There are many great races which define a category of motorsport throughout its history. To Formula 1 fans, it’s classic grand prix such as Monaco. For IndyCar, it’s the Indianapolis 500. It’s the same with sportscar racing and Le Mans, touring cars and Bathurst or NASCAR and the Daytona 500. So when it comes to the world of Formula Ford racing, there’s one special event for more than 50 years that has produced racing, excitement, memories and champions like no others. Once again, it’s October. Once again, we’re at Brands Hatch. Once again – it’s Festival season.

The 52nd running of the BRSCC’s prestigious Formula Ford Festival gears up for another weekend of action-packed single seater racing as it brings together some of the category’s finest drivers from around the UK and Ireland as well as from overseas to go head to head in a bid to be the latest name to join the illustrious Roll of Honour. Just taking a look through it makes you appreciate just how special the Festival really is and how many notable racing drivers have used victory at this event as the launch pad for the rest of their careers.

From early victors such as Geoff Lees, Derek Daly and Chico Serra in the seventies, through star grand prix graduates like Roberto Moreno, Tommy Byrne, Johnny Herbert and Eddie Irvine in the eighties, future champions like Jan Magnussen, Mark Webber and Jenson Button in the nineties and heroes of the millennium and beyond like Anthony Davidson, Nick Tandy, Dennis Lind, Scott Malvern and more, winning the Festival has always proven to be a memorable experience that all who triumph look back on with pride and fond recollections of their weekend of glory.


For those who are new to the Formula Ford Festival, the event follows a knockout format of races across both days, with the heats traditionally beginning on Saturday with qualifying in the morning. Each of the heats will produce automatic qualifiers for the semi-finals on Sunday morning, with a selection of drivers also getting a second chance to join them in a progression race to fill any remaining spots.

Then, the semi-finals produce the next key test, with the fastest winning time of either one decide who starts on pole position for the Grand Final. Non-automatic qualifiers get a final role of the dice in the Last Chance Race, with those successful joining the back of the grid for the Final where the winner claims the title of Formula Ford Festival champion for another year. Prior to that, there will also be the special Historic Final for cars built between 1998 and 1967, with the winner here becoming the recipient of the Brian Jones Memorial Trophy named after the legendary Brands Hatch commentator who loved the circuit, Formula Ford and the Festival dearly.


So, let’s take a look at some of the contenders that could and should definitely be in the mix for Festival glory in 2023. A natural place to start will be the champion from this season’s National Formula Ford Championship which concluded just a few weeks ago at Silverstone. At the home of British motorsport, Jordan Kelly added the last two wins to his tally to claim the title for Team DOLAN and for Ireland too, after a year in which he’d started somewhat tentatively but gained real traction as the season had progressed. A first victory at Snetterton gave him a confidence boost, and by the time the championship moved to Kirkistown mid-season his form had increased substantially. A charge through the second half of the year saw him claim six wins from the last ten races of 2023 to catapult himself into championship contention, winning the last four on the bounce at Knockhill and Silverstone to become champion. Now Jordan has eyes on the Festival where he could become the latest Irish driver to triumph in a race that has been kind to many drivers from the Emerald Isle.

Jamie Sharp competed in a handful of National rounds this season including Brands Hatch as a premature warm-up for this weekend. The 2021 Festival champion would love to become only the fifth driver to win the event more than once alongside Donald MacLeod, Joey Foster, Wayne Boyd and Niall Murray and if the Medina Sport chassis underneath him is in fine fettle, there’s every chance he could make it happen. Speaking of Niall Murray, there’s just no keeping the two-time winner away from Brands Hatch at this time of year as once again he’s back to go for Festival win number three. Crashing out of the 2021 edition and missing out on the chance in last year’s final due to the premature stoppage means his determination will be burning hotter than ever and he will surely feel 2023 has to be the year he makes it happen.

