The Historic and Classic Formula Ford 1600 season is almost upon us. James Beckett’s new United Formula Ford championship and the BRSCC’s Northern and Superclassic series have already had their opening rounds, as well as the National championship.
All of these championships are open in some way to pre-1982 machinery, with pre-1972 cars being theoretically eligible for all of them. This begs the question: are there too many championships for older Formula Fords?
The idea for this article came soon after United Formula Ford was announced late last year, replacing the Heritage Formula Ford series which was primarily for pre-1993 cars. There was a degree of anger from some commenters, who saw the multi-class United championship as potentially diluting existing grids and weakening the existing historic series. A few others also expressed disappointment that a dedicated race series for pre-1993 cars was being superseded.
Enigma Motorsport boss and Historic competitor Linton Stutely has a good perspective on this issue, as he is running cars in both the HSCC Classic and United championships for different drivers this year.
“I don’t think there are too many series,” he said, adding that he does not think that the HSCC ones are in any danger.
“We aren’t interested in racing anyone other than the best drivers in their respective classes.
“We don’t turn up to get a trophy, we turn up to try to beat the best.
“And historics can’t compete with modern cars.”
HSCC Historic FF1600 championship co-ordinator Ted Pearson does understand some of the criticisms and makes a comparison with the HSCC’s successful Formula Ford 2000 championship, which regularly has over-subscribed grids.
“If you’ve got a Formula Ford 2000, where else can you run it? Monoposto?
“In our world, 1600s, you can run it in the HSCC championship, or you can run it in Classic Formula Ford as well. Or you could run it with James Beckett, or with the BRSCC in the Northern championship. You can do one-off races with it here and there, and you can do Monopostos. You can do anything with it.
“There’s a lot of choice for people, particularly with a historic car or a classic car.”
Numbers at the opening BRSCC and United meetings this weekend suggest that numbers of pre-’82 cars will be fairly low in both championships, but some commenters are still worried.
One way round this issue would be for Formula Ford championship co-ordinators to work together more, agreeing on a balanced calendar with the minimum of clashes, allowing entrants to make guest appearances at their local or favourite track without interfering with championship commitments. Those who would benefit most from this are drivers like United racewinner James Hadfield, who is normally working on customers’s cars during HSCC race weekends.
There is also a case for regional championships like BRSCC Northern, which cater to racers who prefer not to use their budget on extensive travel to southern England, or work long hours and find it hard to travel.
Pearson goes on to say that clubs like having Formula Ford at their meetings too.
Formula Ford in all of its forms has flourished since 1967 and some of the original cars are still competitive now, but how will historic racing look in the future?
Vintage Formula Ford will be looking at how the category will stay around throughout the season.
Motorsport tends to run in families and there is no shortage of teenagers who have grown up in the paddock, waiting for their chance to get behind the wheel of cars they’ve seen parents and other family members race.
Ian “Parky” Parkington debuted a Crossle at last year’s Oulton Park Gold Cup, finishing second in the second Classic Formula Ford race of the weekend.
Formula Ford regular Parkington was quick in the car himself, but he’s really developing it and another Crossle for his daughters to race in a few years’ time.
The car itself has some history.
“It’s Tiff Needell’s ex Crossle 25F. It was owned by Richard Peacock, Anglesey Circuit, and restored by Dave Hart about five or six years ago.
“It didn’t come as a buy, it came as a project, if you would, then we ended up doing a deal to own it. It came with another Crossle for restoration, so there’s a couple of them at home.”
Parkington competed in Northern Formula Ford for about ten years and only races occasionally now, but the family legacy continues.
“I have a 14-year-old daughter, almost 15, who races go-karts. Grace has raced go-karts for a few years. And Scarlett, the youngest one, she’s 11, races cadet karts,” he explained at Oulton.
“I can’t wait for Grace to move up into Formula Fords. We’ve a few (cars) at home, so we can all come racing together.”
He is not overly worried for her safety, as some fathers might be.
“I think they’re relatively safe. If you abide by some rules and don’t be too stupid.”
He is not worried either about her being quicker than him.
“I fully expect her to beat me, and I hope that she does.”
Ross Drybrough fired up his turquoise March 709 towards the end of 2021, but not before it had made its way through a couple of other drivers’ hands first.
The March is perhaps one of the most travelled and shared cars in Formula Ford, at least in recent years. Like the Traveling Pants shared by five girls in a 2005 film, it has worked for several different drivers.
Drybrough made his return in it at Silverstone after missing most of the season with a serious hand injury sustained at Brands Hatch, an incident that put his usual smart Merlyn Mk20 out of action. Prior to that, he had loaned it to Max Bartell for the first two rounds of the 2021 championship, giving him two top-ten finishes at Snetterton. The pair made a deal that they would share Bartell’s Elva in the Guards Trophy in return, which they did at the International Trophy in May.
The car’s recent past also encompasses a season with multiple Historic Formula Ford champion Cam Jackson in 2020, who described it as a car that “drives itself” telling Vintage Formula Ford:
“It’s just one of those cars where it feels too easy.
“Essentially, it’s a really tidy, fun car to drive. Really responsive.”
Most old racing cars have a story or two attached, but there’s only a little digging to do to find the 709’s. It came from Canada and was bought on Drybrough’s behalf by a friend of his from dental school, Tony Cove.
Cove was instrumental in getting his friend started in motorsport, taking him to a meeting during a visit to Canada in 2014. He had only ever done karting and track days previously.
“I thought, ‘I can do that.'” says Drybrough. “The next thing I know, I’m looking at Merlyns.”
“I rebuilt it myself,” he says of the March. “The engine was illegal so we left it in Canada and I just got a rolling chassis and gearbox.
“Tony came across and raced it in the Silverstone Finals in 2018, and then he came and raced it again at the Gold Cup in 2019”
Anything rebuilt has its share of problems and it was when Drybrough first raced the car itself that they arose.
“I raced it at Cadwell and an oil line came off, and everyone spun off on my oil,” he admits.
“I put the car straight in the trailer and buggered off before anything else happened.”
One of the advantages of loaning it to Jackson was that he and car preparer Neil Fowler were able to work on it and develop it into a competitive prospect. When Jackson approached Drybrough about it at the end of 2019, this was one of the reasons he agreed.
There have been some questions around eligibility, as the car’s previous owner Richard Forrest had been running it with 712 bodywork. However, extensive records from its build in 1970 onwards, including the original Bill of Sale for the car, show the paper trail of additions over the years. Incidentally, the March cost £1530 new, and a set of gear ratios was £49.
The 709 did not set the Formula Ford world alight in period, but Drybrough appreciates its curiosity value, describing it as “a bit of an oddball” that stands out from the ubiquitous Merlyn Mk20s and Elden Mk8s. I first spoke to him before his Brands accident and he talked about how it was good to have a spare car, should his Merlyn be out of action, which proved prescient.
Cove is planning a return to the UK to race the March again, as his own story repeats with his son now studying dentistry in the UK. Where the Travelling March ends up next and who it will be travelling with is yet to be seen.
(Images courtesy of HSCC, Cam Jackson and Paul Lawrence)
Richard Tarling will race Alan Cornock’s Royale RP26 in this year’s Classic Formula Ford championship, as part of a three-car Enigma team.
Tarling, the 2017 Historic Formula Ford champion, has secured backing for a full season from SDC Builders, which originally sponsored a Royale in 1980, when it was driven by David Wheeler. Tarling’s car will run in old-school SDC blue and white as a tribute to that Royale. 2022 is also the 50th anniversary of SDC.
The deal came together about six weeks ago and was one of the inspirations behind Enigma boss Linton Stutely’s decision to buy the RP26 raced as a Kenny Aitchison tribute car by Warren Hughes at the 2021 Walter Hayes Trophy. The Aitchison car will be run on an “arrive and drive” basis, with a schedule to be confirmed. Tarling will race alongside the Crossle of Steve Deeks and Joe Ahrens in the Van Diemen he raced last year.
“I’ve known Alan Cornock for nearly 30 years – how many years ago is 1995? 27? I’m pretty sure we bought our first car off Alan 27 years ago,” says Tarling.
“It’s Alan’s car. He set the deal up, because was Royale from nearly the beginning. He’s good friends with David Wheeler and the guys from SDC. They’re supporting Alan and me and the car for a whole year, which is good.”
“I would hope, good,” says Tarling of his chances in the Classic championship, although he has yet to drive the car. “Everyone says it’s a good car, so we’ll wait and see. It depends who else is in the championship.”
He hopes that the influx of Royale and Enigma-related entries into this year’s Classic championship makes for a good field.
“Hopefully this will drag more people into it. Hopefully it will make the whole thing stronger. It shows people have confidence in the championship.
“I want it to be competitive and lots of people doing it. I don’t want to be just running around on my own.”
When asked, this is what he had to say about his new team-mates.
“Joe (Ahrens) should get quicker and quicker. He should be pushing us, if not right at the beginning, then certainly after a couple of rounds.
“Steve (Deeks) would freely admit that he’s got quite a lot to learn for his comeback.”
The first round of the championship is at Snetterton on the 23rd of April.
Steve Deeks is making his Formula Ford return in 2022, returning to the series where his career began. He talks to Vintage Formula Ford about endings, beginnings and why Formula Ford is still relevant today.
2022 is going to be Steve Deeks’s last season in a single-seater. After calling time on a nine-year professional career some time ago, the Stratford-based presenter and driver coach was bitten by the bug again at the 2018 Walter Hayes Trophy, when he borrowed Richard Tarling’s Van Diemen RF80.
“It was that that reminded me, how much I loved the formula which I left behind in 1989,” is how Deeks summed it up.
At that time, he did not intend to stay in Formula Ford any longer than he needed to. It was a step on the single-seater ladder that he hoped, like his rivals, would lead to a Formula One race seat.
“Obviously I was conscious that Senna had done it, and Mansell had done it., James Hunt…everybody, I mean everybody did Formula Ford when I started out. It was a big deal.
“I did six races in ’85, because that’s all the money I had. I owned my own car. It was a Hawke DL11. And I did another six races in ’86. So I can tell you, when I started out, Formula Ford was taken really seriously.”
Even taking the first steps as a racing driver had to be taken very seriously. Deeks did not have a childhood spent karting and learning the ropes. He and his brother grew up in care, being moved between different foster homes around Europe and being more concerned about “staying out of childrens’ homes and having enough to eat” than lap times.
Still, he carried a dream of being a professional racing driver and set about earning enough money to do so, as soon as he was old enough. He became a hotel chain’s youngest manager.
“I got a bonus for running this hotel which was doing really well financially, and I spent all my bonus on buying an old Hawke DL11.
“I got a group of the staff who were friends, chefs and waiters at the hotel. We ran that first racing car from the garage at the back of the hotel. We hadn’t got a fucking clue what we were doing. Literally, my mechanics were commis chefs and kitchen porters. As a manager I would do the rotas, so I would rota the staff’s days off, even if it wasn’t good for the hotel, so they could come to test days and races with me.”
Deeks is always quick to credit those who have supported him. The motley crew of hotel workers were not his only allies during this period of his career. Former BTCC racer Mike Jordan was also a big help during the early days. Having seen Deeks set the fastest-ever pupil lap at the Mallory Park racing school, he offered him a job instructing at the track.
“Basically, my pay when I worked for Mike was every day, he’d give me ten laps. I would be strapped in and do ten laps in one of the school Formula Fords. I thought I was the luckiest guy in the world. Through my own wit and cunning, I managed to broker that deal. I got no money, but I got what I wanted.”
Initially, he raced in Pre-’74 Formula Ford and ran as high as third at the Pre-’74 Formula Ford Festival. His big break in a modern car came when he swapped a Formula First car he had bought for five races with a professional team in the Top Gear Winter Formula First championship, held at Brands Hatch. He was second in his first race and was talent-spotted by the Performance Engineering Services team for the junior Formula Ford championship in 1989. This ended with the 1989 Festival, where he was shunted off the track in a tangle with Adrian Fernandez, while driving the BBC Grandstand camera car.
Indycar racer and ALMS champion Fernandez is only one of the names that Deeks has raced against. Warren Hughes, Kelvin Burt and David Coulthard were regulars on the Formula Ford grid at the time. All of them, were “ferociously career-minded” and keen to move on to the next stage.
Racing becomes more expensive as a driver progresses and Deeks has always been always been good at gaining sponsors and forming partnerships, through necessity to begin with. Usually this was beneficial, although his strong loyal streak meant that he did not always jump teams when he could have done and was not always in the best cars.
Fast forward to now. The answer to the question “why Formula Ford again?” is simple.
“When I did the Hayes in Tarling’s car, I absolutely fucking loved it.”
This, however, was not his original plan. About five years ago, he was approached by someone to run in HSCC ’70s Roadsports, driving a Porsche 911, once the car was finished. As is the way with so many classic car projects, the Porsche is still not quite ready.
“It owes me an absolute fortune,” he says of the Porsche, which he has still not raced.
Hard times hit again in 2020 with Covid-19 and lockdowns, and in a roundabout way, this pushed him back towards Formula Ford. Faced with the closure of his business and a complete lack of work, Deeks had to downsize and find some alternative income. This came via Tarling, whose father offered him some labouring work, which kept him going through the first lockdown. He remains incredibly grateful to the Tarling family for this.
The coronavirus crisis hit him hard, but Deeks is more used to adversity than many and managed to create opportunities. Their friendship led to a greater co-operation with Linton Stutely’s Enigma team, which runs Tarling’s cars.
