JAMIE SHARP WINS SENSATIONAL 50TH FORMULA FORD FESTIVAL THRILLER


After 49 previous editions full of action, drama and memorable moments, the 50th Formula Ford Festival in October of 2021 was always going to have a lot to live up to, especially with such a big landmark reached in the event’s prestigious history. The line up for the 50th absolutely befitted the occasion with 98 cars turning out to celebrate and compete in this landmark event, including former winners Jan Magnussen, Dennis Lind and Roberto Moreno.

On a damp circuit, Heat 1 sponsored by Presenta Connect got Saturday underway with Jamie Sharp getting a great jump to lead the way early on, while 2019 Festival champ Jonathan Browne diced with newly crowned National Formula Ford champion Chris Middlehurst behind. A mistake from Sharp allowed Browne to take over in front and despite the BM Racing driver managing to fend off Middlehurst’s advantage, he only just missed out on victory by a whisker as Browne pipped him by a tenth, with Team USA Scholarship driver Andre Castro in 3rd. Impressive youngster Thomas Mills threw away a podium chance in Heat 2 sponsored by Raceparts through the gravel at Clearways after an early safety car, and it left Formula Ford stalwart Joey Foster to take his Firman to victory ahead of Matthew Cowley and Jack Wolfenden, after a red flag caused by Moreno brought an end to the race early.

Max Esterson drove a calm race out in front in Heat 3 sponsored by AGM Plumbing & Heating to ensure a straightforward path into the semi-finals, managing to resist race long pressure from Oliver White to the flag. The winning margin was just under two tenths, while double Walter Hayes Trophy winner Michael Moyers began his first ever Festival with an excellent 3rd place finish another 2.5 seconds back. It was another pair of former winners on the front row for Heat 4 sponsored by Downforce Radio, as Rory Smith and Niall Murray led the pack away with Murray claiming the lead just corners into the start. In the most ominous performance of the heats, Murray remained unchallenged to the flag, ending up victorious by 3.5 seconds while Neil MacLennan picked P2 ahead of Rory Smith, who fought back from slipping down the pack early on to collect 3rd.

To ensure every competitor had the chance of at least two races over the weekend, a pair of Progression Races sponsored by Ford Performance were timetabled to round of Saturday’s action, with the top six in each making up the 60 cars that would move on to Sunday’s racing. The first Progression Race saw one of the drives of the weekend, as Michael Gray stormed his way through from last on the grid to take an emphatic victory admired by all. He punched his ticket to the semis ahead of Chris Hodgen and Philip Harris, the latter benefitting from a time penalty for the man 3rd on the road, Daryl De-Leon Taylor. Meanwhile, Jack Kemp’s efforts in the second Progression Race meant he had zero pressure on his way to the win, beating Adam Fathers by just over six seconds with James Hagan in P3.

Heavy rains led to a delay to the semi finals on Sunday morning after the main access tunnel became partially flooded, but once racing could get underway another sudden downpour hit the start of Semi Final 1 sponsored by Avon Tyres. MacLennan leapt into the lead as he split front row men Murray and Browne, but lost the lead to Murray again after an early safety car as the Irishman mastered the wet conditions to win, while MacLennan took 2nd and Sharp came out on top of a duel with Browne to claim the final podium place. With the track drying quickly, Semi Final 2 sponsored by Quantum Racing Suspension was always likely to be the faster of the two races. Foster beat Esterson away from the front row and proceeded to control the race from the lead, as he was never headed and won by more than 3 seconds. Mills and White, meanwhile, dueled all race long over 2nd place and White only snatched P2 in the closing stages to deny the son of team boss Kevin Mills the runner up step.

For the very first time, the Historic Final sponsored by Azets would see the winner presented with a brand new accolade – the Brian Jones Memorial Trophy commissioned in honour of the “Voice of Brands Hatch” who heartbreakingly passed away at the turn of the new year. With a full 30 car grid lining up, one fell by the wayside early as Roberto Moreno’s Festival ended in the Paddock Hill Bend gravel. Alan Davidson ran off in front after the initial safety car, but threw the lead away through the gravel at Clearways and after another SC interruption, it was Matt Rivett who worked his way into the lead, eventually leaving his rivals to scrap for the podium places as he charged to the Historic win by almost 3 seconds. Young Irish racer Brandon McCaughan took a fine 2nd place ahead of the vastly experienced Chris Goodwin, who was delighted with 3rd.

After Luke Cooper led home the top six in the Last Chance Race to fill the remaining spots on the grid, the field was set for would eventually turn out to be one of the greatest Festival finals in the event’s history. Right from the off, Murray and Foster went into combat the front, the two multi-time Festival winners locking horns with White and MacLennan to form an initial breakaway lead group. However, the race was turned on its head when Murray and White tangled before Druids, collecting the innocent Tom Mills to put all three out of the Final. The safety car was scrambled with Foster leading, but the race still had one or two twists left to play out.

Foster tried to escape 2nd placed Jamie Sharp on the restart, but just a few moments later Joey would spin at Clearways leaving the BM Racing driver in the lead. MacLennan and Esterson were hot on his tail, but while MacLennan managed to pass Sharp at Druids a couple of laps later, the move would come back to haunt him later. Sharp managed to repass in the closing stages with an ever increasing train of cars forming behind them, but Jamie stayed firm and resisted all the pressure to take an incredible Festival win. MacLennen finished 2nd in the road, but his move on Sharp had taken place in a yellow flag zone, thus leading to his post-race disqualification and promoting Esterson up to 2nd and fellow Team USA driver Andre Castro to 3rd. Sharp was also presented with the John Nicol Trophy and Roger Pedrick Trophy after being selected as the best British and English driver in the Final respectively.

The 2021 edition of the Festival was certainly one to remember and it reignited the passion many motorsport fans have for the event and Formula Ford as a whole. This momentum certainly looks set to carry over into 2022 where we look forward to an equally as exciting and well supported 51st edition in October!

Scott Woodwiss