Peter Gethin’s Chevron connection began in 1966 with a successful test at Oulton Park of its groundbreaking prototype GT. The Bolton cotton mill-based outfit was a friendly face – particularly after the politics of Gethin’s Formula 1 rejections by (post-Bruce) McLaren and BRM in 1971 and ’72.
Formula 5000 suited this fun-loving, Epsom-born son of a famous jockey, too: fast and loose. He’d earned his stripes by winning its inaugural European Championship of 1969 and successfully defending the title – in semi-works McLarens run by Church Farm Racing and Sid Taylor.
Though not without success in junior formulae – ‘Geth’ reckoned a 1972 Formula 2 win for Chevron at Pau the best of his career – the little fella suited these Chevy big-bangers. Surplus to the requirements of Louis Stanley’s three-car circus at BRM, his focus for 1973 was America’s lucrative L&M F5000 Championship. But not before he’d shaken down his brand new F2-based B24 – and shaken up the F1 brigade – at Brands Hatch in March.
The car was finished on the Wednesday before but Gethin immediately found its sweet spot. On Saturday he not only won at a canter the opening round of the Rothmans 5000 European Championship but also qualified eighth – amid the F1 cars – for the Daily Mail Race of Champions. Its Lola rival would ultimately prove superior – except perhaps in top speed – but for now, the Chevron was the F5000 to have.
Gethin must, however, have cast a keen eye over an unusually perky BRM. For its Firestone-shod P160Ds of Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Niki Lauda and Vern Schuppan had grabbed the first three places on the grid. Schuppan was subbing for Clay Regazzoni, who had been injured – and grabbed and dragged from the flames by Mike Hailwood – at Kyalami two weeks prior.
Between Gethin and those BRMs lay Jody Scheckter’s McLaren M19C – just two years since the South African’s sensational Formula Ford debut at the same meeting – Mike Hailwood in the prototype Surtees TS14 and the John Player Specials of Ronnie Peterson and Emerson Fittipaldi.
Behind Gethin lay Denny Hulme in McLaren’s new M23 – the pacesetter of Kyalami having broken a driveshaft during practice – and Howden Ganley’s Iso-Williams FX3. Other notable F1 scalps included James Hunt – 13th on the grid in the TS9B that Lord Hesketh had hired for his category debut – and John Watson. The latter had decided to start from 18th in Gordon Murray’s first F1 design – this was the debut of his pyramidal Brabham BT42 – despite having qualified a tenth faster than Gethin in a BT37.
Once a bunch of celebrities had finished looning about in Consul GTs – yachtsman Chay Blyth making the most of an alphabetical pole position to win from powerboat racer Tom Percival – and Colin Vandervell had recovered from a poor start from pole to win the Formula Atlantic encounter in a March, the large crowd settled for the main event.
Cue 40 action-packed laps.
Beltoise got the jump to lead from Peterson – the Swede happier now that his Lotus 72D had reverted overnight to its older, narrower front suspension – followed by Lauda, a misfiring Fittipaldi (very soon to retire), Schuppan and Gethin had followed Peterson past Scheckter at the start, the McLaren’s clutch having cooked during an inordinately long wait on the grid.
Graham Hill was not so lucky, crashing his BT37 as the swerving field concertinaed as Jody dropped to 25th.
Peterson took the lead when Beltoise made a mistake on the fifth lap and began to pull away. His advantage after 10 laps was 2sec – by which time Hailwood and Hulme, the Kiwi also struggling with a dicky clutch, had passed Gethin.
Poor Watson meanwhile had been fired into the barriers at Stirling’s by a stuck throttle on the eighth lap. The Ulsterman was stuck, too, broken leg trapped by deranged steering rack. And there he would stay for the remainder of the race – yellow flags his only protection.
Lauda punctured and pitted on lap 17 and two laps later Peterson retired from the lead when his Hewland ’box swallowed third gear on the descent from Druids. Beltoise also punctured, on lap 22 – he would finish sixth after a second puncture – and on the same lap Scheckter crashed after a charge that had seen him take sixth place from Gethin. Schuppan crashed, too, at Clearways. So Gethin was now third.
His good friend Hailwood – they had in 1969 somehow survived a 100mph collision with a cow in South Africa in Mike’s Iso Grifo – was leading and apparently heading for his maiden F1 victory.
Not for the first time his Surtees failed him, its left-rear suspension collapsing on lap 36 on the plunging approach to Hawthorn Bend. Heaving himself from the cockpit as marshals dealt with a flash fire, Hailwood threw his crash helmet to the ground in frustration.
It was a toss-up now as to whom was the more surprised: Hulme, the race’s fourth different leader, or Gethin, the man giving chase.
The former’s bothersome clutch was worsening and its release bearing failed on the last lap. Gethin swept by and Hunt – “playing himself in sensibly” – almost caught the hobbled McLaren on the line; Hulme was given the nod in a photo finish
There had been elements of luck to Gethin’s victory – plus plenty of skill and excellent preparation: not only had the other F5000s fallen like flies, too, but also he had lapped the fifth-placed Chevron B24 of Tony Dean.
Though that L&M campaign with Doug Shierson’s team would prove disappointing – no wins left him a distant fourth behind champion Scheckter – his scoring of the category’s most famous victory guaranteed Gethin the title of ‘Mr F5000’.