2016 SEASON REVIEW – AVON TYRES FORMULA FORD 1600
Niall Murray's phenomenal year has marked him out as a true star of the future – Photo: Rachel Bourne
The Avon Tyres National Post '89 Formula Ford 1600 Championship boomed in 2016 after it was nominated as a feeder series for the Mazda Road to Indy programme which meant whoever won the title was eligible to take part in the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on 6th & 7th December. Up for grabs was fundingto facilitate the winner’s participation in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Such a superb prize tempted a whole host of talented drivers to the championship and every round featured grids of such a high quality that they would have been worthy of the Formula Festival Final. Usually the first dozen or so cars qualified within a second of each other leading to some epic racing.
In this environment, with a plethora of evenly matched cars, driving ability comes to the fore and Niall Murray really stood out behind the wheel of a Van Diemen RF99 prepared by Formula Ford legend Bernard Dolan winning 12 of 16 rounds before he went on to win the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy. The Shootout saw Niall take on 18 of the World’s top young drivers and make it into the “race-off” for the final six.
Murray could easily have won every Formula Ford 1600 race he entered in the UK this season but at the opening round of the National Championship at Oulton Park he was pushed into a spin at the first corner before being off the pace in the wet second encounter later in the day due to having a dry set-up. Then, in June, Niall and his team struggled to dial-in his chassis for the unique requirements of Rockingham.
Aside from these two weekends, the Dubliner was simply peerless and won all the events at Brands Hatch, Silverstone and Donington Park to win the Triple Crown in emphatic style.
When Murray was absent from the top step of the podium, it was the Ray-driving Cliff Dempsey Racing team mates James Raven and Chase Owen who took his place. Raven took his GR15/16 model to victory 3 times while American Chase won the damp Oulton race in his year older version.
With a long gap between the end of the National Championship and the Festival, Owen took part in the final 4 rounds of the Northern series to keep himself race-fit and won them all, pipping Manchester’s Matthew Cowley to the title in process. Cowley was the reigning Pre90 National and Northern champ’ who got faster each time he got behind the wheel of his Van Diemen JL13. He ended the season with the Post89 Champion of Oulton and Star of Anglesey accolades on his CV.
In 2016, it was Ben Tinkler who scooped both the National and Triple Crown titles for the Pre90 Class in his immaculately presented Reynard 88FF. Things might have been different had Jamie Jardine and Jaap Blijleven widened their horizons beyond the Northern Championship where they were a cut above everyone else.
Blijleven has been getting his UCLAN Racing Reynard 88FF closer to the pace of Jamie Jardine’s Dave Hart-tended 84FF over the past few years but the man who lives a short distance from Oulton Park still had enough pace over his rival from Amsterdam to take the Northern and Champion of Oulton titles.
Neither were crowned as the Pre90 Star of Anglesey however as a double victory for Ivor Mairs’ Mondiale 84S at the Winter meeting in Wales in late November meant he took that honour with him back to Ireland.