NATIONAL FORMULA FORD CROSSES THE IRISH SEA TO KIRKISTOWN
This year’s Avon Tyres National Formula Ford Championship really has provided some electric action over the first three race meetings of the year at Silverstone, Knockhill and Brands Hatch. The championship has revelled in its new found status on the TCR UK support package and fresh from the category’s 50th anniversary, Formula Ford is growing stronger and stronger once again. With that in mind, this weekend the teams the drivers head to a standalone venue on the calendar as they make their return to Kirkistown in Northern Ireland for Rounds 10, 11 and 12.
Kirkistown’s simple yet challenging 1.5 mile layout provided some stunning racing last year with everyone leaving the weekend remarking on just how incredible the spectacle had been. That should hopefully look set to be surpassed given the intense and indeed raised level of competition that we’ve seen so far in 2018. From nine races, the championship has seen 5 different winners including a first time top step visitor. With many more vying for victory and podium places, this proves why racing in Formula Ford is still a key and valuable proving ground for tomorrow’s racing stars. With the Mazda Road to Indy link providing an extra incentive of a place on the USF2000 $200,000 Scholarship Shootout in the United states on off to the Pro Class champion, it’s all still to play for as we approach the half way mark in the season.
Heading to Kirkistown, 2016 champion Niall Murray is currently the runaway leader in the standings with 238 points, having taken wins at all three race weekends so far. Single victories at Silverstone and Knockhill were followed by a double last time at Brands, and despite retiring from the second Knockhill race his momentum looks to be unwavering. He leads young Scotsman Jamie Thorburn, a driver who has managed a much stronger start to the season compared to last year when bad luck was a factor. With two 3rd places at Knockhill and several top 10s, his consistent and strong points scoring has helped him into 2nd place in the standings.
In contrast to his gap to Murray, Thorburn only holds a mere 4 point advantage over a tie for third place currently held by Murray’s Team Dolan teammate Matt Round-Garrido and Kevin Mills Racing’s Michael Eastwell. Round-Garrido claimed his first National win at Knockhill after starting from pole, but despite this his fortunes have been mixed. While one race may bring a strong points haul, another has brought retirement but thanks to drop scores he remains very much in contention.
Mixed fortunes can also be the term to describe the fortunes of both Joey Foster and Luke Cooper, who have also been race winners this season. Foster won the first round of the season at Silverstone in wet conditions, while Cooper was also a top step visitor later that weekend in Race 3. Since then, both have also yo-yoed up and down the order, with a mix of retirements and top 10 finishes peppering their results. Brands was mostly a weekend to forget for Cooper with two DNFs, while Foster was dumped out of Race 3 at Druids after taking two 2nd place finishes behind Murray earlier in the weekend. Foster sits on 142 points, 15 away from 4th place with Cooper another 6 back in 6th, but if fortunes go their way then both will be right in the hunt for victory.
Despite missing the opening weekend, Cliff Dempsey Racing’s other young Scottish charger Neil MacLennan reannounced himself at his native Knockhill with a place on each of the three steps on the podium. A Race 1 retirement followed at Brands, but a drive through to 8th in the second race ended up giving him reverse grid pole for the final race, which he duly won. Last season, MacLennan was a real force to be reckoned with at Kirkistown, so expect him to once again to be in contention for the win.
Other rapid drivers to keep an eye on include Nico Gruber, with the young Austrian karting graduate making big strides in his progression with every race weekend completed. Knockhill saw him come close to his first podium, but like others a mix of fortunes has seen him shuffle up and down the order and wind up 10th in points behind Rory Smith and Michael Moyers. The latter of the two has done incredibly well considering that Moyers is only contesting the Triple Crown contest (comprising of Silverstone, Brands Hatch and Donington), but he’s likely to fall out of the top 10 now that he’s not expected to appear again until the end of the year. More names that are fast but just need a little more luck including reigning Northern champion Joshua Smith, the Graham Brunton Racing duo of Ross Martin and Sebastian Melrose and Jack Wolfenden. All four will be hoping lady luck smiles on them for the rest of the season after each experiencing a difficult start to the year.
This weekend also sees the continuation of the Tourist Trophy contest (covering Knockhill, Kirkistown and Croft), which defending champ MacLennan currently leads from Thorburn and Murray. While all three and the rest of the Pro Class will be concentrating on the main championship, the Tourist Trophy title will also be an extra incentive for them to push on and get the results they need.
The only Clubman Post 89 representative in Northern Ireland appears to be Vincent Jay, who will take the opportunity to score maximum points unchallenged to further enhance his points standing. He is pretty much guaranteed to assume the lead of the class championship from Richard Morris while further pulling away from Daniel O’Beirne, John Svensson and the rest.
There’s also local interest making up the Clubman Pre ’90 class this weekend with a trio of Mondial chassis entered for Jim Campbell, Ashley Davidson and Ashley McCulla. Ashley’s sibling Ian McCulla will his own Reynard FF83, while Nicholas Gibson also bring a Crossle 40F to the party too; watching these five native drivers battle it out on a circuit they’re all too familiar with in their own private battle will certainly provide as much entertainment as the front runners.
You can find the full entry list for this weekend’s National Formula Ford races here – KIRKISTOWN FORMULA FORD ENTRY LIST