What Was Old Is New Again: Formula 5000 Is Being Revived 'Down Under'

If you’re an acolyte of vintage motorsport as I am, you likely pine for the ‘good ole days’ of the early 1970s. Those were the heady days of motorsport, when Trans Am, Can Am, Formula 1, and one of my personal favorites, Formula 5000, were in full swing. Not only that, but the star drivers among each of the series were more or less the same list of names. Drivers in those days were allowed to race whenever and whatever they wanted. Guys like Hobbs, Adamowicz, Scheckter, Redman, Tambay, Jones, and Ickz won the F5000 championship in cars from Eagle, McLaren, and Lola. Take one part awesome open wheel chassis, and add one part awesome 5-liter stock-block engine, and you’ve got a recipe for seriously awesome racing. Not to mention the fact that the series saw factory efforts from all of the big three. F5000 also had a huge following in Australia and New Zealand in its day, running in a regional series called “Tasman”. Well, a new “Tasman” series called “Formula Thunder 5000” has taken root again with a modern spin. Is it going to be any good?

While the old series saw 302-305 cubic inch engines from Chevrolet, Ford, AMC, and Dodge, fitted into the middle of chassis from a handful of open-wheel manufacturers, this new Thunder series is unfortunately built to spec. The new cars are Swift-based carbon monocoques fitted with sealed 570 horsepower Ford Coyote-based power units and a spec Holinger 6-speed sequential gearbox. While spec isn’t exactly what I would prefer, the cars will have the retro look that people want thanks to the elevated airbox, as well as the big V8 rumble. At the same time, the series will provide good ‘slicks and wings’ experience to up and coming drivers (18 years and older) for a reasonably low price.
The price is the important part of this new series. The whole kit-and-caboodle; engine, trans, wheels, tires, chassis, etc., will run about $240,000 Australian dollars, which is just over one-hundred-eighty grand in US dollars (which is irrelevant to the competitors, I suppose…). Either way, the initial buy-in for this series is much less than your average FIA GT3 homologated sports car, making this a lot of performance bang for the buck. The chassis is based on the old Formula Nippon design that Swift has been building for years, meaning that the costs have been amortized and the prices are driven down. With production-based engines, and moderately powerful sealed units at that, hopefully running costs will be kept low as well.
At just about 1500 pounds dripping wet, and just shy of 600 horses, this new chassis-engine combo should be right in the ballpark of power-to-weight ratio of the original cars. Add in the fact that these new carbon cars are much more aero efficient, feature much better crash safety, and are fitted with modern compound race tires, the new cars should be a good bit quicker than the ground-pounders of yesteryear. Is it a perfect facsimile of the original? No. Does it have potential to be pretty darn awesome? Absolutely it does.
I could see a series like this running with factory support here in the US. Heck, it would be pretty awesome to see if the Swift chassis could be modified to fit a slightly smaller displacement NASCAR-style V8. Could you imagine watching a grid of perhaps 20 cars pounding around some of the best tracks in the US looking much slicker than anything IndyCar puts on track these days, while giving the ear-bleeding growl of a NASCAR stocker? I’d pay serious money to see cars like that run the International Roadcourse at Daytona, or Mid-Ohio, or Sonoma. That could be just the series that NASCAR-owned IMSA would need to blow IndyCar off the map. Am I wrong? Factory support from Ford, Chevy, and Toyota could provide an extra bit of excitement. It would be pretty awesome if they were to cross-polinate the series with their well-known Stock Car Stars, as well. Heck, it might be a good place for a retired guy like Jeff Gordon to spend a few weekends a year.
All of the photos of the vintage cars were taken by me at the Monterey Motorsports Reunion last year, so enjoy.
[All photos of vintage cars ©2016 Hooniverse/Bradley C. Brownell, All Rights Reserved. Photo of modern FT5000 car provided by Speedcafe.com.]

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  1. Tanshanomi Avatar

    Dear Everybody In Racing:
    “Formula” and “spec” are contradictory terms.

    1. Bradley Brownell Avatar
      Bradley Brownell

      Not necessarily. Formula racing means you follow a formula to build your car. You can have an open formula, or a control formula, but both are still a type of Formula. There are dozens of examples of control formulae over the years.
      Now “Prototype” and “Spec” are contradictory terms. I’m looking at you, “Prototype Challenge” and “IMSA Prototype Lites”.

      1. Tanshanomi Avatar

        My understanding was…
        Formula: “Here’s the formula, go build the most bad-ass car you can that meets it.”
        Spec Class: “There’s the car, go buy a copy from the guy who builds it for us.”

    2. 0A5599 Avatar

      Then how come when I type “Firebird Formula Specs” into google, I get thousands of results indicating Pontiac 0-60, skidpad, etc.?

      1. mve Avatar


  2. engineerd Avatar

    This is pretty cool. It would be fun if IMSA could do something. I doubt they would. NASCAR fans would go to watch their favorite driver from yesteryear race one of them funny ferrin’ open wheel cars, realize how much better it is than stock cars doing roundy rounds and defect to IndyCar.

  3. Kiefmo Avatar

    Yes, if for no other reason than the sound.

    1. Bradley Brownell Avatar
      Bradley Brownell


  4. nanoop Avatar

    ” The new cars are Swift-based carbon monocoques fitted with sealed 570 horsepower”
    Huh, for a moment I saw this….
    We’ll see how the series will turn out (I’m expecting it to be covered in your Monday reports, nudge), but as long as the other rules aside from car specs are not a direct copy from F1 qualifying…

  5. mve Avatar

    Fortunately for Indycar, Bill France and his cronies don’t actually care that much about twisty racing, so they would never try a formula like this.

  6. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    F5000 was great. Big performance in reasonably simple and affordable cars, backed by qualified teams (including independents) and talented drivers. And how about that Danny On-The-Gas for UOP Shadow?