The 45th running of the famous Formula Ford Festival took place at Brands Hatch on the weekend of the 22nd and 23rd October, seeing one of the largest entry lists for the last few years. With more than 60 cars entered, split into three heats on Saturday, two semis and a last chance race on Sunday, before the all-important final would bring the curtain down on the event. Even after the decline of Formula Ford in the UK, when the championship became the FIA F4, the classic Kent-engineered cars from three eras (post 1989, pre-1982 and pre-1990) have continued to grow and grow, with a heavy focus from the BRSCC on keeping the Festival as a headline event on the British National Motorsport scene. Drivers from around the UK, Ireland and across the globe continue to see how a Festival win can be a great head turner on a CV and with competitive continuing to remain strong, a win in 2016 would be rewarding.
For 2016 the entry list was full of Formula Ford veterans, either looking for their first win or adding to a previous triumphant, such as 2003 winner Joey Foster, 2011 and Formula Ford GB Champion Scott Malvern and lastly Ireland’s 2013 winner Niall Murray. For drivers looking for their first victory and well looking out for was the 2008 National Formula 3 Champion Jay Bridger and 2013 Formula Renault BARC Champion Chris Middlehurst, both who are regulars within the National Motorsport scene and quick around the Brands Hatch Indy circuit. Also, out there and worth a watch was the 1999 Formula Palmer Audi Champion Richard Tarling and former BTCC (British Touring Cars) competitors Martin Byford and Eoin Murray, who are no stranger to Formula Fords, having starting their careers in these machines before climbing the ladder. With the BRSCC expanding the Avon Tyres Formula Ford 1600 Championship, a regular field from this championship were hungry for victory and this included the likes of: Chase Owen (the newly crowned Northern Post ’89 champion), Stephen Daly, Jake Byrne, Matthew Cowley, Tom, David and Neil McArthur and the new Firman chassis piloted by Luke Williams, Graham Carroll and James Roe Jnr. In addition, there were further names to consider such as twice podium finisher Stuart Gough, Motorsport Ireland’s Jordan Dempsey, Andy Charsley, and lastly the newly crowned Scottish FF1600 champion Neil MacLennan. From across the pond, team USA and Team Canada were back to field the scholarship winners and this included Parker Thompson, representing Canada, whilst Oliver Askew and Kyle Kirkwood were in the Red, White and Blue Team USA cars. Even with not much knowledge of the Brands Hatch Indy circuit, these couldn’t be forgotten about.
Murray and Malvern Progress from Semis
With the sun shining and conditions perfect for the main day of the Formula Ford Festival, the first semi-final would get underway with one of the favourites on Pole Position, as Niall Murray lined up alongside Stuart Gough, with the ever-quick Luke Cooper and American Oliver Askew on row two. 30 cars were lined up for the first semi and as most drivers wanted to avoid the Last Chance Race, it wasn’t really a surprise that when the lights went out all hell broke loose. With the front four breaking away and Murray leading the way, Tom McArthur from row seven was trapped into a spin and sending a lot of the pack everywhere. Miles Johnson was the first to lose out, ending with only three wheels and stranded. As others tried to avoid Johnson, James Roe Jnr crashed out as well as Matthew Cowley, breached in the Paddock Hill gravel trap.
The safety car was deployed as Niall Murray backed the field up in hope of breaking the tow of Stuart Gough when the BMW M3 exited the circuit. Gough tough had to be weary of those behind, one being a very-racy Oliver Askew. 10 laps were left when the safety car departed and Niall Murray made the perfect get-away, leaving Gough to defend off Askew and Luke Cooper. Pressure mounted on Gough lap after lap, with a Formula Ford train growing to about six, equally spread. With three laps to go, Askew made his move and timed it to perfection, taking second off Gough into Clearways and being able to hold off the Englishman. The move on Gough allowed Luke Cooper to close in and the two diced until the final few laps.
As Gough took the final podium spot for Semi-Final 1 behind a dominant Niall Murray, who recorded fastest lap and the American Oliver Askew, it was behind that had been thoroughly entertaining. Whilst Luke Cooper had pushed extremely hard for the podium, this had allowed a challenge to be made from Noel Robinson and Jack Byrne, the three covered by a second. It was on the final lap this the heat on Cooper intensified as Robinson increased the pressure, successfully beating Cooper on the run to the line by 0.024 seconds to secure fourth, with Cooper fifth and Jack Byrne in sixth. Outside the top six, Oliver White finished seventh from eighth on the grid, ahead of Kyle Kirkwood and Job Van Uitert, with these two having a small coming together earlier on after being slightly higher up the order. Rounding out the top ten was Jamie Thorburn, who climbed from twenty-second on the grid.
