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For over 45 years now, it’s been one of the centrepieces of every BRSCC season. It’s been a staple of British club motorsport. Plus, this year it takes on new meaning as it helps to mark an extraordinary anniversary for the car which this event has been centred around all this time, and at its spiritual home too. This weekend marks the 46th running of the BRSCC’s blue-riband event – the Formula Ford Festival, the 42nd of which to be run here at Brands Hatch in Kent.
As mentioned, this year is a special one for Formula Ford and everyone associated, as the category has celebrated 50 years since its inception way back in 1967. To that end, the Festival has been something of a vital contributor to its success with so many memories and stars created from this race weekend alone. Thankfully, it’s fitting that 2017 is the year in which Formula Ford has gone through something of a renaissance. Being the proving ground of great drivers such as Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen, Jenson Button, Mark Webber, the late Dan Wheldon, Allan McNish and more, it’s no surprise that more young drivers are once again turning to Formula Ford to learn their craft and follow in the footsteps of legends.
The Festival itself boasts some incredible history with a long list of famous winners. As well as Button and Webber above, other names like Johnny Herbert, Eddie Irvine, Anthony Davidson and Jan Magnussen have all used the Festival as a springboard for success. Also, modern stars like Nick Tandy, Scott Malvern, Wayne Boyd and last year’s winner Niall Murray have all made progress into higher profile championships.
This year there’s further incentive for drivers to gun for the win, as for the first time, the Festival will count as an entry point to the Mazda Road To Indy’s Scholarship Shootout The eventual winner of that contest will pocket a cool $200,000 to contest next’s years’ USF2000 Championship in America. There are already one or two drivers racing this weekend that has stamped their tickets to the Shootout, and this weekend it seems likely that one more will join them.
So, who are the leading contenders for the Festival victory? An obvious starting point is Luke Williams, who clinched the Britcover National Formula Ford 1600 title last month at Anglesey and will be in top form, as he bids to add his name onto the Neil Shanahan Trophy and the Roll of Honour. That said, his nearest rivals will be out to stop him – main National Championship rivals Luke Cooper, Neil MacLennan and James Roe Jr are all entered this weekend too and will bid to spoil Williams’ party if possible. Other race winners from this year include Ross Martin, Jordan Dempsey and Jamie Thorburn, plus vital front-runners like Keith Donegan, Sebastien Melrose, Joshua Smith, Jake Byrne and Matt Round-Garrido could also be in contention.
Then you have a few returning faces that could cause an upset. Former Northern FF1600 champion Matthew Cowley returns to the UK after a season of success over in the US racing in the F1600 Championship, where typical Formula Ford chassis run with Honda engines. Oliver White, one of last year’s Shootout finalists, returns in Medina Sport’s new car, while Joey Foster, whose guest appearance at the final National rounds at Anglesey brought a victory, should also be considered. Plus, as usual, the brand new scholarship winners from Team USA and Team Canada make the trip across the pond, with Aaron Jeannsome and Jonathan Kotyk representing the USA and Ben Hurst the sole Canadian driver.
Thanks to this year’s increase in interest in Formula Ford, this year’s Festival takes on a slightly more international flavour, with more drivers appearing from Europe and further afield. While the usual plethora of UK, Irish and North American drivers make the annual pilgrimage, additional nationalities set to be represented include France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, South Africa and even potentially Australia! This proves that Formula Ford still holds its relevance and the Festival is always a race that draws drivers from all across the globe.
While the winner will have to work their way through the heats, the semi-finals and even the nail-biting Last Chance Race to get to the coveted Final, it’s essential for every driver that reaches it to remember not to get caught in the moment – that comes 20 laps later when taking the chequered flag! Still, while it takes skill, commitment and a good car to win the Festival, there is always an element of luck and good fortune involved. Keep your head while everyone around you loses theirs, and the potential is there to reap the rewards. Besides, if you’re not there on the last lap when it matters, all the others count for nothing.
Alongside the main event, there’s a brilliant support package on display across the weekend. Once again, the Luna Logistics Classic Formula Ford Championship concludes it's 2017 season, with Adriano Medeiros looking to complete his title run finely this weekend. There are a few notable additions to their entry list this weekend in Class A, as Scott Mansell and BRSCC vice chairman Peter Daly join the field to try their best to overhaul the championship regulars.
As has been the case in the past couple of years, the Festival will also put on a particular Masters contest, which this year has been dubbed the 50th Anniversary Race in honour of Formula Ford’s landmark milestone. This will be something of a fun and competitive race between a variety of different drivers and chassis, so this one should be somewhat entertaining!
Regarding BRSCC support championships, the Toyo Tires Porsche Championship comes to Brands Hatch boasts its most significant entry of the season with 27 cars! While the Race Boxster title is settled efficiently in favour of Ed Hayes, his class has had a boost with 12 vehicles amongst it, including all of the regular front-runners. There’s a Production Boxster battle to resolve between Andrew Baker and Matthew Harris, but it’s the 924 Class where it will be most nail-biting. Long-time leader Pip Hammond suffered grave misfortune at Rockingham, including a crash at the start of Race 3, leaving a race against time to rebuild his car. Thankfully, he has and now it’ll be fingers crossed to finish a stellar season on a high.
Also still outstanding is the outcome of the Nankang Tyres BMW Compact Cup Championship. With just two races left, it’s all about the duel between reigning champion James Gornall and Scotland’s Steven Dailly. Gornall wants to keep the #1 on his door for another season, while Dailly intends to add this title to the Scottish BMW crown he earned a couple of seasons ago. The race is always proper touring car-style, door-to-door action – but with less of the contact!
In something of a tradition, the Sports 2000 paddock also makes the pilgrimage with Duratec and Pinto cars contest separate races. Tom Stoten is already confirmed as 2017 Duratec champion and will only be out to further consolidate his position and earn a few more bragging rights. As for the Pinto Championship, Mike Fry and Paul Streat will lock horns to pick up the overall title, while Colin Feyerabend would dearly like to clinch Historic honours ahead of his good lady wife, Mira!
Plus, our wonderful friends from Ireland make their customary trip across the Irish Sea to compete here this weekend, with two championships combining onto one grid to create a somewhat intriguing race. The Irish Supercars powered by Pirelli will be joined by the Golfmech Global GT Lights, meaning that saloons, sports cars and micro sports prototypes will all share the same track together! The Irish always entertain the spectators at every Festival, and we expect this year to be no exception!
Entry numbers for the primary Festival are at their highest in recent years, and with the level of talent on the entry list, it’s safe to say that all bets are off for calling a winner. There’s just too many top names to pick from! Still, one thing is sure – someone will stand on the top step of the podium at the end of Sunday afternoon, holding the Neil Shanahan Trophy aloft as your winner of the 2017 BRSCC Formula Ford Festival. Who’s it going to be? Let’s find out!
20 October 2017