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«Formula ExcitEmEnt A Formula Series for the Colonies By Tony Adamowicz Photography as credited Pete Lyons photo Classic Motorsports 62 W hen it comes ...»



A Formula Series for the Colonies

By Tony Adamowicz

Photography as credited

Pete Lyons photo

Classic Motorsports 62


hen it comes to formula cars, most of us are familiar seat racers. He created a formula for 1968 that allowed the

with the big ones: Formula Vee, Formula Ford, Formula small-block 302 V8s as well as the full-race 3.0-liter engines

Junior and, of course, Formula 1. But what about the to be inserted into 1400-pound chassis. The result was called truly American formula car series that married lightweight chassis Formula A, and it initially ran as an SCCA amateur class.

with big, thundering V8 engines? That was Formula 5000. Interestingly enough, with a few exceptions, the Europeans Not only were the Formula 5000 cars exciting, but so was the had a head start on the early development of their single-seat racing. After all, the series attracted many of the day’s big names. race cars. However, major American constructors such as The champions list includes John Cannon, David Hobbs, Brian Bob McKee, Jerry Eisert, Red LeGrand and Dan Gurney’s Redman, Jody Scheckter and me, Tony Adamowicz. All American Racers quickly became very popular. The AAR What is Formula 5000? Let’s go back to the beginning, when Eagle, for example, was a monocoque aircraft-influenced John Bishop, then director of the Sports Car Club of America, design that followed the early AAR F1 machines.

witnessed the success of the Trans-Am and Can-Am series, The Europeans quickly retaliated, and chassis constructors both of which used production stock-block American V8s. like Lola, Surtees, Cooper, McLaren and later McRae, March It was John Bishop’s vision to produce a formula series that and many others appeared on the scene. Despite the edict to would develop young aspiring drivers into professional single- run American engines, the series had an international flavor.

A Mercedes-Benz cabriolet served pace car duty for the 1970 Formula 5000 event at Wisconsin’s Road America. This large field was just one of three heats at the event.

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“ One of the rudest awakenings was sent from the wide front tires to the small steering wheel.

Classic Motorsports 64 completely lacked aero downforce, as it was devoid of any front or rear wings. It was a narrow-track car with a short wheelbase, making it very nervous at speed. As a result, I totaled it at Willow Springs Raceway during early testing.

In Turn 6, the car was catapulted 30 feet into the air before it plummeted downward, landing within a stone’s throw of the pit straight. The incident broke the right-front suspension and front brake caliper assembly.

The Eagle’s monocoque was also wrinkled from front to rear as it absorbed the energy of the crash. I suffered badly bruised ribs and a cut above my right eye.

I had definitely learned a lesson: I would never drive the replacement Eagle without any front or rear wings. After all, they were a crucial factor in keeping these cars glued to the track. I also had to learn how to drive the Eagle smoothly if I wanted to survive.

Our Milestone Racing crew was about as green I was—sure, they had plenty of mechanical preparation experience, but not with open-wheel racers. Don Breslauer and master mechanic Roy Wade followed me from the Group 44 Inc. racing team that gave me a professional start in racing.

After that wreck, I also made the decision to give up my open-faced helmet. I became one of the first drivers to wear one of Bell’s full-faced models. It would have protected me in the crash at Willow Springs. It would also shield my eyes from debris kicked up by other cars.

When it was time for me to be fitted to the new car, I found out that I could not get into the cockpit by myself. Thanks to my bruised ribs, I had to be helped inside. During my practice laps—my first time ever on track at Riverside—every small impact from the rough surface was transmitted to my injured ribs.

Closed Helmet, Open Eyes One of the rudest awakenings was sent from the wide front tires to the small steering wheel. The wheel wanted to whip itself out of my hands.

The brakes were also not there at the end of the straightaway. The flex of the front spindles knocked the pads back into the caliper. I had to pump the brakes at the end of the straights to have a positive brake pedal.

It was unbelievable that a real racing car had these characteristics.

Even though I was new to open-wheel racing, I made an assessment that more could be done to improve these issues. One of the first things we added to the Eagle was a Koni steering rack shock absorber lifted from a Porsche 911. This helped considerably, as it absorbed the bulk of the nasty feedback sent into the steering wheel.

The brake pedal issue was not resolved until we had AAR make up a Y pedal. This component allowed me to use my left foot to pump the brake pedal just before reaching the end of a straight. I eventually realized that Classic Motorsports 65 there was a competitive edge to left-foot braking techniques, as I could modulate the brake pedal into turns.

I was the only left-foot braker in the series—at the time, it was a relatively unknown technique in road racing. I would continue to use this strategy throughout my racing career.

By race three, Milestone Racing owner Marvin Davidson had made an arrangement to hire Carroll Smith, team manger for Shelby Racing. Smith was a racer himself in his early days as well as a Navy-inducted engineer. He was the team manager when Ford won at Le Mans in ’67.

Without his guidance and team management, I never would have won the series. Smith was my mentor and urged me on even when I was unsure of my abilities at new, challenging circuits. He was also good friends with Peter Revson, and he held that over me: If I couldn’t get the job done, he could get Revvie to take the seat. I must say, Carroll Smith was a great motivator.