Formula Ford Festival sponsored by NCPI Solutions – Semi-Final 1
- Niall Murray (No.5 – P89 – Van Diemen RF99) = 15 Laps = 15:38.744
- Oliver Askew (No.21 – P89 – Ray GR15) = +4.012s
- Stuart Gough (No.11 – P89 – Van Diemen DP08) = +5.058s
- Noel Robinson (No.55 – P89 – Van Diemen JL012K) = +5.864s
- Luke Cooper (No.61 – P89 – Swift SC16) = +5.888s
For the second semi-final on Sunday morning, Scott Malvern lined up on pole positon, alongside Luke Williams in what would be a hotly contested race. Malvern was expecting the break away at the front and once the lights went off, a clean start saw Luke Williams challenge into Paddock Hill bend, followed closely by Andy Charsley and Neil MacLennan off row two. In what appeared to be a start with no incidents, this didn’t last, as approaching Druids and up Hailwood Hill, Andy Charsley lost it and spun. Losing his rear wheel in the process, the weekend looked over, whilst Canadian Parker Thompson became a casualty parking on the exit of Druids with chassis damage. With the stewards/officials racing into action and calling for the safety car, this unfortunately caught out the forth place car of Neil MacLennan, who had to throw himself onto the grass and into the barrier, to avoid the slowing front three.
The restart saw Malvern lead the field away as Luke Williams pressured hard in second, with Chris Middlehurst in third. Slowing each other with a lot of attack and defence driving saw Middlehurst come into contention as well as train of cars including Jordan Dempsey, Graham Carroll and Patrik Pasma. Pasma was the quickest of the three who closed in on Middlehurst, jumping up into third on lap nine, as Williams took the lead also. Still driving within a small train allowed for so much passing and it wasn’t long before Pasma was challenging both Malvern and Williams for the lead of the race. This allowed Middlehurst to close back in on the action and when Malvern regained the lead, Williams somehow slipped to fourth.
As the field entered the final lap of the Indy circuit, Malvern had done enough to secure the victory with Patrik Pasma following him home in second. On the final corner, Luke Williams demoted Chris Middlehurst to fourth, with Chase Owen climbing from eleventh to come inside top five. After running inside the top five early on Jordan Dempsey took sixth, ahead of 2003 Formula Ford Festival winner Joey Foster. Eighth went to Pedro Matos, ahead of Graham Carroll and Matthew Parr.
Formula Ford Festival sponsored by NCPI Solutions – Semi-Final 2
- Scott Malvern (No.37 – P89 – Mygale GV15-K) = 15 Laps = 15:27.316s
- Patrik Pasma (No.58 – P89 – Mygale SJ08) = +0.932s.
- Luke Williams (No.95 – P89 – Firman RF16) = +1.522s
- Chris Middlehurst (No.2 – P89 – Van Diemen LA10) = +1.621s
- Chase Owen (No.00 – P89 – Ray GR14/15) = +1.709s
Who Would Make it Through with One Last Chance
After the two semi-finals, there was only six spaces left on the grid for the final and these would be made up of the top six from the last chance, eight lap shootout race. With some drivers ending up in this race during misfortunes from earlier, this made for an exciting encounter. From having a front row start, it was Matt Round-Garrido who got away well, leading Alan Davidson by the end of the opening lap. For Davidson, a lightening start from row three saw him carve his way past his rivals, ahead of Ben Tinkler and Martin Byford. With only eight laps to sort themselves out and pressure on to make the final, the racing was extremely close throughout the field. One driver making a charge from mid-pack to recover was former BTCC driver Eoin Murray, however the Irishman got it wrong entering Druids and tangled with Ruaridh Clark, retiring both cars. The safety car had to be deployed, taking laps away from the crucial eight, but also closing the field up for what looked to be a four-lap dash when the BMW M3 exited.
On the restart, Alan Davidson held the race lead ahead of Matt Round-Garrido and would make sure he didn’t waste the restart, pulling clear of his rival as battle began within the top six and top ten. Ben Tinkler was holding onto third position but was under heavy pressure from Martin Byford, who was being closed on by Jay Bridger. Bridger had started way down at the start, but climbed to a top six position and was challenging for fourth. The final lap saw Byford lose out to Bridger, whilst Tom McArthur closed both in and dropped Byford to sixth at the flag by 0.011 seconds. Just missing out on a shot from the back of the grid for the final was Neil MacLennan who ended up seventh, ahead of the Last Chance Race pole sitter Klaus-Dieter Hackel in eighth.
