FROM THE BOX: S5000s stunning debut season
There is a lengthy break before season two of the S5000 Australian Drivers’ Championship roars into life this September, which means there’s a chance to look back at the remarkable debut for Australia’s new premier open wheel category.
To do just that, we’ve roped in the man who called the action on the screens of Seven this season – S5000 commentator Richard Craill.
Growing up with the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide has ensured that open-wheel racing has flowed through his blood from an early age; that enthusiasm and passion for the sport clearly apparent in his calls – alongside fellow Adelaide Grand Prix disciple Matt Naulty – on the 7mate & 7plus broadcasts this year.
As such, we’ve tasked ‘Craillsy’ with penning a series of columns, exclusive to S5000.com.au, reflecting on the 2021 Championship and looking ahead to the exciting 2021-22 season that is yet to come.
In part one we look back at the importance of the first S5000 season in the long history of the Motorsport Australia Gold Star award.
THERE was always going to be lots to be gained out of the inaugural season of S5000 racing in Australia.
From positively showcasing the remarkable Aussie engineering within the category, to putting on a spectacle that spectators and TV audiences alike would enjoy and proving that there was a market for a top-flight open wheel category in these parts, there was plenty on the line.
And you don’t have to follow the sport closely to know that it ticked all the right boxes.
From the highly competitive racing, to the attitude of the cars driving on the limit and the emotion shown by the eventual champion, it was a hell of a show.
But perhaps most importantly, at least to a died in the wool Open Wheel fan like yours truly, living up to the long history that the Australian Drivers’ Championship has was perhaps number one.
You see, back in the day the Motorsport Australia Gold Star was the number one prize on offer within our sport.
The ‘Champion Australian Driver’ would be hailed as the best in the land – as the title suggests – and in the early days through the 60s and early 70s the driver that won the Gold Star was the biggest story in town.
But then the revolution that was Touring Car racing came and open wheel racing didn’t quite capture the same level of attention again.
After Motorsport Australia, then known as CAMS, parked the Gold Star award in 2014 it was a somewhat sad full stop on an award that had been claimed by some of the best racing car drivers this corner of the world has ever churned out.
I can’t say for sure, but I think part of the reason the award lost some of its golden shine was that it gradually evolved from being a destination category for drivers to one that was part of the journey.
Rather than aspiring to win the Gold Star, or the category representing the award, claiming the title was but a step on the ladder through to bigger and broader horizons – be it IndyCar, F1 or Supercars.
And there’s nothing wrong with that at all; having names like Jason Bright, Scott Dixon and Will Power on the list of Australian Drivers’ Champions does nothing to diminish the awards lustre – in fact, it enhances it.
However, in S5000 there presented an opportunity to not only continue to provide an effective pathway for young drivers chasing a dream of being a professional racing car driver, but also become a destination category in its own right; one drivers would want to be part of because of the fact it was incredible and not just because it was part of the journey.
I think that’s the most important thing for S5000 and also the nearly 60-year history of the Australian Drivers Championship and I reckon the early indicators are that it’s working.
The category is good for driver development because the cars are ferocious to drive and require enormous talent and ability to get the most out of.
The category is good as a destination because the strong TV package on the screens of Seven and racing on large events mean it will ideally be commercially viable for everyone involved too.
The young drivers were pointing to the future, while having legends like Alfie Costanzo, John Bowe, Warwick Brown and John McCormack lend their name to the winners trophies tied S5000 to the incredible history of Aussie open-wheel racing and the Gold Star itself. Best of both worlds, I reckon!
And though the season 1 grid wasn’t enormous, the diversity of drivers fighting out for race wins was just that.
In every race you had teenagers like Cooper Webster or Nathan Herne going head-to-head with – and I say this with the fullest of respect – the veteran Tim Macrow, already a double Gold Star champion.
Webster is on the way up and wants an IndyCar career while Macrow just wants more championships at the highest level of open-wheel racing in Australia for both himself and his own team.
Different goals, different reasons for racing S5000s but both getting it from the one category.
Joey Mawson rebuilding his career in four short rounds was a truly remarkable experience to follow, as was Thomas Randle’s comeback from his Cancer battle.
And what of James Golding? Ousted of a full-time Supercars opportunity but using S5000 to prove just how breathtakingly quick he really is.
And the stories go on.
In just four short rounds we learned a whole lot about what S5000 really is and what it can be and it was all very positive.
Yes there’s things to improve and evolve but our brief taste between January and April gives me plenty of confidence that it is very much on the right track.
We spent a lot of time this year talking about the ‘new era’ for Aussie open-wheel racing and the Gold Star award, so perhaps the best thing about this year was that after four rounds we had some vindication that all that chatter wasn’t just hyperbole, it was actually the truth.
See, we commentators do get it right sometimes!
If Season 1 is any indication, S5000 Season 2.0 will be an even better chapter for the category and for the long, storied history of the Gold Star award.
On Wednesday, ‘Craillsy’ looks back at the top five moments of Season 1, before looking ahead to what lies in store when Season 2 commences this September.