Open wheelers are the most popular form of motorsport in most parts of the world. Yet in Australia touring cars reign supreme. This despite the fact great grand prix drivers descended to the region in the annual Tasman Series and the popularity of the local Formula 5000 category. So how did we get here with touring cars on top? We examine in issue #99.
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Australian motorsport was revolutionised before our very eyes, yet somehow none of us saw it happening. From a sport dominated by open wheelers, throughout the 1970s the barometer of public opinion gradually began swinging in favour of touring cars, which by the end of the decade had made legends out of Peter Brock and Allan Moffat.
To that point, motorsport in Australia had been dominated, largely, by the annual Tasman Series. The world's best open-wheel racers would venture south from the snowy European winter, lapping up the the sun, sand and race tracks of Australia and New Zealand. It was a golden era, with our own Jack Brabham the established star on the world stage, a man who had seemingly single-handedly conquered the automotive powerhouses of Ferrari and Lotus with an engine developed in Melbourne.
Adding to the international flavour were many of those against whom Brabham competed in Europe, providing fans with an almost complete Formula 1 grid on their own doorstep. From Lakeside to Sandown, motorsport fans throughout the 1960s enjoyed an opportunity to rub shoulders with the greats of the sport: Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, John Surtees and others.
Today, Australian motorsport is dominated by Supercars, a category which captivates the nation but one which shares little in common with its touring-car ancestors. Underneath the skin there is little in common with today's family cars, yet it remains relevant and aspirational. With manufacturer involvement, it continues to sell itself based on brand allegiances.
What's more, there is no open-wheel equivalent, leaving Supercars unopposed at the top of the mountain. Since Formula 1 arrived in Australia in 1985 there has been no top-level national open-wheel class. And while Formula Holden, Formula Ford and Formula 3 tried to fill the void, formula-style racing has faced its own demons in recent years.
The talk of a revivial of a Formula 5000 series comes at a time when Formula 4 is trying to cement its place in Australian motorsport and Formula Ford and Formula 3 have been demoted to the state level. The desire to revive Formula 5000 could be Australian motorsport's last attempt for an open-wheel category popular with fans.
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