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OPEN WHEELED WARFARE – POTENTIAL SECRET CAR DEMO AT CLIPSAL

By PAUL GOVER.

An all-new V8-powered open-wheeler has the potential to split the Supercars pit lane if plans for demonstration runs at the Clipsal 500 this weekend come to fruition.

As revealed in Auto Action 1690 in August 2016, plans to create a new open-wheeled race car were presented to the Supercar team owners in Townsville by category chief James Warburton as part of a plan to take top-level motorsport through to 2025.

It was sparked by an original proposal inside Supercars, championed by MD Matt Braid and COO Shane Howard, for an open-wheeled category and series that could recapture the excitement of the Formula 5000 era in the 1970s and, with changes to the Supercar rules, as an outlet for surplus Supercars V8 engines and Albins transaxle gearboxes, as well as some suspension and brake components.

However, it was thought that the Supercars board had killed the idea before it got started, with Triple Eight team boss Roland Dane leading the opposition to the idea.

The Supercars proposal was also seen in some areas as a response to the interest being generated by the FT5000 car, also pictured in this story, which had previously been revealed in March.

The FT5000 is a car and concept developed over the past two and half years, with the project being led by former racer, magazine publisher and Supercars Commission member Chris Lambden as the basis for a born-again Tasman-style Series to run each summer in Australia and New Zealand.

The FT5000 car pairs an FIA crash-tested Swift-designed open-wheeler chassis with a control modified 5-litre Ford Coyote engine from the USA, developing 560 horsepower, along with a Holinger transmission. These are all brand-new components, as opposed to the concept of recycling old Supercar parts.

It appears the Supercars Formula 5000-style racer has been created despite the opposition from the board of Supercars and several team owners. When approached for a response to the story first published in Auto Action, Dane said “What a waste of time, Dream on. I don’t agree with it. I don’t’ believe it’s an avenue worth pursuing. That’s my only comment.” (See Auto Actions web site for the original story by Paul Gover).

The Supercar renegade racer ran for the first time last Thursday during a private practice session at Mallala in South Australia and its potential appearance on the Clipsal 500 program is a last-minute development that Auto Action believes has required pressure from Supercars management, following reluctance from the Adelaide organisers to adjust its schedule so close to race weekend.

The secretive project has been overseen by engineer Oscar Fiorinetto and it is believed to have been financed by Supercar team sponsors PAYCE and Wilson Security. Ironically, Fiorinetto was also involved in the early stages of the FT5000 project, with Lambden engaging his company to supply control shock absorbers for the FT5000 car.

When approached for comment, Lambden was circumspect: “I’m surprised that this program has continued to develop given the reluctance of Supercar teams, and it’s Board, to engage in it”, he said.

“After a good couple of years of planning, design, construction, and now successful testing of the FT5000 car, which seems to have generated terrific public support, the arrival of a second fundamentally similar project at this time – apparently with Supercars behind – it is a big negative. Two of anything the same doesn’t work. Look as New Zealand’s two V8 touring car categories from a year or two back and, more recently, Formula Ford and Formula 4 head-butting here. It’s certainly not in the best interests of motorsport, is it?”

When approached for a comment on the possible appearance of the Supercars open wheeler, CAMS CEO, Eugene Arocca said “It’s a very difficult position to comment on at the moment, because we have had relatively little information about this potential new category”.

“We have a general understanding of what Supercars are planning to do with a Formula 5000 style of race car however, the most important thing with any new car is that it would have to comply with all the relevant FIA safety regulations for car safety and that the race circuits the cars might race at also comply with the safety requirements”, he went on to say.

When asked about the potential of two rival big open wheeler projects fighting for space in the market Arocca said “There is no doubt that Chris Lambden came to CAMS first with his concept proposal. He presented a very compelling case and it would appear that his program has generated a lot of potential interest.” He said.

“However it’s up to the Australian Motorsport Racing Commission to decide on any new categories that might have their own designation, so at the moment there is no separate category for either of these two concepts. The AMRC are aware of what appears to be significant interest in a reinvented Formula 5000 style car and its position at the moment is that these cars could and should fit the Formula Libre guidelines and regulations”, he continued.

“Supercars may or may not want to run their car as a Formula Libre, but any car would still have to comply with FIA regulations. The most important consideration for CAMS is always safety, however decisions about new categories are left to the AMRC. Supercars appears to have taken an approach that I suspect may be very different to Chris Lambden’s concept so potentially they will be two very different cars. It’s not ideal but the market often determines the outcome of these things”, he said.

“Ultimately, people can do what they want to do, but at the moment we don’t have sufficient information on the Supercar concept and having two big open wheeler programs in the market at the same time is not ideal. Arocca concluded.

The re-emergence of the Supercar open wheeler project as a functioning race car, potentially at one of Supercars marquee events, is expected to trigger some angst, with rumblings already this week from within the Supercars board, team bosses, and CAMS.

Stay tuned to Auto Action for more on this story.