S5000 HERITAGE SERIES – MAX STEWART
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.
The golden years of Formula 5000 in the 1970s were an era of big. The cars were big, the tyres were big and F5000’s spectacle of ground shaking noise, record speeds and machines slithering under brute power were unparalleled.
It was simply the biggest and best show in Australian circuit racing of the era, and behind the wheel of awe-inspiring racecars were drivers now revered as legends for their brilliance, bravery and sense of character that almost all top drivers of the 1970s seemed to possess.
When it came to characters, few were as big – in both the figurative and physical sense – as the affable Max Stewart.
Stewart was known as the Jolly Green Giant, an affectionate handle given in deference to his imposing presence (he was 6’2” with a hulking build), easy going nature and signature, woollen racing overalls which were dark green.
He is undisputedly one of the greats of Australian open wheel racing having won multiple races and championships in a variety of formulae, including two CAMS Gold Stars, two Australian Grand Prix and four Australian Formula 2 titles.
Those who saw Stewart race remember a spectacular, uncompromising driver who never gave less than 100 per cent, and who was equally adept with a spanner as he was a steering wheel.
Born in Orange, NSW in 1935, Stewart was a trained mechanic and car dealer who began racing motorcycles during the 1950s. Work and family commitments brought an early end to Stewart’s career on two wheels, but he was bitten by the racing bug years later and took up karting.
Stewart was the local dealer for the Triumph brand of cars, and so it was natural that one of the British saloons was the choice for his first racing car. It was also natural that the boy from Orange raced his Triumph 2000 at nearby Bathurst in the Armstrong 500, which he first contested in 1964.
In 1965, Stewart progressed to ‘pure racing cars’ and bought a locally built Rennmax-Ford to run in the Australian Formula 2 Championship, where he finished second. After then winning two titles in 1.5-litre open wheelers, Stewart’s career took to new heights when he was selected by patron and retired champion Alec Mildren to race for his eponymous team.
Like his friend and fellow Mildren protégé Kevin Bartlett, Stewart vindicated the opportunity he was given by the 1960 Gold Star champion. He won the Formula 2 championship in 1969 and 1970 and the Australian Drivers’ Championship in 1971, beating the more powerful F5000 runners with a 2-litre Mildren-Waggott he drove with consistency and maximum pace.
He also achieved success on the international stage, including a Singapore Grand Prix victory (1972) and an undoubted career highlight – second in the 1970 JAF (Japan) Grand Prix at Fuji to namesake and Formula 1 legend, Jackie Stewart.
When F5000 became Australia’s premier formula, Stewart stepped up to the ‘big bangers’ with a privately-run, Repco-engined Elfin MR5 before moving into a Lola T330-Chevrolet.
Stewart also contested the 1973 SCCA Continental 5000 Championship in North America until wrist injury in a rare accident at Mid-Ohio curtailed a promising campaign. Despite this setback, the peak years of Stewart’s career were on the horizon back home.
In 1974, Stewart finished second in the Tasman Series behind Grand Prix ace Peter Gethin and dominated the Australian Drivers’ Championship with five wins from six races, including victory in an attrition-filled Australian Grand Prix at Oran Park.
Equipped with a new Lola T400 bearing the prestigious #1 and backing from Sharp, Stewart claimed his second Australian Grand Prix in 1975 with a champion’s drive in heavy rain at Surfers Paradise. He also won the six-round Toby Lee Series for F5000 which was notable for its lucrative prizemoney.
Our S5000 heritage concept commemorates the livery of Stewart’s last F5000 – the T400 which was presented in a distinctive, multi-colour scheme in 1976 and 1977.
It was in these colours that Stewart celebrated his last race win – a popular victory in the Sandown round of the Rothmans International Series in February 1977. Following an engine failure in practice, Stewart desperately sourced a replacement engine from Teddy Yip’s Theodore Racing team and charged from sixth on the grid to second before half distance, which became first place when leader Peter Gethin retired with a late mechanical issue.
Sadly, and less than a month to the day of his final win, Stewart lost his life on March 19, 1977 after succumbing to injuries sustained in a practice crash at Calder Raceway.
The memory of the ‘Jolly Green Giant’ lives fondly with those who raced in his company, or who witnessed the era in which Stewart was one of Australia’s top racing drivers.
Today, the Max Stewart Oval in Orange pays honour to the man who was one of the regional town’s best sporting talents. At the time of writing, the Orange City Council was also seeking to raise funds for the commission of a monument to Stewart in his hometown.
MAX STEWART – MAJOR RACE & CHAMPIONSHIP SUCCESSES IN FORMULA 5000
- 1974 Australian Drivers’ Championship and CAMS Gold Star (Lola T330-Chevrolet)
- 1974 Australian Grand Prix, Oran Park (Lola T330-Chevrolet)
- 1975 Australian Grand Prix, Surfers Paradise (Lola T400-Chevrolet)
- 1975 Toby Lee F5000 Series (Lola T400-Chevrolet)
- Runner-up, 1974 Tasman Series (Lola T330-Chevrolet)
- Runner-up, 1976 Australian Drivers’ Championship (Lola T400-Chevrolet)
Image Credits: AN1Images.com