The S5000 Heritage Series recognises the legendary drivers and cars of Formula 5000, the category which is represented in spirit and modern-day form by the VHT S5000 Australian Drivers’ Championship.
Imagine a young driver in the modern era, hailing from Sydney’s north shore and rapidly progressing to the highest ranks of Australian motorsport. Undaunted against older, established hands, he wins major races and titles before heading overseas.
Racing in top-level series in North America, he stands on podiums alongside the biggest names in world motorsport before taking his place on a Formula 1 grid. He then returns to Australia and after winning his last major race, remarkably calls time on racing by age 30 to focus on business and family.
It is hard to comprehend that a driver of such ability would be content with wrapping up their racing career so quickly, but in the late 1970s that is exactly what Warwick Brown did.
Brown, a winner of both Australian and New Zealand Grands Prix and a multiple series champion, went through motorsport the way he drove a Formula 5000 – boldly and not ‘hanging around’.
Born on Christmas Eve in 1949, Brown was more than a decade younger than many of his F5000 competitors in the 1970s and made an impression with prodigious speed and youthful fearlessness.
But with the steadying guidance of renowned engineer Peter Molloy, Brown matured from a driver who was fast and on the edge to fast and consistent – but no less spectacular or committed.
Molloy was one of two pivotal influences in Brown’s career. The other was mining magnate, patron and team owner Pat Burke who funded Brown’s first racing car, a Brabham Formula 3 which he first raced at the age of 19.
After learning his craft in the diminutive Brabham, Brown stepped up to Gold Star competition in a 1.8-litre McLaren M4A that raced in the ANF1 (Australian National Formula 1) class against the more powerful F5000s which soon took over as Australia’s premier formula.
Brown joined the F5000 ranks with a McLaren M10B owned by Burke, later superseded by a Lola T300 with backing from department store, Target.
After a competitive start to the 1973 Tasman Series in a quality international field, Brown’s rise was momentarily set back when he suffered a horrific crash on the now-defunct Surfers Paradise road course.
A deflating left rear tyre through the circuit’s flat-out Turn 1 (Dunlop Bridge) spat Brown’s T300 off the road and catapulting over a grass bank, landing upside down in a drain that was fortunately drained of water by a summer drought.
The shocking accident shattered Brown’s car into pieces and crushed its aluminium tub around his feet and lower limbs, resulting in two broken legs, severe ankle injuries and a three-month period in hospital.
Like a battle-hardened warrior now bearing the infamous ‘Lola limp’ that afflicted so many F5000 crash victims, Brown returned in the 1974 Tasman Series armed with a formidable new weapon – the Pat Burke Racing Lola T332 which is the inspiration for our S5000 heritage concept livery.
Brown’s resilient comeback was rewarded with victory in the final round at Adelaide International Raceway – the first for the iconic T332 chassis in any F5000 competition around the world, and a precursor to great success that would follow for Brown.
During the summer of 1975, Brown became New Zealand Grand Prix winner and then Tasman Series champion in a tense three-way decider at Sandown.
Having entered the finale tied on points with Graeme Lawrence and Johnnie Walker who both retired from the race (the latter in a monumental accident through the rail posts of Sandown’s horse racing track), Brown encountered fuel starvation late in the race but scraped through to finish sixth and win the series by a solitary point.
On mentor Molloy’s advice, Brown and Pat Burke Racing also took on the SCCA/USAC Formula 5000 Championship in 1974 and 1975 with its T332. The Aussies competed in the North American-based series with great distinction, and Brown found himself matching the sport’s elite.
Racing on famous circuits such as Watkins Glen, Laguna Seca and Long Beach, the youngster from Wahroonga regularly contended among the likes of Mario Andretti, Brian Redman, Al Unser and James Hunt.
Brown was given an opportunity to race in Formula 1 by the Wolf-Williams team in 1976, when he deputised for the injured Chris Amon in the United States Grand Prix. The Wolf-Williams was uncompetitive, but Brown managed to finish his one and only Grand Prix in 14th place.
It was Brown’s performances in the SCCA/USAC series that led to an opportunity to race for the VDS team owned by Belgian beer baron, Count Rudy van der Straten, in both SCCA/USAC as well as the revived Can-Am competition for five-litre sportscars and converted F5000s.
Brown again proved his class in the talent-rich fields of both series, with the highlight of his international campaign coming in the 1978 Can-Am series when Brown won a Can-Am race at Watkins Glen and finished runner-up to compatriot and good friend Alan Jones in a season-long championship battle.
With VDS, Brown also returned to F5000 in his native Australia for the Rothmans International Series. Driving at the top of his game in VDS’ Chevrolet-powered Lola T430, Brown claimed back-to-titles in 1977 and ’78 as well as the ’77 Australian Grand Prix at Oran Park, despite finishing second on the road to Jones who had incurred a one-minute jump start penalty.
Brown went out of F5000 on a fitting high when he won the final round of the 1979 Rothmans Series at Oran Park, his last professional solo race (Brown later contested the Bathurst 1000 in 1980 and ’81 with privateer Gary Cooke and F5000 historic races during the late 1980s).
Since retiring from motorsport, Brown turned his attention to aviation and is a professional pilot with experience as a captain on international, medical and corporate flights, and still runs a charter jet business today.
WARWICK BROWN – MAJOR RACE & CHAMPIONSHIP SUCCESSES IN FORMULA 5000
- 1975 Tasman Series (Lola T332-Chevrolet)
- 1977 & 1978 Rothmans International Series (Lola T430-Chevrolet)
- 1977 Australian Grand Prix, Oran Park (Lola T332-Chevrolet)
- 1975 New Zealand Grand Prix, Pukekohe (Lola T332-Chevrolet)
- Runner-up, 1978 Can-Am Series (Lola T333CS-Chevrolet)
Image Credits: AN1Images.com, Autopics