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5000 at 50 - Oulton Park’s Formula 5000 memories

Monday, December 30 2019

Powerful Formula 5000 single-seaters first made ground in Europe in 1969, and it was at that time that John Webb for Motor Circuit Developments - then the operator of Oulton Park as well as Brands Hatch, Snetterton, and Mallory Park - conceived the idea of a series of races run to those regulations with Nick Syrett of the British Racing and Sports Car Club.

With backing from the Rothmans/Carreras tobacco group, as was so often the case back in those days, the Guards F5000 Championship was born, with the first race taking place at Oulton Park on Good Friday '69.

As an interesting aside, whilst this was the first official championship event, this was not the first time F5000 cars had appeared at Oulton Park - in the earlier Spring Cup meeting four Lola T142 cars were entered in the Formula Libre races of which two started. Mike Walker won both of the races in his in Alan McKechnie Racing Team machine.

In the official Guards F5000 championship, the first round of 12 that year, Peter Gethin won behind the wheel of a Church Farm Racing Teams McLaren M10A ahead of David Hobbs in a Surtees TS5. Other notable entries that day included two-wheeled star turned F1 racer Mike Hailwood in a Lola T142, whilst Andrea Adamich failed to start the race after crashing in practice.

It was in 1969 that F5000 cars first graced Oulton Park's August Gold Cup meeting, with several teams attending as a practice run ahead of the penultimate championship round later in the season. Jacky Ickx won from Jochen Rindt in the non-championship Gold Cup race for F1 cars, but it was Adamich who finished third in an F5000 machine.

When the championship returned to Oulton Park in September, it was Mike Walker who was victorious in his Lola after the results were aggregated from two heats. Gethin's form earlier in the season was enough to secure him the inaugural title though, despite a late run of form from Trevor Taylor.

Gethin returned to defend his crown the following year, and duly defended his title but he wasn't to win at Oulton Park this time around. Mike Walker once again claimed the Oulton Park spoils as the season launched at the Cheshire circuit once more, before Howden Ganley led the F5000 contingent at the summer Gold Cup and Reine Wisell won both heats at the September meeting later in the year - Gethin had by that stage already won the title, and was not entered.

Gethin was one of F5000 racing's finest exports, and he contested a full F1 season in 1971, winning the Italian Grand Prix in a Yardley BRM. This was the fastest Grand Prix ever run at just over 150mph and to this day it remains the closest finish in an F1 World Championship event - his winning margin over Ronnie Peterson's March was just 0.01s and the first five finishers were covered by 0.61s!

By 1971 the series was known as the Rothmans European F5000 European Championship, and Oulton Park once again featured on the calendar. It was a good year for Frank Gardner, who by then had already won two of his three overall British Saloon Car Championship titles, in F5000 machinery at the Little Budworth venue. Gardner both finished as the highest placed F5000 finisher at the Gold Cup and topped the single race at the September meeting.

It's worth noting too that the F5000 machines shared the bill at the Gold Cup with plenty of future stars in the Formula 3 race. An amazing entry assembled for the occasion with future F1 champions James Hunt, Alan Jones, and Jody Scheckter amongst those featuring.

Onto 1972, a year in which Oulton Park featured twice more on Europe's F5000 calendar. The Gold Cup moved to May and featured as the eighth round of the championship after a busy early part of the season. Brian Redman finished as the leading F5000 machine in the final non-championship F1 race to headline the Gold Cup. At the October round Graham McRae won his fifth and final race of the season, whilst Gijs van Lennep picked up third place on his way to the title.

Two more Oulton Park F5000 rounds followed 1973 and Teddy Pilette won the first of these in his Racing Team VDS Chevron B24. The second event in the autumn featured a familiar name atop the podium in Peter Gethin as Pilette picked up second place on his way to the title. Gethin was the first man to win the Gold Cup outright in an F5000 car, and he became so in the same season he won the Brands Hatch race of champions in an F5000 Lola against F1 opposition.

British weather did for the first of 1974's two F5000 meetings at Oulton Park, with the race shortened by heavy rain. Before the heavens opened wide enough for the race to be called off, it was Brian Redman who secured the victory. The Gold Cup meeting was won by Ian Ashley, who raced an F5000 Lola in the Derek Bell Trophy at the very same meeting just a handful of years ago. Bob Evans ultimately won the 1974 crown, but he failed to trouble the podium at Oulton Park with a pair of sixth place finishes.

F5000 racing in the UK received a fresh look for 1975 after rebranding as the Sport 5000 European Championship and again two rounds at Oulton were scheduled. The first of these took place in quite extraordinary conditions as snow lined the perimeter of the track and it was touch and go as to whether or not the race would even take place.

In something of a surprise result, the snowy Easter race was won by touring car ace Gordon Spice when it finally did go ahead. The skies were blue, but the snow melt ensured the track was wet, and Spice made the most of the circumstances to win in his Lola T332.

The later round in 1975 was the year's nominated Gold Cup race, and victory belonged to David Purley in the Lec Refrigeration Chevron B30. Teddy Pilette 1975 finished third and sixth in the two Oulton Park rounds on his way to another F5000 title.

1976 and 1977 marked the end of an era as the championship expanded to allow F1 and F2 cars to take part. Oulton Park continued to host rounds until the series shifted into the Aurora AFX Championship for 1978 with no F5000s competing.

Article by Mike Cookson

The Oulton Park Gold Cup returns on 29-31 August. For more information and to book tickets, click here