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Formula 5000 At The Glen 2009 And The F5000 Drivers Association

Submitted by on October 12, 2009

Everyone who is an avid race fan has their favourite race events, and tracks, that they like to revisit every year. We tend to like certain types of race cars as well, and, when the two come together it’s like racing nirvana. One such event is the United States Vintage Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International held every September in New York State.

One of my favourite race car classes is the Formula 50000 series. Formula 5000 was an auto racing formula that ran in various regions around the world from 1968-1982. This formula was originally intended as a low cost series aimed at the open wheel race cars that no longer fit into any existing formula. The number 5000 in F5000 was the maximum engine capacity allowed in the series (5.0 litre). It was an extremely popular series in the United States during the early 1970’s.

The Watkins Glen race weekend is one filled with an abundance of history and racing. This particular weekend was also the season ending race for the F5000 championship. The 2009 championship came down to this last race of the season.

By the time the checkered flag flew on Sunday afternoon, the over all Champion in class B ( post 1971 cars) was Jim Stengel’s in his 1973 McRae GM1. The other overall winner in the class A championship (pre 1972 cars) was Tony Adamowicz. If his name is familiar to some,  it is because he is the same driver who won the 1969 F5000 Championship driving the same car 40 years earlier (not sure if that has ever been done before, same car, same driver, same Championship 40 years apart!).

The race itself was quite a contentious, with Rick Parsons, driving his 1976 Championship winning Lola T332 and Jim Stengel having a heated battle for the win. Rick took the lead at the start of the race only to give it up on lap 3 after losing 3rd gear. He was able to nurse the car home for second with Ted Wenz  in his 1972 McRae GM1 closing quickly, but having to settle for 3rd in the race. To see these cars racing full out on a race track again some 40 years later is a testament to those who run the cars, and also those trying to revive the series to it’s former glory!

We sat down for an interview with Seb Copolla, the president of the F5000 drivers association ,an essential person in reviving this series. We wanted to find out where his passion for racing, and particularly the F5000 cars came from. And also the ultimate question, where he see the F5000 series in the future.

Seb’s interest in racing started back in the western part of Sicily, where he was born. During his childhood, at around the ages of 8 or 9, his interest was peeked by a mountain race. This race was held every spring just outside his home town. He said it was his yearly trip to the garages, watching as the cars were prepped for the race, the sounds of the engines and smell of Castrol oil. He was hooked from then on.

After coming to the United States in 1967, he focused on his business career and family, and  racing took a back seat. During the mid 80’s his passion was rekindled with the purchase of a 1970 corvette which he restored over the next year. From there, he acquired a Ferrari Testarossa 512 in 1991.  That’s when Seb got interested in taking the car out on a track, which he did a few times, mostly in club racing.

At that point he thought that if he was going to get serious about racing it was time to buy a real race car. That was when Seb met Dino Crescentini. It was Dino who got Seb involved in racing and also put Seb in touch with RM Motorsports, who he bought his F5000 Lola T-192 from.

The guys who were racing the F5000 cars during the 80’s and 90’s at vintage events started to notice a new trend at their race events. The Atlantic cars and Indy lights were starting to appear on the grids for these races. Now the grids were mixed, and the newer cars were much lighter and faster. The number of F5000 cars racing started to shrink because nobody wanted to come out for a race weekend and constantly get beat. So they started to shelve thier F5000 cars, and started using the lighter and faster cars to be competitive.

Between 2000 to 2005 there were very few F5000 cars being run at vintage events. This is when Seb started to make inquiries about possibly get the F5000 owners back out to the tracks with their cars. The genesis for the revival of F5000 really got  started in 2006, when SVRA’S, Jack Worley and Carl Janson, approached both Seb and Mark Harmer and asked them if they would put together a F5000 grid and race for the 40th anniversary of F5000 in America, to be held at the Glen. As you can imagine they both  got started on it right away!

Seb had already started the F5000 Registry a year earlier, which in retrospect was a great starting point, because he now had a list of all the F5000 car owners that he could call upon. Also Seb knew Bruce Leeson who had done the same thing out on the west coast. Bruce  had been organizing races on the west coast and had been getting 6 or 7 cars out per race event during 2007. So Bruce  and Seb decided to pool their resources for the 2008 race season and the big race at the Glen.

As it turned out there were a lot more people interested than they first thought. They thought they were looking at around 12 cars participating for the first race on the west coast. They ended up with a starting grid of 20 cars, plus some static display cars that brought the total up to 23 for the event. It was a that point that they decided to schedule more races leading up to the 40th anniversary race at the Glen.

They added races at Infenion Raceway (The Wine Country) from there to Road America and the Kroller International with Brian Redman, where they had a field of 17 cars take the starter’s flag. It was then off to the seasons ending 40th anniversary race at the Glen. The whole season was a complete success and it was at that point they had to make a decision, was this going to just be a one season deal, or was there enough interest to do this annually.

The F5000 drivers Association – Seb Copolla (President), Bruce Leeson (Treasurer), Mark Harmer (Director),Tim Osborne (Director) and Rick Parsons (Director), decided to press on with a commitment  to continue what had been started and see where it would go in 2009 and the future. The 2009 race season has been a bit of a disappointment, an effect of the economic conditions over the past year. But there is a desire from a lot of the guys that were not able to participate this year to be back next season.

That brings us to the next question. What is in store for the 2010 race season and the F5000 Drivers Association? As of this interview the 2010 season is looking very promising. The existing programs that run vintage events, would like them back for next year and that is most definitely a plus. Bobby Rahal wants to start sponsoring vintage racing weekends and has asked the F5000 group to participate along with Can-Am, Historic Grand Prix,Trans am and sport racers. Bobby Rahal’s goal is to elevate The big block race cars here in the States to where it would be on a par with the Monterey Historics and The Goodwood Festival in England.

As of right now the F5000 is looking at participating at the Walter Mitty race in May, then Road America which would be their main event. The 3rd race would be with the Bobby Rahal group, but they are still waiting for a final word on this particular event. If that one dose not pan out, then there is a possibility of a race in Canada at Mosport or St Jovite. They would also like to do a west coast race possibly the Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca in August, and from there possibly one more race in October at Infinion Raceway.

So that’s how it stands as of the race weekend at the Glen. I think you can safely say that F5000 racing is alive and well in the United States once again thanks to the board members of the F5000 Drivers Association! We would like to thank Seb and the F5000 Group for their time, generosity and hospitality and would also like to wish them continued successes in the future!

Stephen Bedford

Images: Stephen Bedford

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