Formula Ford Festival sponsored by Cam-Tech Security – Last Chance Race:
- Alan Davidson (No.6 – P90 – Mondiale M89S) = 8 Laps = 8:09.683s
- Matt Round-Garrido (No.27 – P89 – Van Diemen JL016K) = +0.737s
- Ben Tinkler (No.18 – P90 – Reynard FF89) = +2.035s
- Jay Bridger (No.150 – P89 – Van Diemen RF032) = +2.312s
- Tom McArthur (No.17 – P89 – Van Diemen LA10) = +3.060s
- Martin Byford (No.134 – P89 – Mygale SY2001) = +3.071s
20 Laps, 30 Cars, Who Would Win?
The all-important Formula Ford Festival Final would see 30 cars take to the 1.2 mile Brands Hatch Indy circuit for what would be 20 laps to determine the 2016 champion. All the hard work from qualifying, heats, semis and the last chance race would see former champions on the front row, as Scott Malvern lined up on pole position alongside Niall Murray on the front row, with Patrik Pasma and Oliver Askew on row two and Luke Williams and Stuart Gough on row three and lastly Chris Middlehurst and Noel Robinson on row four, with the winner likely to be one from these rows. When the lights went out, the battle was on between Malvern and Murray, as the Englishman won the run into Paddock Hill Bend and led the Irishman. With American Oliver Askew settling into third position, the front eight ran so close together, banging wheels and losing bits of nose corn at nearly every corner under braking.
Challenging the rear of Malvern’s Mygale around the whole Brands Hatch circuit, Murray made his move on lap three and the two nearly took one another out after slight contact. After running side by side up Hailwood Hill and around Druids, Murray slotted in-front before Malvern lost part of his front nose cone, touching the rear of the Irishman’s Van Diemen. The dicing by the two in front had really bunched the field up with Middlehurst, Askew, Gough and Williams constantly swapping over who would be third. Middlehurst and Askew had been leading the fight for a while, before Middlehurst tried to make a break and Askew fell back into the chasing pack. Unfortunately for Askew, a tyre problem was damaging his momentum and not long before the end, the American retired to the pits.
By the mid-way part of the race, Niall Murray was becoming more and more dominant, pulling away from his pursuers and lapping quicker than anyone had gone. With Malvern holding second and looking comfortable, another battle for third developed when Askew departed as Stuart Gough challenged Middlehurst, however every time Gough tried to challenge, Luke Williams was ready to pounce if things went wrong on Gough created a gap. Gough very nearly had Middlehurst in the closing stages, but a mistake did cost him third and fourth, as Williams made him pay and took the positon.
Murray, Malvern and Middlehurst remained in order till the flag, with Niall Murray ending the day with another victory for Irish drivers and doubling up on Formula Ford Festival success, after taking the title back in 2013. After racing in British GT and GT Cup, Scott Malvern had proved he can still handle a Formula Ford since 2011 success coming home in second, whilst Chris Middlehurst took an impressive third after what had been a challenge from the start with pressure from behind. With Williams and Gough completing the top five, Chase Owen came home in sixth ahead of what had to be drive of the final. After starting back in sixteenth position, USA scholarship driver Kyle Kirkwood worked his way up the order to take seventh position, ahead of some Formula Ford veterans and experienced drivers of Brands Hatch. The top eight was rounded out by Oliver White who had mainly be on his own with Jordan Dempsey ninth and Pedro Matos in tenth. The one driver who lost out in the final was front runner Patrik Pasma, who fell down the order to eleventh, after starting towards the front and running in third early on. Behind Pasma was the first Pre-90 Class car of Job van Uitert in twelfth.
Formula Ford Festival Final:
- Niall Murray (No.5 – P89 – Van Diemen RF99) = 20 Laps
- Scott Malvern (No.37 – P89 – Mygale GV15-K) = +3.706s
- Chris Middlehurst (No.2 – P89 – Van Diemen LA10) = +4.483s
- Luke Williams (No.95 – P89 – Firman RF16) = +5.699s
- Stuart Gough (No.11 – P89 – Van Diemen DP08) = +5.789s
For more photos of the Formula Ford Festival, please click here.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier.