– The Britcover National Formula Ford 1600 Championship with Avon Tyres, which has the prize of a place in the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200k Scholarship Shootout on offer, exploded into the 2017 season at Brands Hatch with a high calibre, over-subscribed entry.
The series has undergone a revamp over the Winter with, at most meetings, a Triple Header format set to be employed. This has three 15-minute races instead of the usual two of a 20-minute duration with the last of these featuring a partially reversed grid.
In the Firman RF16 he piloted last year, Luke Williams set the fastest time in Saturday morning’s qualifying session. Following a “Code 60” Virtual Safety Car period early on, Williams had a clear track and, as many others were hindered by traffic, he was able to show his full potential.
Stephen Daly was his closest challenger – the Irishman in the Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray GR10 was only 0.06 secs away. This was a very impressive performance given this was his first time in the car.
When the first race got underway, Williams established a cushion as Daly held off his teammate Neil MacLennan in a Ray GR14. Disaster befell Daly when he was collected by a backmarker. With the grid for race 2 determined by the finishing order of this contest, a DNF was really bad news.
Lapping cars on the short Indy layout was also a problem for Williams but the advantage he’d built up enabled him to bide his time and not take risks. Although MacLennan closed in he was unable to mount a serious challenge.
Moving up to third during the course of the 15 minutes was James Roe Jr (pictured). The nephew of Michael Roe (who won the Formula Ford Festival in 1978 before competing briefly in IndyCar) was fastest in the early stages of qualifying before he clipped another car, damaging the nose cone of his Bernard Dolan-tended Van Diemen RF99 in which Niall Murray dominated the 2016 championship. The incident robbed him of straight line speed and restricted him to the sixth quickest time.
When the field was unleashed at the start of the second encounter, MacLennan made the best getaway but Williams was quickly up to speed and in position to take advantage of a gap at Paddock Hill Bend on lap three.
As Williams made it two out of two, Roe Jr. kept MacLennan on his toes en route to making this podium a duplicate of the first. From the back of the grid, Daly had an epic first lap as he passed 13 cars in the opening two corners! From then on, he faced sterner resistance but still made it up to eighth. This finishing position was to prove crucial as, when the draw to reverse a section of the final starting order was made, the first eight were selected.
Daly converted pole into the lead but Williams was up to third from eighth after two laps and soon demoted MacLennan at Paddock once again. There was then a heated battle for the lead which came to a climax at Druids on lap nine when, after Williams had just moved ahead at Paddock, Daly fought back and the pair collided putting both out of the contest. Another non-finisher was MacLennan who picked up a puncture.
Towards the end of last season, Luke Cooper had got the Swift SC16 truly on song – taking pole in his heat at the Festival. This weekend things hadn’t gone so well. He pitted early during qualifying because yellow flags were out. To his surprised others went faster despite the local caution and pushed him down to fifth. This put him right in the thick of the action and it was an achievement to finish both of the first two races amongst the mayhem.
When the reverse grid allocated him third position, he was in the right place to pick up the pieces to take the final win of the weekend despite having a minor collision with Roe as the pair tried to avoid the Williams/Daly clash.
Roe in the runner-up position was the only driver to feature on every podium which meant he headed the championship standings at the end of the weekend, while fellow Irishman Jake Byrne was third in his family-run Ray GR13 despite interlocking wheels with Cooper and being launched in the air on the first lap.
Words by Dave Williams; Photo courtesy of Rachel Bourne/Bourne Photographic