Unassuming local engineer takes on the world, and wins.
THINK of Australian racing car constructors and chances are you’ll think of Jack Brabham and Ron Tauranac. Aside from Aussie-influenced internationals like Van Diemen and Tiga, there’s been a whole raft of successful home-growns: Elfin, Matich, Birrana, Bowin, Rennmax and Cheetah, to name some of the majors.
Add to that list Borland Racing Developments, of Braeside, Melbourne. Mike Borland, 52, has racked up almost 30 years as a constructor. His Spectrum Formula Ford, F2000 and Sabre Formula Vee cars have been consistently successful in Australia, have twice won Formula Ford’s pinnacle Walter Hayes Trophy in the UK (2011 and 2013), and are reigning US Formula Ford champions, with Australian driver Scott Andrews.
Borland also constructed the steel spaceframe chassis for the Daytona Coupes and regularly restores and repairs notable historic racing cars.
There’s no mystery how this trained diesel mechanic fell into designing and building chassis that can take on the world’s most hard-fought categories. Borland’s uncle is Brian Shead, who under the marque Cheetah single-handedly built a variety of formula cars (mainly F2 and F3) from 1960-89.
“Yep, it’s all his fault,” Borland says. “I started in ’84, running F2 cars that my uncle had built. I ran Peter Glover, Jon Crooke, Rohan Onslow… We won a few championships. Then
I started to build my own cars. “Steve Richards raced that car in ’91, and in ’92 we won a Victorian state series. And in ’93 we built our first customer car, for Jason Bright.”
With Formula Ford being an international feeder category, Borland has had some pretty famous bums in his seats, including Chaz Mostert, Mark Winterbottom, Scott Pye and Will Power.
Along with local customers, Borland has a number of F1600 cars and winged, slick-tyred F2000s racing overseas. “We’ve got maybe half a dozen cars racing in New Zealand, I think six or seven in England, and 23 in America and Canada,” he says. “We won the US [Honda-powered F1600] series for three of the last four years, and the last two Canadian series.”
Taking the fight to international chassis makers such as Reynard, Van Diemen and Mygale, has he thought about larger single-seater categories?
“Until recently, the carbonfibre part of it has been beyond our reach here a little bit [but] it’s getting easier and easier. It’s been a good market for the Formula Fords. The investment in the other things is so high.
“A lot of the one-make series have gone carbon now … Unfortunately I didn’t get into this as my business, I got into it because I love building cars and trying to make the next one better than the last one. To do one-make cars, it defeats the purpose for me. You might as well make shopping trolleys.”
Mike Borland’s future looks bright, light and loud. The Melbourne racing car constructor is helping to develop the proposed Formula Thunder 5000 single-seater category, using a Formula Nippon carbonfibre tub, 425kW Ford Coyote 5.0-litre V8 and almost entirely Australian and NZ-made components. “They’re designed to be difficult to drive and exciting to watch.”
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