Chris Middlehurst has come close on several occasions and stood on the Grand Final podium more than once, and he too will have plans to add his name to the winners’ list this time. The 2021 National champion has also run a part season in this year’s championship and won a handful of races along the way, even running Jordan Kelly close in both Silverstone races to aid him in his title aspirations. That means the pace is there in his Van Diemen and Chris too will have a chip on his shoulder to finally win a Festival.


There’s more former winners and champions from recent years getting back onto the grid this weekend too. Rory Smith won the Festival in tremendous fashion in 2020 and is another driver that can’t resist the lure of the event each year. He’s always been a contender since then and this year shouldn’t be any different, considering that he charged to victory in both of the most recent Champion of Brands races hosted here last month. Perhaps that’s an omen for what’s to come this time. 2015 National champion Jonny McMullan made a welcome return to Formula Ford this year at Donington Park and is back at the Festival to put right that which he couldn’t achieve in the same season eight years ago. Jonny hasn’t lost any of his speed or skill either, and a good car underneath him will only increase his chances further.

As usual, there’s representatives on the grid for both the Team USA Scholarship and Team Canada Scholarship, both providing key and valuable opportunities to young North American drivers to experience Formula Ford racing and racing overseas in general. From Team USA, Jack Sullivan and Ayrton Houk are the latest up and coming American talents to make the trip across the pond with both boasting experience in F1600 (essentially Formula Ford racing in North America) this season. Both drivers have already had outings at Silverstone and Castle Combe to help them adapt to UK circuits and are now prepared for battle at Brands Hatch.

As for Team Canada, their two selected drivers will be Alex Berg and Locan Pacza. Alex is the son of former F1 racer Allen Berg, and has been racking up plenty of experience driving a variety of race cars at such a young age. Alongside racing in US F4 this season, Alex is also an official test driver for Ligier Automotive, so all of that seat time will surely put him in good stead this weekend. Logan has been competing in the Toyo Tires F1600 championship this season with some impressive results and will be hoping that can translate to the Brands Hatch Indy circuit when he steps aboard for the first time this weekend.


Other drivers in modern machinery that are worth watching out for and could spring one or two surprises include Jeremy Fairbairn who looked in good form at Silverstone a few weeks ago including troubling the leaders at one stage, Vincent Jay aboard a 2021-spec Ray chassis, Morgan Quinn who picked up a collection of podium and top five finishes throughout 2023 on his way to fifth in the National standings, Norwegian racer Sigbjorn Maehlum making his Festival debut, and Adam Fathers who is a regular at Brands Hatch and will wish to put all that local knowledge to good use and score a strong result.

Plus, the Esterson surname is back on the grid too – but not the one you’re thinking off. While last year’s Festival champion Max has been plying his craft in GB3 and making cameos in FIA F3 too, his younger brother Hugh Esterson is ready to pick up where he left off. Having already completed two races at Brands Hatch last month and sure to have Max guiding him where possible, Hugh will hope that he can put in a performance that’s respectable and strong enough to live up to brother Max’s achievements in Formula Ford too.

As for the Historic contenders in the entry that will quest mainly for the Brian Jones Memorial Trophy, top of the pile here could be Callum Grant who has always been rapid in classic Formula Ford machinery any time he’s raced and could well do the same here. He will pilot the same 1980 Van Diemen that Marc Goossens drove in last year’s Festival in a bid to add his name on the trophy alongside Matt Rivett and Cam Jackson and there’s every chance that could happen. His main rivals here could certainly be a returning Andy Charsley in a 1989 Reynard, Henry Chart in a 1981 Van Diemen, Richard Higgins in a 1991 Van Diemen and the ever present Rick Morris still piloting his trusty Royale RP29. All will certainly be hoping fortunes go their way

So, with the contenders set and the stage before them ready to welcome the symphony of single seater racing back to Kent once more, it’s time to see who has all the pieces of the puzzle to become Formula Ford Festival champion for 2023!


Scott Woodwiss


Race Entries
& Membership