It featured a range of great ideas – but was really ahead of its time …
NOW a major part of Channel 10’s coverage of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, Mark Larkham debuted in V8 Supercar racing in 1995 in an innovative EF Falcon backed by Mitre 10.
It featured a range of features that were perhaps simply before their time in the category – one of the main ones being that the driver essentially sat in a monocoque within the car and towards the centre; virtually common practice in the build of today’s cars.
The car was built new in Sydney in 1995 as an EF Falcon and designed by Steve Dewhurst, quickly becoming infamous for its monocoque cockpit design and floor-mounted pedal box.
It endured a range of delays before finally debuting at round three of that year’s Shell Australian Touring Car Championship at Bathurst. It still suffered all sorts of problems and ran very slowly for the weekend.
Larkham drove the blue Ford for the remainder of the season, including being joined by Warwick Rooklyn for the endurance races.
Larko retained it for 1996, where things did improve and Cameron McConville joined him for the enduros.
But typical of Larko’s luck of the time, the car was wiped out at Bathurst early in the race when he was unsighted in the terrible rain and hit the back of Steve Richards.
A move to run a car out of the Stone Brothers garage (which still at the time was actually Alan Jones Racing prior to the Kiwis buying out the former F1 champ) saw Larkham move into one of the Stones’ cars and this car remained idle.
It was never raced in 1997 before being sold to the Colourscan privateer team in mid-1998 and run as a second car, now updated to EL specification with Brett Peters driving.
He and Danny Osborne raced the car at Bathurst in ’98 but didn’t finish with diff problems.
Osborne returned to drive the car in 1999, but was tagged by Craig Lowndes in the inaugural Sensational Adelaide 500 on the Saturday and fired hard into the concrete wall.
The hit completely destroyed the car, injured Osborne and meant that Larko’s old baby would never race again.
“I did keep some of the interesting componentry from it,” says Larkham.
“I kept the carbon fibre driver capsule that incorporated the foot pedals and the electrics. It was a pretty cool device for 1995 but a little bit ahead of its time unfortunately!
“I’ve got a few keepsakes from it, some bits and pieces. There’s the aluminum hubs which we did that were quite unique.
“It’s kind of sad in a way but I take 100 percent responsibility for it. We tried to do way too much too soon but I learnt a very valuable life lesson. There were plenty of good ideas in that car that emerged later on.
“The roll cage was beautiful. It was lighter than anything at the time. Everything on that car came from a blank sheet of paper. I’ve still got most of the drawings. Pretty much every component we designed from scratch.
“It didn’t win anything but in terms of ideas it was ground-breaking. It wasn’t until 10 years later that we centralised the driver in V8 Supercars. The DTM (German touring cars) later used a driver cell concept similar to what we had.
“Having been in an open wheeler, I thought why couldn’t we have it like a tub with quick disconnects and everything could come out?
“The seat was mounted to the roll cage and not to the floor, which was common then. We used carbon manganese tubing that they were just starting to use in the British Touring Car Championship. It was lighter and stronger than chrome moly.
“The car was designed specifically to be a racing car. It had an extremely low centre of gravity but it did compromise reliability. We grossly underestimated the loads a V8 Supercar encompasses from kerbs and hits with other cars.
“The car was designed from a theoretical load point of view. In practice though it wasn’t correct.”
And there were other parts that never actually made it on to the Mitre 10 Falcon.
“I kept the steering column that we had made from guys in the UK that made carbon fibre fishing rods,” recalls Larkham.
“Instead of having a huge chunk of steel, the column weighed virtually nothing. We never got it into the car before it ran though and was just one of a few bits that we just didn’t get onto the car.”
There were other engineering ‘niceties’ in the Mitre 10 Falcon. The oil pump, power steering and alternator all ran off the tailshaft. The mindset was that they all ran at a constant speed rather than having to accelerate up the rev range on every gear change.
“But if you had really low road speed or perhaps having half a lose with the rear tyres locking as you slid, you’d lose tailshaft speed and lose power steer effectiveness at that point,” says Larko.
“But it was just all valving and pulley sizes to deal with that.
“If you went off the road on a really wet day, that didn’t do the alternator much good where it was mounted either!”
The story of Larko’s Mitre 10 Falcon is indeed one that we could tell over three or four parts, such was the level and sheer amount of engineering elements the team attempted to incorporate.
While it never won a Supercar racing, it’s a car fondly remembered by passionate fans of the category with a keen eye for engineering.
Watch the 1995 Mitre 10 Racing launch here: