There’s a new face on this year’s Historic Formula Ford 2000 grid, and he’s waited a long time for the opportunity.
Ollie Roberts will be taking to the track in a Reynard SF79 run by Souley Motorsport, almost 15 years after he last raced at the 2007 Walter Hayes Trophy.
Following a real hero drive in the Walter Hayes – he came through every consolation race to reach the final after breaking down in his heat – a sponsorship deal to run in Formula 3 and Radicals fell through and that phase of his motorsport career ended.
Lockdown was one of the catalysts for getting back into a car.
“I was having a conversation with loads of old racing mates over lockdown,” he explains.
“They’d all said, when are we going to see you back in a car? And then my parents in law, when I spoke to them about it, they said the same thing. So I started looking.”
The next step was to acquire a car and he was drawn to FF2000.
“It seemed like the best category to go into, other than 1600s, without treading on old ground.
“I was looking at the value of the cars and they were very reasonably priced.
“It’s a very busy formula with very good grids in a really pretty car.”
The Reynard itself was formerly owned by Matt Wrigley and the two made a deal after the car was advertised online. With a car in his garage, it was now time to find someone to run it. Enter Brian Soule, more often found in the FF1600 paddock.
“The engineer at the time for the team I was racing with (Kevin Mills Racing in 2007) has his own team now. I rang him and said ‘if I bought a race car would you run me?’ and he was like, ‘absolutely'”.
Roberts will be supporting himself this year, having used his time away from the track to develop a career and make his own money. He sees this as a positive thing, having “whole-heartedly” been a spectator for so long.
“This will be the first season that I really get to enjoy it.”
He is not rash enough to think he is a championship contender in his first year, especially not in such a competitive series.
“I think I would like to get a couple of top-threes, if not a win.
“There are some good guys in there. You’ve got the current champion Graham Fennymore, Andrew Park, Benn Simms – it’s a strong grid, and they’re big grids. The bigger the mistake, the larger the overtaking manoeuvre you’ve got to make.”
He rates his chances highest at Donington and Silverstone National.
“Silverstone National is just a great track, because it’s short and fast. I would have said Snetterton, but Snett’s changed since I last did it.
“The thing with Donington is, I don’t think I’ve ever been there dry. That’s why I’m so confident round Donington.”
Since our conversation, Roberts has finally fitted a seat and undertaken testing. This was the first time he drove the car, in preparation for the first round at Brands Hatch on Saturday. He will be out in Group B.
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)
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.”
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.
Horatio Fitz-Simon scored his first win the Historic Formula Ford championship at Silverstone two weeks ago. Vintage Formula Ford caught up with him that weekend, before his third-race disappointments, to talk to him about what the victory meant for him.
The win was actually the second of the day for Fitz-Simon; he piloted a Lotus 22 for the first time to win his debut Formula Junior race. He had support from both family and friends trackside.
“I’m glad my father’s been able to come out here. He caught the last flight over a couple of nights ago,” he said. (His father lives in the USA.)
There was also another special guest looking on. New Zealand Formula One driver Howden Ganley has been mentoring Fitz-Simon for some time now.
“He’s here today. It’s the first time he’s ever watch me race. I’ve taken a lot of advice from him over the years.”
Fitz-Simon credits some guidance from Ganley for his Race 2 win, which was by a slender margin of 0.108s over Cam Jackson.
“One of the most important things is not to drive on the mirrors and to always watch what’s going on ahead of you. I didn’t even know what the margin of victory was at the end.”
He described himself as “over the moon” with his win, but had been confident all weekend.
“It was a difficult result in Race 1, because I felt I finally commanded it. It felt like every time someone would get past, I’d be able to just motor back past them. Especially under braking going into Brooklands.”
The Silverstone National circuit was the scene of his debut at the 2019 Walter Hayes Trophy and he is obviously fond of the track.
“It was quite good in Race 2 as well. Even when they got a tow on me, they get miles ahead and I’d be so much later on the brakes.”
A jubilant Fitz-Simon was on such a high after the chequered flag that he forgot to pick up his car’s nosecone, which had come off in a tangle with Tom McArthur’s car.
“It was at Becketts. I was too involved in enjoying the moment on the cooldown lap to stop and grab it. I could see it the whole time on the left.”
Despite dividing his time between Northamptonshire and California, US racing has never been Fitz-Simon’s goal.
“I wa always brought up on the impression that if you wanted to make a career in motor racing, you had to move to the UK, because it’s the most talented drivers in the world. The thing about America is it’s all American drivers, here, it’s international drivers.”
He has plans for next season, about which he is remaining tight-lipped, only admitting that he intends to be racing “serious and faster” modern single-seaters in the UK. Historics will still be part of this plan though, with more outings in the Junior expected.
James Fettiplace has been around in Classic Formula Ford for most of the season, but as he scored his first top-ten finish at Mallory at the weekend, what better time to get to know him and his car a little better?
The picture above this article doesn’t actually show James, but it does show his car. He bought Mark Armstrong’s 2018 Class A title-winning Van Diemen RF80 at the start of the season, but it has proved more of a challenge to run than its on-paper pedigree would suggest.
It took three attempts to get the orange Van Diemen to the end of the race and when I talked to Fettiplace at Brands Hatch earlier in the year, he had just finished his first race in it without spinning.
Armstrong also had plenty of trouble with the car, particularly relating to the electrics, which had a habit of malfunctioning and causing power loss.
“So I’ve heard, after buying it!” admitted Fettiplace, but added that “electrically, it’s fine…the electrical gremlins were sorted by Mark Shaw.”
The Brands race where he scored his first finish “with the car pointing the right way the whole time” was affected by oil on the track surface and it seems that he is something of a slippy-asphalt expert in the making; a Historic Formula Ford competitor suffered a major oil loss in qualifying and made the first Mallory bends quite tricky.
Having got his first points in the bag, his confidence will be in the ascendant.
“The only way is up,” he said. “I just need to brake as well.”
This weekend’s Historic Formula Ford aggregate winner was presented with the Paul Simms Trophy, in memory of racer and engineer Paul Simms who died last year. Vintage Formula Ford spoke to his son, Benn Simms, who presented the trophy, raced in Formula Ford 2000 and even found time to try his hand at commentary at Oulton Park.
“That was quite interesting,” said Simms, who was invited into the commentary box for the first Historic Formula Ford race. “Not something I ever envisaged myself doing, but I actually quite enjoyed it.
“It’s difficult to know how it works in some respects, fortunately Ian (Titchmarsh) is very good. He was asking me questions and keeping me involved in the whole thing.”
Simms chose to give the cup that bears his father’s name to the winner of his favourite series, Historic Formula Ford, at a meeting at his favourite circuit, Oulton Park. Aided by Simms Sr’s engine-building prowess, he is a three-time Historic FF1600 champion. Although not currently racing in the championship, he still has several cars at his disposal.
“I’ve got a number of them, I’m quite fortunate like that. But they’re all in bits!
“We’ve still got two Jomos, but one is literally a rusty old chassis, and the other one is not far off being a car. It could have an engine in it, get it going, but I’m spending all my time in this thing (his FF2000 car) at the moment, keeping it going.”
Simms also has a Dulon MP15 and a Royale RP16 in his collection, plus a more modern FF1600 that he and his father built themselves.
“It’s called a Chase. It was our own design and based on a 2002 Mygale. New chassis, new suspension geometry, that sort of thing.
“You could run it in National, although it wouldn’t be particularly competitive. We never had a decent engine in it so we never managed to see whether it was any good or not. We got a third place in it once at Mallory Park.”
The Chase may yet see the light of day, despite needing work.
“Maybe one day we’ll revive it, but we’ll see. I’ve got enough things to play with.”
The Paul Simms Trophy was presented to Titan driver Tom McArthur by Simms and his mother.
When I ran into Classic Formula Ford front-runner and former champion Ben Tinkler at Brands Hatch, he had his head under the bonnet of someone else’s car.
“I’m checking the fuel on a Lotus Elan, ready for the Guards Trophy race,” he explained. “I’m working (for the Wolfe team) and having a little bit of a play in the Formula Ford.”
This time last year, Tinkler would have described driving his Van Diemen RF80 rather differently, having threatened to sell it after an attempt at a comeback from a dramatic accident at Donington.
“Last year, I’d had my accident and I came out again. It just took a little bit of time to click again.”
Tinkler chose the Oulton Park round to try out his rebuilt car, which ended up being red flagged due to a series of accidents. This time, he had a smoother re-introduction and finished third.
“I didn’t really want to sell it,” he says of the RF80. “I put it up for sale just to see what the market was like. I didn’t really want to, it’s so much fun to drive and it’s a really good series.
“I have falled in love with it again over the weekend.”
Tinkler is not racing in this weekend’s Oulton Park Gold Cup, but he hopes to be out again in the Classic championship this season. He has also been competing in the BRSCC Northern championship in a Ray, for Don Hardman’s team.