DONINGTON PARK MAY 8/9 PREVIEW: AVON TYRES NATIONAL FORMULA FORD CHAMPIONSHIP


Beginning a new season with a calendar that’s as much a return to normality as possible, the Avon Tyres National Formula Ford Championship is back in action for 2021, still providing a vital and key platform for young drivers and future stars to develop their single-seater racing skills in cars that reward mechanical setup knowledge, skill and racecraft. Donington Park’s National circuit plays host to the opening three races of the year with a high-quality entry set to compete.

Two of the leading teams from last season are back this year with a trio of talented young stars in each of their stables. Defending champions Kevin Mills Racing have filled the gap left by outgoing Pro Class title winner Neil MacLennan with three formidable up and coming names, all looking to enjoy a competitive season of Formula Ford. After competing with PWR1 Racing last year and securing Rookie Cup honours, former British F4 racer Alex Walker makes the switch into a KMR prepared Spectrum chassis. Having already shown his pace in recent Formula Ford races over the last few weeks, he will be hoping to be on the pace straight away.

His teammates will be former W Series race winner Megan Gilkes from Canada, who tested a car last year and also competed with the team at the Formula Ford Festival, as well as karting ace Lucas Romanek who not only scored impressive results in last year’s Ultimate Karting Championship but is also one of the 24 drivers selected as a member of this year’s Motorsport UK Academy. All in all, Kevin Mills has put together a very impressive trio and all three will be ones to watch this year.

The same can be said for Low Dempsey Racing, getting ready for their second season under team boss Andy Low since his purchase of the team from long-time Formula Ford stalwart Cliff Dempsey. His line-up features three up-and-coming racers from the United States, all with varied levels of experience. The head of their collective has to be Maxwell Esterson, who got a taste of Formula Ford racing in the UK last year at the Formula Ford Festival and has decided to remain for a full campaign. He comes with a season of F1600 in the US under his belt which included a race win and he’s also a prominent sim racer, so he will be hoping he has all the tools to go for the title this year.

Maxwell’s teammates and fellow countrymen are Colin Queen and Andre Lafond. Colin brings formidable karting experience having represented his country in the CIK-FIA Academy Trophy in 2018 and has also been an IKF Grand National champion. He has expressed his excitement at competing at classic circuits such as Brands Hatch and Silverstone this season and Donington Park will also be another to cross off his list. While Andre Lafond is unable to make the opening races this weekend, he will certainly be keen to get going from Knockhill onwards as he will be hoping that his first season of car racing provides as much success and consistency as his Rotax Stars and Stripes efforts last year, after he ended 2020 in 4th in the standings.

Former champions Team DOLAN bring two cars to Donington to begin 2021, with the ever-swift Chris Middlehurst hoping to be a fly in the ointment amongst the newcomers bidding for a race win first time out. He’ll be joined by another National newcomer in Will Everington. Not much is known about Will’s previous experience, but he will be lining up in a 2011 Mygale chassis which is something of a rarity in Kent-engined Formula Ford circles given that at the time it was produced it would have run with a Duratec engine previously.

B-M Racing is also back on the grid with a pair of cars too, led by last year’s Formula Ford Festival champion Rory Smith. His plans for 2021 are to dovetail efforts in Historic Formula 3 racing with occasional appearances in Formula Ford and after his emphatic success last October at Brands Hatch, he’ll be wishing to start this season as he means to go on. He will be backed up by another former British F4 star in Jamie Sharp, who is now fully established as a Formula Ford racer after he debuted in 2019 and must be aiming for some strong results to begin what he hopes will be a charge for the title.

A late entry to the party sees the return of another American to the grid as Carter Williams commits to a full season with Oldfield Motorsport. Since he last competed full time in 2018, Carter has raced in both British F4 and British F3 and plans to continue making sporadic appearances in the latter to dovetail his Formula Ford commitments. It’s brilliant to have him back on the grid  and he’ll be keen to put all of his experience to good use against the new crop of US talent competing this year.

There’s also set to be some wildcards that will surely fancy their chances for victory, and all three of them entered for Donington Park have already raced this season. Three-time Festival winner Joey Foster began his winning efforts just last weekend at Mallory Park in the opening Northern & Super Classic Formula Ford rounds, which means he and his new 2021-spec Firman chassis will be warmed up nicely for Donington, especially with plans to contest a number of National rounds this year. Another Firman appears on the grid in the hands of Jack Wolfenden and run by Souley Motorsport, which ended up with a pair of 2nd places at Mallory behind Foster and looked in good shape throughout the day. He’ll certainly be hoping he can transfer that turn of pace into results this weekend. Plus, Castle Combe Formula Ford regular Luke Cooper has already had two outings at his local circuit this season including this past Bank Holiday Monday, as he brings his Swift SC18 chassis to play the hope the weather conditions are much better than they were a few days ago in Wiltshire!

Round off the grid is the sole Clubman class car on the entry list as former Mazda MX-5 regular Paul Tucker is set to bring his 1992 Swift out of winter hibernation in a bid to score some early points over his rivals, who are sure to make appearances throughout the remainder of this year.

More drivers, both returning and new, are set to join the grid from Knockhill onwards and were unable to make it to Donington due to either COVID and travel restrictions, prior commitments or a combination of both, but expect the entry to continue growing again as the 2021 season progresses.

Scott Woodwiss