2019 SEASON REVIEW – AVON TYRES NATIONAL FORMULA FORD CHAMPIONSIP


ALEX BIRLEY PROVIDES AN IN-DEPTH SEASON REVIEW OF THIS YEAR’S AVON TYRES NATIONAL FORMULA FORD CHAMPIONSHIP.

Eight rounds, 23 races, nine race winners, five titles won are the 2019 stats, but there was a lot of exciting racing and stories behind these numbers.

The season started on a sunny Easter weekend at the Snetterton circuit where spectators enjoyed two days of the fantastic close racing we know to expect from these distinct-looking single-seater cars.

Aerodynamic devices are banned on Formula Ford 1600 cars and so drivers have to learn to rely on mechanical grip and be able to thrive in this close racing environment. It means this affordable single-seater racing has always been a good step on the ladder for those looking for a career in motorsport and for others who want to enjoy weekends of close racing.

The 2017 and 2018 champion, Niall Murray, was not returning to defend his crown for a third time. Pre-season testing and previous form showed that there were a number of exciting drivers who could take the 2019 title including the experienced Rory Smith, the tough Neil MacLennan, the Cliff Dempsey Racing trio: young American Spike Kohlbecker, Jonathan Browne and James Clarke along with reigning Scottish FF1600 champion, Ross Martin, who stepped into the Niall Murray championship winning Van Diemen, run by Team Dolan.

First honours went to Rory Smith who came through from seventh on the grid to take the first win of the year. However, the celebrations did not last long and the B-M Racing driver would endure a difficult first part of the year with a number of technical issues and being caught up in race incidents. The second half of the season was a very different story with another win at Silverstone, plus a number of podiums, which saw him end up third overall in the Pro Championship.

The other race winners at Snetterton were Spike Kohlbecker and Neil MacLennan.

Young American racer, Spike Kohlbecker came to the UK after a successful season racing FF1600s in New Zealand. Kohlbecker was constantly in the mix for wins and podium finishes making him one of the most consistent drivers of the year, as he got to know the UK circuits. A highlight was definitely taking the final race of the year at Brands Hatch which helped seal second in the Pro Championship for Kohlbecker.

Neil MacLennan had switched to Kevin Mills Racing for the 2019 season. The Scottish driver took three wins in total, plus a number of podiums and was always in the heart of the action. However, he decided not to continue in the championship after round five which meant he finished sixth in the Pro-Championship.

Another driver who made a rather quiet, but promising start at Snetterton was Ross Martin. The Team Dolan driver did not score any wins, but he finished on the podium on all three races. Next time out at Oulton Park Martin took his first National FF1600 victory, the first of eight win which saw him win the National FF1600 Pro Championship in just seven rounds.

For Martin it was the culmination of a very impressive season “Overall this year has been unbelievable.

“I came into the season with a plan of winning the championship, but you always keep that to yourself. I had faith in the car, team and especially myself.

It has been quite a journey for the Scottish racer who explains “2019 was my third-year racing in FF1600. I’ve always been a great believer of progressing in a class after winning. In my case I won the Scottish title twice and then had the opportunity to head down South to compete in, and try to win, this National Championship.

“This went to plan, and I’ve now become the BRSCC Avon Tyres National FF1600 champion. I’ve enjoyed myself this season with having some hard, but clean racing!

“I have to say that Team Dolan are an amazing team to work with and we have enjoyed some good parties too!”

Martin concluded “I’m so happy with how I performed over the course of this year and have to see what happens next.”

BRSCC Competitions Director, Dominic Ostrowski offered his congratulations to Martin saying “It has been an impressive year for Ross, especially taking the hattrick of victories at Croft. I don’t think any of us will forget the emotional images of him celebrating those with his parents.”

Martin also took the Triple Crown and Tourist Trophy titles. These give drivers the opportunity to compete for silverware even if they can’t afford a full season of racing as only certain rounds count.

In the Club championship there was an exciting season-long battle between Martin’s Team Dolan teammate, Adam Quartermaine and Belgian racer, John Svensson. In the end it was Svensson who took the title even though, as he explains, the original intention was to take the opportunity offered by the BRSCC of the Triple Crown and Tourist Trophies. “At the beginning of the season the objective was the Triple Crown, but then realised that I would not be able to do the Brands Hatch round.

“There was an additional testing opportunity at Anglesey so as a friend also wanted to race, we could share the cost of making the trip there and also to Croft.

“Come mid-season I was still in the hunt for the (Club) championship and the racer in me wanted to go for it. Thanks to Cliff Dempsey I was able to use one of his cars at Kirkistown in Northern Ireland as I couldn’t have brought my own car over and then from that round it was really a matter of finish all races.”

