming and going, then as they boomed up towards the corner at the back of the pits, easily exceeding 160mph as they did, the exhausts were facing away from us. Again, the balancing on the throttle around the 180 degree corner, then the bark of the engines between gearchanges as they launched themselves to Sibera. Then silence.

Completely unseen for moments, the cars appeared over the rise and wound their way around the curves that led to our vantage point. Climbing, turning, balancing, juggling and jostling, their progress through the left hander before us was one of noise and then silence... power then pause... for they reached that crest where we stood with their suspension on full droop.

Then the cars settled, there was a quick blast of power and hard on the brakes for MG... the tightest corner on the circuit. Second gear... third gear... balance and boom around the Copse in fourth gear... onto the straight and fifth gear.

The race was on!

#29 MCS

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Posted 02 February 2005 - 15:16

Originally posted by Ray Bell


Thanks, but no thanks...


Fair enough. Thinking caps on then!

#30 Mac Lark

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Posted 07 February 2005 - 21:34

Originally posted by Ray Bell
And Bowin, of course... as well as some American cars, Eagles etc...

Muir once raced a Matich, actually, but IIRC it was the A53. Can you get his contact details for me, please?


Check your PM Ray

#31 FLB

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Posted 07 February 2005 - 22:25

Originally posted by Ray Bell


No, but the Official 50-Race History of the Australian Grand Prix and a number of the Australian Motor Racing Yearbooks do cover their main races in detail.

Subsequent articles in Motor Racing Australia by both Graham Howard and myself detail the history of individual cars or types.


Do you know where (or how) I could buy them (I'm in Canada) ?

I think one of the great things about F5000 was that it enabled young drivers to experience high-powered single-seaters early in their development, in some cases much before they went on to the series where they spent the bulk of their career. I feel it was useful learning step that's missing nowadays.

EX: René Arnoux (1973), Arie Luyendjik (1973), Roger Williamson (1972), etc.

#32 Andrew Fellowes

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Posted 08 February 2005 - 03:05

Originally posted by Ray Bell
... he was talking about the West Australian who has the sister car. He bought that as an F2 (1600 2-valve) car but tired of running it against FAtlantics in Historic Racing. He's taken it back to the Bob Jane form... F5000 as John Harvey drove it.
.


Ray that's Matt Lloyd. As for F5000 being great, no way,urgh! :p

#33 Ray Bell

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Posted 08 February 2005 - 07:38

Thanks Andrew... maybe I should take up up to Lukey Heights some time?

#34 eldougo

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Posted 08 February 2005 - 08:58

:D
He's taken it back to the Bob Jane form... F5000 as John Harvey drove it.
.
Speaking of Harvey here he is in the BOWIN F5000.


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#35 Andrew Fellowes

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Posted 08 February 2005 - 23:50

Thanks for the offer Ray, as long as I am well outside the fence that would be just fine.
The thought of Lukey Heights to MG in a 5000 sends shudders through me. Like being in the ring with Mike Tyson, you could get badly bitten.

By the by, I think there are four 5000 due at Phillip Island at the end of the month with a couple of Formula 1's. Some 46 cars for Q & R with 24 of those being Atlantics, (with over half being Ralts!!).