The organisers of the annual New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing at Hampton Downs are eyeing a record lineup of cars as they firm up plans for the Gulf Oil-backed 2015 event which celebrates the career of Formula 1 driver Howden Ganley and the category – Formula 5000 – which helped springboard his career.
“What we’d like to see is the biggest gathering of Formula 5000s ever competing under the banner of the F5000 World Series,” says the chairman of the New Zealand F5000 Association (and co-founder of the Hampton Downs circuit), Tony Roberts.
Close to 300 cars were built to contest the various Formula 5000 (Formula A in the United States and Canada) series around the world between 1968 and 1982 and Roberts believes that as many as 60 can be found for the two-round ‘F5000 World Series’ which will be part of the Festival next year.
“There are least 40 here, a similar number in Australia plus at least 20 each in regular use in the UK and the US. The regular series guys will obviously be the starting point, but what we would really like is enough cars to create two separate grids (Hampton Downs has a limit of 32 cars per grid), one for those who want to compete for MSC series points, the other for those who just want the opportunity to be part of the meeting and drive the car round the track at their own pace.”
Feature driver Howden Ganley, now 71, was born and raised in Hamilton and – having resolved to become a professional racing driver after a brief start to his career here – traveled to the UK where he worked for compatriot Bruce McLaren.
McLaren took him under his wing and after finishing second to fellow McLaren M10B driver Peter Gethin in the 1970 European Formula 5000 Championship Ganley was offered a Formula 1 drive with the BRM team.
In his first year in Formula 1 in 1971 Ganley was named best newcomer with a best finish of fifth, and in 1972 – again with BRM – his best finish was fourth. In 1973 he moved to Frank Williams’ new Iso-Marlboro team but the car was uncompetitive and after a short stay at March in 1974 his career in Formula 1 ended after a serious accident in the Japanese-built Maki in practice for the German Grand Prix.
Formula 5000 was New Zealand’s premier motor racing category from 1970 to 1975 and interest in it was revived around 12 years ago. Key to the attraction of the cars – for both drivers and category fans alike – is the practical if rather brutal combination of their tubular steel spaceframe (early cars) or aluminium monocoque (later ones) chassis and stock-block 5-litre V8 engines.
In period they were as quick as, if not quicker at some tracks, than pukka Formula 1 cars yet could be built at a fraction of the cost.
The McLaren M10B Ganley drove to second place in the 1970 European Formula 5000 Championship has been restored and is now owned by a Swiss enthusiast and Roberts says he hopes to reunite Ganley with it at the first Festival meeting.