Svensson has been racing for many years and the championship clearly meant a lot “I tick a box to my dreams, as back in the end of the 90s, if I could have won a British Formula Ford championship it could have been amazing. To win it this season is really great as I am a one-man operation, but many thanks to the other teams for the support they have given me.”

The final season victor is Morgan Quinn, who won the Rookie title and it was certainly a new challenge for him having come from Ginetta Junior racing. As the young Irish driver explains “Now that my first season in single seater racing is over, I can look back at this incredible year.

“Taking the Rookie title means an awful lot to me, especially after driving saloon cars for a number of years. Formula Ford racing has taught me new skills both on and off the racetrack.

“I would like to thank everyone for their unwavering support this year. My personal thanks go to Valley Motorsport Promotions, who have pointed me in a straight line all season and who’s support will continue into 2020. Also, to Team Dolan who contributed enormously to my success both on and off track in 2019. However, most of all I need to thank my parents and family who have given everything to my racing career and have never lost faith in me.”

Quinn had an early rival for the title. Double F1 Esports champion, Brendon Leigh, made his on-track debut with Kevin Mills Racing. Whilst team boss, Kevin had not heard of Leigh before he joined the team he was impressed by the youngster’s development and his quiet determination. Unfortunately, other commitments meant that Leigh couldn’t do a full season, but he finished on a high with a hard won sixth place at Croft.

Other rookies, Scott Hartley and Nicole Woods also faced a steep learning curve in 2019 finishing second and third respectively in the class.

The other race winners were Jonathan Browne who finished fifth overall in the Pro-Championship just behind his Cliff Dempsey Racing teammate, James Clarke. Browne had to miss the Croft round due to exams, but the distinctive red and white Ray cars of Kohlbecker, Browne and Clarke were always in the thick of things and there were clearly no team orders as they did battle against each other throughout the year.

Clarke will certainly feel unlucky not to have taken his first National Formula Ford victory but will find consolation in finishing fourth in the Pro Championship.

Michael Eastwell, 2018’s National FF1600 runner up, marked his return to the championship by taking victory first time out at Kirkistown in the Kevin Mills Racing Spectrum. Eastwell would take three wins and a few podiums from the three rounds he competed at showing the youngster has lost none of his speed and competitiveness.

Another new victor at Kirkistown was local guest racer, Ivor McCullough who was delighted to take the final win at his home track.

Two other drivers who marked their returns to the championship with victories were Don Hardman Racing’s Joey Foster, at Silverstone, and Luke Cooper in the final round at Brands Hatch. Both are experienced and talented FF1600 drivers who we look forward to seeing at this year’s Aimshop.com Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch on the 26th and 27th October.

Competitors and spectators enjoyed the close racing which took place throughout the pack at all eight rounds of the championship. Former F4 racer, Jamie Sharpe and Michael MacPherson both competed in every round and often against each other, finishing seventh and eighth respectively in the championship.

Other Pro-Championship drivers who made appearances through the season were Jamie Thorburn who got better at each round he did, although University commitments had to take precedence; American racer Aaron Jeansonne with Oldfield Motorsport, who was joined by fellow American racer, Carter Williams for one round which didn’t clash with his British F4 Commitments. The McArthur brothers Tom and David were particularly quick at their home track, Anglesey and Michael Moyers made an impressive one-off appearance at Silverstone with Kevin Mills Racing, where we also saw Thomas Cappezone competing with Swift Cooper. Another familiar FF1600 face was Chris Middlehurst who was out with Team Dolan at the final round of the year. French FF1600 racer, Adrien Laissac made the trip across the channel for Round four at Croft and hopes to compete again as he enjoyed the experience and competitiveness of the championship.

In the Club Class Max Marzorati was impressive at the rounds he attended, and Pascal Monbaron also collected some silverware over the course of the season. Drivers who also made appearances in the Club class were Henry Chart, Nigel Dolan, Sam Street, Klaus-Dieter Haeckel and guest driver Kenneth Cowie.

Other guest drivers were locals William Heron, Alan Davidson and Allan McBurnley who joined the grid at Kirkistown.

Dominic Ostrowski, BRSCC Competitions Director thanked all the drivers saying “2019 has been another great year of racing for the Avon Tyres National Formula Ford Championship and I would like to thank all the drivers and teams who have been a part of it.

“We now look forward to our blue-ribbon event, the Formula Ford Festival and to the 2020 season. The BRSCC is working on plans for 2020 after a meeting with the teams earlier in the year and hope to make some exciting announcements over the coming months.

“Meanwhile, I would like to congratulate our champions, Ross Martin, John Svensson and Morgan Quinn and we look forward to presenting them with their trophies at the BRSCC Awards Ceremony.”