You’ve been waiting for this, haven’t you? If you’re a single seater racing fan, you know what time it is once October rolls around every year. It’s an event that can produce joy and ecstasy, or heartbreak and misfortune. An event that has made a sensational number of future champions and stars of motorsport, and continues to do so to this day. This is one of the best loved and most competitive single seater competitions in the world, one which sees you written onto the Roll of Honour if you’re successful. Ladies and gentlemen, the end of October can only mean one thing – it’s Festival season!

This year’s AIMSHOP.COM Formula Ford Festival, the 48th running of this enigmatic competition, looks set to be one of the most competitive in recent years, although it will have to go some way to beat the conclusion to last year’s event. A dramatic last lap lead change saw Joshua Smith claim victory ahead of Niall Murray and Oliver White, proving that nothing is ever settled until the chequered flag. With that being said, it’s safe to say that there’s plenty of names on the entry list that could either be considered as a favourite or potentially spring a surprise.

For those who don’t know how the Formula Ford Festival works or need a quick refresher, the event starts with competitors racing in pre-allocated heats to determine who goes through to the following day’s semi-finals. New for this year is a “Last Chance Heats” race, allowing anyone who didn’t automatically qualify for Sunday one final attempt at squeezing through. From there, two semi finals whittle the entry down to 24 drivers, with pole position determined by whoever won their semi-final in the fastest time. The final six places on the grid are settled by the traditional Last Chance race, a short sharp sprint to determine who’s lucky and who isn’t. Then it’s down to the Final – 30 drivers, 20 laps of the Brands Hatch Indy circuit, and one winner. It’s as simple as that. Whoever wins the coveted Final will be crowned Formula Ford Festival champion, receive the special Neil Shanahan Trophy and have their name added to the Roll of Honour alongside the greats that have also triumphed in this event since 1972.

With that covered, let’s look at the entry list which should certainly provide some clues as to who to watch out for. The defending champion Joshua Smith has chosen to return in a bid to become the first back-to-back Festival winner, fresh from completing his first season as a McLaren junior GT driver in this year’s British GT Championship. He’s not the only one who’s decided to come back 12 months after the last encounter, as double National champion and Festival winner Niall Murray has elected to make a surprise comeback in a bid to reclaim the title he so narrowly missed out on. Sporting a new Van Diemen BD20 chassis, Murray will be looking to win his third Festival after succeeding in 2013 and 2016. Oliver White, who finished 3rd in 2019, is also back on the grid hoping that this year will be his year off the back of winning the Heritage Formula Ford title in older machinery.

It wouldn’t be a Festival without a healthy dose of this year’s National Formula Ford grid, with representatives here led naturally by new champion Ross Martin. Running the car formerly used by Niall Murray up to last year, Martin will be hoping his new found form with Team Dolan can help carry him to success this weekend, but he knows that some familiar faces are sure to put him under pressure. Both Michael Eastwell and Luke Cooper appeared late on in the season and took wins at the final National rounds here at Brands Hatch a few weeks ago, and while Eastwell returned to the championship and won a race in each of the final three weekends, Cooper elected to contest his local Castle Combe Formula Ford Championship, finishing runner up with three wins. Out of Cliff Dempsey Racing’s regular trio, only Jonathan Browne looks set to appear after winning at Oulton Park earlier in the season. Rory Smith will be another threat after he looked strong all season and could have contended for the title had fortunes not gone against him. Other familiar names from this year will include Jamie Sharp, Morgan Quinn, Max Marzorati, Michael Macpherson, Kenneth Cowie, Tom McArthur and indeed 2003 and 2017 Festival champion Joey Foster, keen to add another accolade to his extensive racing CV.

Then there are the drivers that are always quick year on year and return simply to claim Festival glory for themselves – Festival specialists, if you will. Former Northern Formula Ford champion turned US racing star Matthew Cowley can’t resist the lure of Brands Hatch in October and is back to have more Formula Ford fun this year. The Dempseys are also back in force behind the wheel, with former Indy Lights race winner and Formula Ford regular Peter Dempsey back for another attempt, while former Chinese F4 champion Jordan Dempsey looks set to make his first appearance in the UK this season after contesting Asian Formula 3 this year. Chris Middlehurst, father of former BTCC and saloon car ace Andy, is back in action too and looked impressive in the final National rounds, and Ciaran Haggerty returns to the event for the first time in 5 years having raced in BRDC F4 and British GT since then. All of these drivers mentioned above should certainly be in with a shout of performing well, so don’t be surprised to see a good number of them make it to the final.

As ever, there will be representative from both the Team USA Scholarship and Team Canada Scholarship making the trip across the pond from North America, specially selected to try their hand at racing in Europe for the first time. For 2019, Team USA have selected F1600 runner-up Josh Green and IMSA Prototype Challenge racer Scott Huffaker to represent them, while Team Canada have elected to run two drivers this year with F1600 drivers Zachary Vanier and Jonathan Woolridge picked to head to the UK. But they’re not the only ones making the trip from overseas. From New Zealand comes NZ FF1600 star Callum Crawley, while Australia is represented by Richard Davison, father of Australian Supercars stars Alex and Will and keen to uphold the family name. Continental Europe also has its fair share of drivers, such as Formula Ford regular Pascal Monbaron, former FIA GT racer Tom Cloet and German short oval racer Marcel Berndt. Other international drivers include Dan Rene Larsen and American debutant Bryce Aron, who also identifies as half Estonian. Don’t count out the Irish either, as they are always strong supporters of the Festival and look to be best represented by the McCullough siblings Ivor and David, Colm Blackburn, Ryan and Henry Campbell, Alan Davidson and Stephen Mawhinney to name a few.

Final notable names to mention include Scottish YRDA driver Logan Hannah, who has been plying her craft in Scottish FF1600 this season, the Formula Ford legend that is Rick Morris, former Le Mans racer Peter Hardman and FIA Historic F1 star Simon Hadfield, swapping his regular 1980s Williams grand prix car for a classic Van Diemen instead.

Strap yourselves in, this is set to be one incredible Festival with the Historic final allowing the older cars in the entry a chance to race for their own glory, and prizes to be awarded by random draw to competitors in each of the three heats courtesy of HEDTEC, Wiz Wheels and Raceparts respectively. Grab your place around the circuit and get ready to be mesmerised by more Formula Ford Festival magic!

Scott Woodwiss


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