FROM THE BOX: The moments of Season 1
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 two, a look back at some of the key moments that proved S5000 was here to stay in Season one.
IF ever there was proof that you don’t need a long, drawn-out championship to produce plenty of special moments, then season one of S5000 was it.
I don’t recall ever calling a complete season, from opening volleys to final showdown, that was so short yet contained so many memorable moments throughout each individual event.
Of course, the first season of the S5000 Australian Drivers’ Championship was short for a reason – it was the taste test, a proof of concept, if you will, before launching into a full summer swing later in 2021 and into 2022.
But I don’t think for a second that makes it any less meaningful or any less important – in fact, it could actually enhance it further.
Such a short season ensured that every single race counted and every single start, every single pass, every single off-track excursion, would be utterly critical to deciding the final standings.
Sifting through a four-round season of highlights wasn’t easy but here’s what I think stands out as the pick of a pretty broad bunch of big moments from the season gone.
The Symmons Plains lap record
WE always knew the Rogers AF1/V8 – as the S5000 cars are now known – would be potent because anything with 560hp, fat tyres and big wings would be.
But it’s always nice to see that potential unleashed in the real world by the best possible way of proving how quick your product is; breaking lap records.
Symmons Plains’ old benchmark was a pretty special one because it was set in 1980 by one of the all-time greats of Aussie open wheel racing, Alfredo ‘Alfie’ Costanzo – the Italian immigrant who would go on to win four Gold Star titles to stand as the best there has been in the long history of the award.
But in race one of the season, it fell; Team BRM teammates Joey Mawson and Thomas Randle going blow-for-blow in a battle for the lead.
Never split by more than half-a-second, the pair traded lap records in an intense scrap that finally saw the 41-year-old Symmons Plains outright lap record consigned to the history books.
Mawson had claimed the new record for much of the race before Randle lowered it further on the 22nd of 23 laps completed – the new benchmark standing at 49.8644s: The top three drivers all lapped beneath the existing 50.16-second benchmark.
The Phillip Island feature race
THE wildest race of the season started with some aerobatics and ended with Joey Mawson winning an absolute thriller at the fastest circuit in Australia.
Having failed to set a time in qualifying, Mawson was superb at the Victorian circuit, starting from the third row of the grid before a late-race pass on Thomas Randle saw him grab the lead.
The race was already dramatic enough following a lengthy red flag to clean up the mess after the now infamous start-line shunt that saw Nathan Herne launched skywards in his Valvoline GRM machine.
If the race was notable for its action, it was also notable for providing a real-world example that the safety standards in S5000 are world class: Herne emerged a bit battered and a bit bruised but still able to race at Sandown the following week.
Through it all, the Phillip Island feature proved the box office potential of S5000 – which is only going to get better.
Rookies in the rain
ONE of the big stories of the season was how the young stars, the likes of Cooper Webster, Nathan Herne and Kaleb Ngatoa, would go against the more experienced aces like Randle, Macrow, Golding and Mawson.
The answer was: very well indeed.
Cooper Webster may have slightly lacked the ultimate dry weather pace in his maiden S5000 season (it was, after all, a big step up from a Hyundai Excel!), but they say rain is the great equaliser so when he bolted some wet Hoosiers on his ACM Finance / 88 Racing car at Phillip Island he shot to the front and stayed there.
Under relentless pressure from Tom Randle, he held on to win in utterly sodden conditions that, reported Randle post-race, meant you couldn’t see the car in front even if you were jammed into its rear diffuser.
And then there was the young kiwi Ngatoa, who missed all of Friday at the Island thanks to an Auckland lockdown, but was able to jump into the car and be bang on the money by the end of the weekend. The next week he too would end up being a race winner in similarly sodden conditions at Sandown.
S5000 cars have to be tough to drive – and they are. But they’re not inaccessible and the quick adaptation by the young stars of the grid in Season 1 was proof that if you have the talent, you can win in this category very quickly indeed.
Braydan’s Bathurst Blast
THE laps were at best run at 60% of their full potential, but the significance of Braydan Willmington’s Bathurst demo laps at the Bathurst 6 Hour this Easter weren’t lost on those there.
It’s been a long, long time since big-banger open wheel cars have tackled the Mountain but even at half-pace the second generation driver (who had never been there himself, either) proved that the cars would be absolutely fine there.
Perhaps more importantly, it drew people to the fence, it drew people to the paddock and it drew people to social media – wanting to see more.
It’s going to be massive when S5000 finally races there in November.
The title victory
I wrote on Monday that one of the positives of the first S5000 season was how it did a good job balancing between being a pathway for young drivers and a destination for those still on the journey, or who have already been on it.
Joey Mawson is in that box and after a few rough seasons in Europe, came away from the season as the champion but also as a revitalised figure.
It was huge for his brand here, but I think personally it seemed to be an exclamation point from the man himself – almost saying ‘look, I can still do this!’.
Joey was superb to have around the paddock all season and his interactions with the team, the media and the fans were first-rate.
His sponsors, Form 700 and ALABAR, were totally engaged with the journey and in their support for Joey, his team and the category and that is a huge outcome for everyone.
But most of all, the way he celebrated at Sydney after finally wrapping up the title proved how much it actually meant: A Lot.
In the final part of our ‘From the Box’ series, this Friday we look at what is to come for S5000 in Season 2.0, starting in September.