BRITAIN’S BEST PREPARES FOR ANNUAL FORMULA FORD FESTIVAL SHOWDOWN


For many fans of club racing in the UK, there is an event in the calendar that is always marked as their favourite of the year. One of them for those who enjoy their single-seater racing usually involves a trip to Kent towards the end of every October to watch some of the best Formula Ford drivers in the country duke it out to add their name onto the list of legendary names that have passed through the category and this event on their way to stardom. This weekend, the Brands Hatch Indy circuit will once again reverberate to the sound of top-class racing competition as it welcomes the 49th running of the BRSCC Formula Ford Festival.

For those new to the event, a quick lesson – since 1972, Formula Fords from all across the UK and international shores have descended on Brands Hatch at the end of the season to compete for the prestigious Neil Shanahan Trophy. Drivers are separated into heats to race on Saturday, before those who progress compete in the semi-finals and possibly the Last Chance Race if required, all leading up to the highly anticipated Grand Final on Sunday afternoon to decide who becomes Festival champion for the year. It’s an intense, dramatic and exciting knockout-style competition that always produces fantastic racing and memorable moments each year.

As always, we need to take a look at the key drivers who are surely going to be making reservations at the front of the field all weekend. Let’s start, naturally, with the main contenders from this year’s shortened National Formula Ford Championship which only just wrapped up their season two weekends ago at Silverstone. Favourite from these ranks has to be the dominant Neil MacLennan, the Scotsman winning six of the seven races to clinch the title. At Brands Hatch several weeks ago, he won two of the three races and came 2nd in the other, and more than once he’s come from outside the front row to take the lead, especially at Silverstone where he won the first race from 7th on the grid. All the signs point to him as being the best tip to take the Festival as well, but as we know in a competition like this, it’s never that simple.

How about those that pushed him all the way over the three race meetings the championship contested? Outgoing National champ Ross Martin proved his abilities once again at Silverstone in a season which saw him start tentatively with two 5th places but rose to two 3rd at Brands Hatch and then a pair of 2nds to finish the season. Given that progression, it would suggest wins are on the cards here, but can it be done? Former Northern superstar Rory Smith started strong with two podiums but had slightly trickier weekends at Brands Hatch and Silverstone, ultimately surrendering his title chances in the final weekend but still scoring a 3rd place in the first race. Chris Middlehurst is also expected to compete despite missing Silverstone, but the speed he showed at Brands Hatch certainly makes him a formidable name on the entry list, especially after winning a race on that weekend. Having finished on the Festival podium more than once, he surely has to be in with a shout of going one step further and taking a win.

One driver we definitely cannot forget is, of course, the defending Festival champion Jonathan Browne. After his dominant performance in 2019 where he topped every session on his way to the Final, the close-fought duel with fellow countryman Niall Murray saw him pushed all the way, but he managed to beat the former double champ to the flag. Whether history can repeat itself in 2020 may be a tricky task given that Jonathan’s 2020 season has been a little anonymous on the National front. However, he has been dominant in the Champion of Brands contest and perhaps that could be a sign of what he’s keeping in reserve. Matthew Cowley has always been a front-running contender when the Festival roles around and his 3rd in the Final last year means that he could have the pace to make another challenge for victory this year and having kept his hand in racing in the National Championship and British GT in GT4, the former Northern champion will feel suitably prepared. Luke Cooper won this year’s Castle Combe Formula Ford title and has been able to show flashes of great pace in National rounds and he will be looking to add to his 2020 trophy cabinet to go with all the silverware from his Wiltshire exploits, while former Chinese F4 champion Jordan Dempsey makes a return to Formula Ford for this weekend in a Spectrum in a bid to come out on top and add a Festival victory to his CV.

There’s plenty of young and talented drivers also on the grid once again, including those fortunate enough to be here from North America. The Team USA Scholarship is back once again, organised as ever by Jeremy Shaw, and in conjunction once more with Low Dempsey Racing, they have selected Bryce Aron and Jackson Lee as their successful candidates. Bryce already has a Festival under his belt from last year and a season’s worth of UK racing in the books too, while Jackson only made his British debut at Silverstone recently, but comes here placing runner up in this year’s F1600 Championship, the American equivalent of Formula Ford. Both will be keen to make their mark on this year’s Festival and do their selection justice. Maxwell Esterson is another US driver finding his feet in the UK after campaigning in F1600 this year and join’s the Low Dempsey squad for this event, plus the grid is also enhanced by W Series talent Megan Gilkes, as the Canadian converts her test with Kevin Mills Racing earlier in the year into an opportunity here at the Festival. Many eyes will be on her to see if she can replicate her race-winning form from the Assen reverse grid race in W Series in 2019.

Finally, let’s detail some other names who could be ones to look out for, including some familiar to those who are Formula Ford fans. Morgan Quinn has made steady progress from his 2019 rookie campaign and has shown great speed at times this year, while F1000 convert Reece Lycett has certainly been given an education in mechanical grip with these cars and continues to build his confidence. Jack Wolfenden is a regular racer who once again can’t resist the lure of the Festival and neither can Oliver White, a former Heritage Formula Ford champion who came so close to winning the Final in 2018 and has the pace to succeed. Belgium’s Milan de Laet will want to prove himself driving for Oldfield Motorsport, while his fellow countryman John Svensson and teammate Pascal Monbaron make a welcome trip from Europe to compete with us again. Scottish talent Logan Hannah, 2020 rookie Thomas Ward and US-raised Brit Horatio Fitz-Simon are three more young and promising drivers that will all be keen to make an impression over the weekend.

It may well be a slightly stranger world that we lived in 12 months ago, but the lure and magic of the Festival thankfully remain unchanged. With a healthy dose of historic and classic Formula Ford machinery also in the entry list, including BRSCC chairman (and newly crowned Northern Formula Ford Super Classic B champion) Peter Daly, the stage is set for the 49th edition of this incredible event to once again entertain the UK’s vast phalanx of motorsport fans. Whether you watch trackside or on the live stream, enjoy the Festival in all its glory!

Scott Woodwiss