“Over the course of the last year, Tarling became one of my very best friends. Stutely the same. Being involved in Enigma – I coach pupils, I coach drivers, then I take them to Enigma. Keeping it in the family, effectively.”
The partnership’s first success has been Joe Ahrens, who was coached by Deeks in a Mazda MX5, bought with Enigma, and had a strong debut year in Tarling’s Van Diemen RF80 in Classic Formula Ford.
Lockdown also triggered some reflection for Deeks, who had to sell off his detached home, motorcycle and sports car to stay afloat; almost everything apart from his famous Bengal cat. It stirred his old determination not to let circumstances set him back.
“I vowed never to waste a single second. I lost a year and a half of my life. Financially it wiped me out. So I thought, this is it. One last roll of the dice.”
Formula Ford was the obvious choice. He rates his 1989 Van Diemen as the best car he has ever driven, and Tarling and Stutely have a wealth of experience in working with the cars. Inicdentally, the RF89 has admirers further afield: it was shipped to Australia where it still runs in historics there, with a replica livery from 1989 including sponsor logos from companies that no longer exist, a tribute described by Deeks as “awesome”.
There is a sense of ending by returning to the beginning and completing a circle, but it isn’t just nostalgia driving this. Despite nominally leaving the category behind in 1989, he is still a great supporter of Formula Ford as a training ground for aspiring drivers. Other junior series have come and gone, but it endures and he believes it still has a lot to offer.
“When my pupils ask me what I should race, I tell them, if you are in it because you want to be a racer, forget about posing, or driving round looking cool, or being an Instagram bunny, if you’re in it because you want to race, I mean really want to race, there’s only one formula to do. And it’s the same today as it was in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and it’s Formula Ford 1600.
“You will have the closest racing that you will ever have in any car race formula. There’s nothing better.”
The close nature of the racing is not the only thing to recommend it.
“It’s like that children’s book, Where The Wild Things Are”. When you’ve seen an intense Formula Ford heat for the Hayes, for example, it just makes other racing look pretty timid. Formula Ford has an extra dimension. You have to have your wits about you. You have to be hungry, you have to be brutal and you have to have fantastic racecraft. And you can’t use your car as a battering ram really, as you won’t get away with it. You’re not going to finish.”
From young drivers to not-so-young drivers: with several of his old rivals out on track, including Kelvin Burt, Warren Hughes and Chris Goodwin, racing in 2022 will be recreational for Deeks.
“Back in the day, if I wasn’t absolutely on the money, I’d be sulking the big one,” he admits. “I was only interested in being on pole, or fastest lap or whatever. Anything else was absolute ruin. This time around, I’m still hungry for success and still competitive, and still want to be as good as I can be, but this time I’m going to concentrate on enjoying it, rather than beating myself up if I’m not on pole.
“To a degree, I took it too much for granted, that it was my divine right to be in a racing car. Whereas now all these years later, I know it’s just a blessing.
“At my age, to be back in a racing car? Fuck it, that’s cool enough.”
He will be racing a Crossle 25F in HSCC Classic Formula Ford in 2022. The car, which made him “grin like a Cheshire cat”, was raced by Richard Morgan in period and was highly successful, with more than thirty wins in the 1974 season.
As of now, Deeks is unsure how many races he will enter, although he plans to include the Formula Ford Festival and the Walter Hayes Trophy in his programme.
When Warren Hughes agreed to race Jonathan Lewis’s Royale RP26 in Kenny Acheson’s colours, he did not realise he would be competing in front of Acheson himself.
He had already qualified in seventh spot for the Carl Hamer pre-final at this weekend’s Walter Hayes Trophy when the Northern Irish former F1 driver showed up.
According to Hughes, it was Acheson’s wife who saw the Royale mentioned in a news article and told him about it.
Hughes had a chat with Acheson in the garages before the Carl Hamer Trophy pre-final.
“It’s not the same car, ” clarified Hughes. “It’s almost a tribute car”.
“He still owns the original car. He’s got quite a few of his old cars. His old F3 car and a Sauber Group C car as well.”
It’s mega that Jonathan (Lewis)’s done this and brought it to the Walter Hayes, because it’s attracted the interest from people like Kenny.”
Acheson was around to watch “his” car in action.
“It’s really flattering that someone thought about putting the car in my colours,” he commented on Saturday.
Despite his ownership of several classics, it seems he hasn’t had them out to play for a while.
“This is the first time I’ve seen Formula Ford running in probably 25, 30 years.
“It’s still the heartbeat of the sport and it’s really nice that it’s the same thing that I did when I was a kid.”
