Supercars Australia’s Super 5000 project - a modern interpretation of the loud, popular and powerful old Formula 5000 open wheeler category – will soon be revealed publicly with the ambitious target of a healthy grid of cars hitting the track on the championship support card next year.
An imbroglio between Supercars Australia and former magazine publisher-turned entrepreneur (and occasional racer) Chris Lambden over their respective bids to launch rival reborn Formula 5000 categories replete with modern safety elements has been raging across the media lately.
But it is apparent that Supercars is intent on winning the race to get its Super 5000s on to the grid first.
Until now, Supercars has preferred to stay quiet about its secret project until it gets its ducks in a row.
Wheels, though, has some more pieces to add to the puzzle. We’ve learned that the Super 5000 prototype has been tested privately in the hands of Alex Davison, Lee Holdsworth and most recently Garth Tander, a PAYCE-backed driver.
With Supercars investing heavily in Simona de Silvestro it’s not surprising to hear that the Swiss is also earmarked to test the 5000 prototype. Maybe even race it.
While Warburton confirms that the Super 5000 push “is backed by a private investor who has built and run the car”, he adds that “we retain control of the IP [intellectual property] and CMA [category management authority] rights so have ultimate decision what we do with it”.
While Supercars insists it doesn’t own this project, Wheels was told that “we provide advice when required”.
Supercars (or at least some people there) obviously believes that its at-times patchy support bill at championship races needs boosting with something exciting and boisterous. Its proposed new turbo-diesel ute series was given a tepid reception and was recently delayed until next year.
Super 5000 cars will be engineered to race on the support card at marquee Supercars championship events including the Newcastle street race. One exception is Bathurst, a circuit that is probably too intimidating.
Part of the pitch to win over the recalcitrant team owners is a plan that the Supercars ecosystem supply parts and engines to the Super 5000 project to generate revenue.
On the outside looking in, it appears Supercars is in pole position to make its idea a reality. It has the backing, the engineering and most importantly, the clout.
“We’re not too far off making an announcement; we have the right people driving it [the prototype] to get their opinions,” Wheels was been told. “Our intention is to show the car soon, hopefully gain some interested parties and get them on the Supercars card in 2018.”
Lambden is upset that Supercars appears to have snatched his idea for an affordable and relatively safe, crowd pleasing V8-powered category.
He released a statement to the media earlier this month, presenting reasons why he feels Supercars has hijacked his concept.
Lambden says his objective was simply to create a snarly, safer reinvention of the old Formula 5000 class popular in the 1970s.
He wisely didn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel (or chassis), basing his car on a carbon-fibre Swift Formula Nippon of a few years ago powered by a control 560-horsepower Ford Coyote V8 engine hooked up to a Holinger gearbox.
Lambden, who has invested significant personal funding into his venture called Formula Thunder 5000, with practical support from specialist local engineering businesses, went public with his prototype in March last year.
His FT5000 prototype, looking and sounding tremendous, has been tested with encouraging results at several venues. Prospective buyers were showing interest. Lambden has a price of $270,000 on his cars (Supercars is aiming to offer its cars at a cost of $250-270K).
Then last July in Townsville, a rival concept emerged from nowhere, presented to the Supercars team owners during chief executive James Warburton's Vision 2025 address.
Looking like a Formula 5000 car of the 1970s, but with an all-new modern carbon fibre chassis and using the 650-horsepower V8 engines already used in Supercars racing, the concept was pushed by the Supercars management group as a great addition to the championship support card.
It was immediately rejected by the teams and the Supercars board of directors. “They did not believe that there was space in Australia for an open wheeler category and didn't want the company to launch a potential loss-making category,” Warburton told Wheels.
“What a waste of time. Dream on,” said Triple Eight team boss Roland Dane, speaking to Auto Action in August last year.
But that wasn’t the end of the idea.
The project is proceeding speedily with private funding from moneybags Supercars’ sponsor Brian Boyd of PAYCE, and design leadership from well-known Supercars engineer Oscar Fiorinotto.
Warburton says Supercars has allowed the backer and designer to finish the project to see if there is sufficient interest from enthusiasts. Out in the commercial world, a third party has been trying to whip up interest, referring to a ‘guaranteed’ series on the Supercars bill.
Lambden has generated a lot of sympathy from motor racing supporters over his claims that the “copycat” car threatens to ruin his dream.
The story of this conflict should frustrate and aggravate lovers of motor racing. As one respected elder statesman of motor sport observes with a grimace: “There can be no winner here.
“Two of a very specific formula never works,” says Greg “Pee Wee” Siddle the veteran Australian motor sports insider who has managed F1 world champion drivers, and a Supercars champion, and run race teams here and abroad.
Here are two immediate examples: the damaging split in Indycars and two warring touring car categories in New Zealand.
The shock realisation of rival ‘big banger’ open-wheeler formulas has triggered no amount of confusion across local motor sport, certainly damaging the prospects of either attracting a viable number of entrants.
Lambden says to nick his idea smacks of desperation. Judging by comments on web sites and across social media, motor sports enthusiasts believe the former touring car racer is the ‘good guy’ and Supercars the villain in this messy hullabaloo.
“Supercars proposed the copy-cat concept to the Supercars teams four months after our FT5000 car was publicly unveiled in March last year to a tremendously positive reception.”
He also suggests that Supercars appears to be the source of some mistruths about his project.
Lambden has never met Boyd and has no quarrel with him. “He is clearly a tremendous benefactor across motor sport.”
Lambden accepts that competition is part of business. But says the market dominance of Supercars in Australian motor sport and the attendant power it brings shouldn’t be an excuse for arrogance.
Supercars told Wheels it was never the intention compete directly with Lambden’s proposed formula. “We thought the two would be distinctly different, his more at an enthusiasts level.”
“We never wanted a war with Lambden. We started this project two and a half years ago, very quietly.”
Having none of that, Lambden is calling “bullshit”. He is also mystified that the rival project appears to be surviving despite the wishes of many Supercars’ team owners and the board.
Even in the unlikely eventuality that the Supercars’ 5000 idea ultimately falls over, its simple existence is spooking people who had shown interest in the mooted earlier FT5000 series. “Two of anything doesn’t work,” Lambden reiterates.
“While this copycat project is a pain, there’s a hope it might, as a response, solidify support for what we’re doing.
“There are people out there not necessarily on the Supercars bandwagon.
“I’d suggest the time for ‘wait and see’ is over. If we are to create a spectacular, cost-efficient and independent ‘big-banger’ open wheeler spectacle, then the support of what I’d call real motor sport people is needed now – despite, and as a response to, this copycat distraction.”
Supercars does make itself a big target. It’s not the first time it has been labelled a bully.
In recent days, someone on social media suggested: Don’t bother coming up with a good idea for Australian motor sport because Supercars will steal it.
Check out ‘First test’ video clip of the FT5000 car (Sydney Motor Sport Park)