The Formula Ford Festival has always been a special event. Every year since 1972, the best that Formula Ford has to offer has made the pilgrimage to first Snetterton (from ’72 to ’75) and then Brands Hatch (’76) to test themselves against each other in a contest that always produces incredible racing, high drama, excitement, heartbreak, joy and agony. It’s a race that’s made careers and created racing superstars and turned ordinary club racers into heroes in their own right. The past 49 editions have been confined to the history books and now, here in 2021 – it’s time to celebrate the prestigious 50th running!

In case you’ve forgotten, or this is your first time enjoying this event, here’s a quick run through of how the format of the Festival works – all entered drivers are split into heats with those allocated qualifying and racing together respectively. This year, given the incredible level of interest, there will be four heats with a maximum cap of 108 cars. The top 12 finishers from every heat automatically progress to Sunday’s semi-finals, while the remaining cars (up to 60) then move into a pair of Progression races to decide the final 12 cars to move on (six from each race). Sunday then sees the top 12 progressing again from each semi-final with the winner of the faster of the two races securing pole position for the Grand Final. With each of the next 15 drivers from both heats then moving into a Last Chance race to decide the final six qualifiers, the stage is set for the exciting 30-car, 20-lap Grand Final to determine who becomes the latest Formula Ford Festival champion!

With the format out of the way, we’d better start going through some of the drivers who will be favourites to contest the victory. Naturally, the front runners from this year’s National Formula Ford Championship are a good starting point, especially the top three points finishers of newly crowned provisional champion Chris Middlehurst, long time points leader Alex Walker and Max Esterson, who competes this weekend as one half of the Team USA Scholarship pair after being selected by Jeremy Shaw and his team. Between them, they took all but five of race wins on offer (the others taken by Rory Smith, Jamie Sharp, Thomas Mills and Niall Murray) to clearly mark them out as the three best drivers of the season and good bets for Festival glory. Middlehurst will want to cap his season in the best way possible, Walker will want to avenge losing the title and Esterson will hope to become the first Team USA driver to win the main Festival, partially emulating Josef Newgarden’s Kent success 2008.

Other National drivers who are certain to be out for their own glory include Rookie champion Thomas Mills, who at 16 years and 5 months has the potential to become the youngest ever Festival winner since Dennis Lind did so at 17 years and 8 months back in 2010. Now that Thomas is a race winner, there’s every chance he could spring a surprise. Jamie Sharp is another that could rise to the top given his Anglesey success, plus there’s sure to be strong challenges from more regulars from this season such as Lucas Romanek, Andre Lafond and Megan Gilkes, fresh off the back of her best ever finish of 4th place at Snetterton.

Then you have the drivers who are guaranteed to be formidable in any Formula Ford and Festival event. With Niall Murray (2013 and 2016), Joey Foster (2003, 2004 (Kent) and 2017), Jonathan Browne (2019) and defending champion Rory Smith (2020) all returning on this occasion, each knows what it takes to succeed in this showdown and will use all of their experience to come out on top again. Long standing try-hards such as Oliver White, Luke Cooper and Matthew Cowley almost seem destined to carry on contesting Festivals until they win one and must always be thrown into the mix for victory, while Kevin Mills Racing’s entry will be strengthened by the return of Michael Eastwell and the Festival debut of Michael Moyers, a veteran of the Walter Hayes Trophy and two-time winner who incredibly has never competed at this meeting before!

It wouldn’t be a Festival without some special guest drivers jumping in as wildcards, would it? Biggest of them all at the time of writing will be 1980 Festival champion and former F1 driver Roberto Moreno, the Brazilian stepping back 41 years in time in a Van Diemen RF80 just like the one he took to victory way back when. Joining them are two more former winners in newly crowned British GT GT3 champion Dennis Lind, who succeeded back in 2010, and his well-known uncle, 1992 winner and renowned former F1 and sportscar racer Jan Magnussen. All three are sure to make quite the impact and throw themselves into the mix as dark horses to cause a surprise or two. There’s also Chris Goodwin, a former BTCC star and development driver for McLaren, and ex-BTCC racer/ team boss Shaun Hollamby in the line-up too.

As always, there will be the Historic Final on Sunday for the older chassis in the entry to gun for their own little slice of glory, although this year’s occasion will be a more poignant affair. Right at the turn of the new year at the beginning of January, the BRSCC and motorsport lost the enigmatic, charming and wonderful personality that was Brian Jones, the undisputed “Voice of Brands Hatch” and indeed of the Festival. His passing touched the entire racing community around the world and as a fitting tribute to honour him forever more, this year’s Historic Final will be the first that will see drivers competing to win the new perpetual Brian Jones Memorial Trophy. Everyone who makes it onto this 30-car grid will be hoping to be the most “high, wide and handsome” of them all and write their name onto the trophy for the first time.

There are plenty of stories up and down the entry list and each one will be as entertaining and intriguing as the last, but one thing’s for certain through all of it – it’s going to be an incredible show. Take your seats, ladies and gentlemen, as we present to you a racing spectacle matched by few events in world motorsport. 49 Festivals complete, just one more for the half century. Let the magic begin…


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