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Pete Lyons photos Classic Motorsports 66 BELOW: Mechanical failures are inevitable in any racing series. At the 1969 Pete Lyons photos season finale at Sebring, Tony Adamowicz had to abandon his racer on the front straight due to a blown engine. BOTTOM: Formula 5000 was a breeding ground for big-name talent. Mario Andretti campaigned a Lotus-Ford at Sebring in 1969, where he qualified second but finished 21st after an engine failure.

Final Race, New Engine By the last race of the 1969 season, Carroll Smith was in touch with Ford Motor Company and Carroll Shelby. They had agreed to outfit the Eagle with a Ford engine. All modifications were accomplished at the Shelby race shop in Torrance, California.

We completely went over the car and modified all the weak points in its suspension, brakes, cooling, exhaust and aero downforce. The Ford 302 was producing more than 500 horsepower and was fitted with a custom Bosch fuel injection by Falconer Dunn Engineering.

I was extremely happy with our test session at Riverside International Raceway just before the Sebring final race. I went into the event as a series points leader, and it appeared that the season would come down to a duel between Sam Posey and me.

I was amazed at how developed the series had become when I arrived at Sebring. All the latest chassis were there with a laundry list of majorname drivers: Mario Andretti in a new Lotus 70 Ford, Mark Donohue in the new Lola T190, David Hobbs in the new Surtees TS5, Gus Hutchinson in the new Brabham BT26 Cosworth, John Cannon in the new McLaren, Trevor Taylor in the new works Surtees TS5, Sam Posey in a new McLaren, and Swede Savage—the fastest qualifier—in a Plymouth-powered Eagle.

The race produced many surprises: Posey crashed out early, and both Mario and I had our Fords expire. David Hobbs was the ultimate race winner, and I became the Continental series champion, winning by one point.

Ford would not commit to a engine program, so the Eagle was retired after a well-fought season. When asked how I won a professional drivers’ championship on my very first outing in an open-wheel car, I simply say, “Through skill and daring techniques.” Despite my championship win, the 1970 season left me without a ride or sponsorship for Formula 5000. However, I was asked to drive the new Lola T192 for Roy Woods Racing at the 1971 Questor Grand Prix. This was a one-time face-off between the Formula 5000 cars and Formula 1 cars. It was an interesting experiment, with Mark Donohue’s Lola leading Mario Andretti in the F1 Ferrari; Donohue retired while in the lead and handed the win to Mario.

(continued on page 70) Classic Motorsports 67 Peter Brock photo

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Single-Seat Can-Am: Formula 5000’s Legacy While the U.S. Formula 5000 series came to a close at the end of 1976, the cars weren’t necessarily retired. The SCCA revived their Can-Am name for 1977, and the new rules welcomed Formula 5000 cars—provided they wore sports racer bodywork that enveloped all four wheels.

The single-seat Cam-Am series took a few years to really catch on, but the late ’70s and early ’80s saw some great competition. Series champions included Jacky Ickx (1979), Geoff Brabham (1981) and Al Unser Jr. (1982). Several teams defected for IMSA and CART as the ’80s got rolling, however, and Can-Am eventually petered out. The SCCA pulled the plug in 1986.

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Classic Motorsports 68 laprecord.com/S. Knoll photo


What’s Formula 5000 racing doing today?

Well, it’s once again alive in vintage racing.

Seb Coppola introduced the Formula 5000 Registry in 2008. (Visit the Web site at f5000registry.com for more information.) The return of these fine race cars also marked my 40th reunion of diving into openwheel racing. Doug Magnon of the Riverside International Automotive Museum is the current owner of my 1969 Gurney Eagle, chassis No. 510, and master mechanic Bill Losee has restored this championshipwinning chassis to race condition.

By 2009, after contributing a great deal of hard work and extreme effort, the RIAM had produced a competitive chassis for me to drive—40 years after my first run in the same car. This is a feat that I’m told no one else has accomplished in racing.

Have you decided to invest in a vintage F5000 car? My advice would be to find an example with some history as a first choice. The most popular chassis is the proven Lola T332, probably the most proficient of all the F5000 cars and readily available for purchase.

Parts, too, are easy to obtain, something that’s imperative for bringing the car back to racing shape. The most important part of making the F5000 car safe to drive, of course, is a proficient mechanic. Want to see them live? Their 2010 season starts at Road Atlanta as part of the Classic Motorsports Mitty.

On a side note, during the development of the Riverside International Automotive Museum Gurney Eagle, we employed the assistance of my friend Peter Bryant. He’s the designer of the Ti22 titanium and Shadow Can-Am cars. Bryant’s award-winning book, “Can-Am Challenger,” is an interesting and humorous recap of his racing career. I recommend it.

Peter was able to work closely with our master mechanic Bill Losee and RIAM UK transplant fabricator Morris Jephcott. Peter’s expertise allowed him to uncover issues with the car that extended back to 1969. These were corrected, and the Eagle became very safe and competitive for its class in vintage racing. Forty years after the car’s debut, we were able to pilot it to a number of race wins.

(Learn more at riversideinternationalraceway.com)

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