Hughes, who has largely retired from active competition but still remains very active as a test driver and driver coach, described the Royale as “great fun”. He finished eighth in the pre-final and fifth in the pre-’82 final, despite his last time in a single-seater being “probably Formula 3000 back in 2000.”
Samuel Harrison has taken his first Formula Ford win in the qualifying race for tomorrow’s Carl Hamer Trophy, from sixth on the grid.
The regular HSCC frontrunner was having his first outing in a Merlyn Mk20: the car raced by championship runner-up Horatio Fitz-Simon this year, no less.
Harrison was locked in a near race-long drafting battle with 2017 Historic champion Richard Tarling, back in his Jamun T2, and Henry Chart, whose Van Diemen RF81 was familiar to Harrison from his appearances in Classic Formula Ford.
Tarling was the quickest off the line and shot past polesitter Chart, setting up the first part of the rivalry. This was in spite of a rush engine change, as a misfire had bent the valves in the Jamun’s engine. By the end of the lap they had been joined by a charging Harrison, just behind them in third. Chart and Tarling initially had the upper hand and exchanged the lead at almost every corner, with Harrison muscling in on the action fairly quickly.
The pivotal moment for the leading group came during the final lap, when Chart spun and dropped to fourth. Harrison seized his chance and put some space between himself and Tarling, holding on for the win.
Patrick McKenna, driving a Crossle 35F for Mike Gardner, was third. He overhauled FF1600 newcomer Molly Dodd early on and stayed within sight of the leaders. Dodd herself was holding her own in the second group with McKenna, Westie Mitchell and Ed Thurston (both in Merlyns), but a late spin at Brooklands dropped her Merlyn right to the back. She fought back to 18th.
Thurston and Mitchell were sixth and seventh, behind another newcomer, Ben Stone, driving the Titan Mk4 raced by Tom McArthur in Historics this season. Stone, who had only ever raced Radicals before, made his way into the top five from tenth on the grid.
A trio of Royales followed, starting with the Kenny Acheson tribute RP26 driven by former BTCC and Le Mans racer Warren Hughes. Rick Morris was next in his familiar RP29, having made up a good few places from 15th. Completing an RP26 sandwich was Peter Barrable in tenth place.
Kelvin Burt, driving the Van Diemen RF80 used by Roberto Moreno and the Formula Ford Festival, got caught up in a three-car collision at Brooklands early on and had to retire. Peter Sikstrom’s RF79 followed him.
The Walter Hayes Trophy is set to begin in just over twelve hours. The last entries are in, heat draws are done and cars are ready.
There’s a strong Historic and Classic contingent in both the main draw and the two pre-’93 finals. Here are Vintage Formula Ford’s top names to look out for.
Samuel Harrison (Merlyn Mk20)
Harrison has landed a really good drive with Classic Team Merlyn, using the same car that took Horatio Fitz-Simon to second in the Historic FF1600 championship. He has been testing the car today and is really happy with how it drives. The Yorkshire teenager has become a much more consistent driver in the second half of the season and with such a good car underneath him, will be looking for a win.
Ed Thurston (Merlyn Mk20)
Thurston has won the Carl Hamer Trophy before, triumphing in 2018 in a Classic Team Merlyn Mk20 like the one that Harrison will be racing. This time, he has taken over Chris Porritt’s Mk20 for the weekend. The car has recovered from its off at the Silverstone Finals and Thurston will be his usual competitive self on a track he likes. His only disadvantage will be his lack of single-seater seat time this year.
Jordan Harrison (Reynard 89FF)
As long as it stays dry, Harrison will be tenacious and very quick around the National loop. The 2021 Classic champion has never raced the 89FF before, but he has had time to test the car, which belongs to Mark Bates. He will be renewing his rivalry with Cam Jackson, also in action in the Janet Cesar Trophy in a Van Diemen RF90, and Ben Tinkler in a similar 89FF. If the track is wet, he may struggle.
Molly Dodd (Merlyn Mk20)
The WHT will be FF2000 racer Molly Dodd’s debut in a FF1600 car, although she has been testing and impressing Simon Hadfield, who will run her this weekend in his wife Mandie’s car. Going from a winged car to the aero-unassisted Merlyn has been a challenge, as Dodd has had to get used to sliding, but she is thoroughly enjoying the adventure. Her cheerful refusal to be intimidated by anyone on track will really help her.
Mark Armstrong (Van Diemen RF85?)
2019 Classic champion Armstrong is a very late entry but he has run well at the WHT in the past, qualifying for the final. He is running as a team-mate to Dodd with Simon Hadfield. Although he has done very little racing in the last 18 months, having sold his own Van Diemen, he has plenty of experience of the track itself, having served as chief instructor at Silverstone’s racing school.