There are five drivers who can consider themselves to still have a realistic chance of winning the 2018 BRSCC Avon Tyres National Formula Ford 1600 Championship. FF1600website chats to each of them and reviews their season so far…
Team Dolan Van Diemen RF99
1st in standings, 408 points (9 wins, 3 poles, 3 fastest laps)
There is a much-repeated view in the BRSCC National paddock that Murray has already won this title, and the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout ticket that comes with it. These admissions come from a variety of sources, but most notably some of Murray’s title rivals.
Murray has a 105 point lead, with 278 available in the remaining eight races. The Irishman’s remarkable finishing record has meant he’s won nine of the 15 races so far and appeared on the podium in all races bar two, where he retired due to incidents that could be deemed out of his control.
For Murray himself the ambitions have changed, knowing that the pressure is off in the title race.
“[The season so far] is as best as can be, I can’t complain,” Murray told FF1600website at Castle Combe.
“I just want to win as many races as I can. I really want to get three wins in a weekend. Luke Williams got two wins and second last year. That’s kind of the benchmark, and I want to go one better than that.”
Murray achieved that in the final race at Combe, climbing from eighth on the grid to win.
“Another thing is to try to get a couple of lap records. FF1600 is a great class, it’s been around for 50 years, and lap records are a good thing to have, quite a big deal.”
Murray was just beaten to the Combe lap record by Hugo Bentley-Ellis, who had the assistance of a tow, unlike Murray.
The record for wins in a BRSCC National FF1600 season is already held by Murray, when he stood on top of the podium 12 times during his title winning 2016 season. Another record to beat for the Irishman.
Kevin Mills Racing Spectrum 011C
2nd in standings, 303 points (4 fastest laps)
It’s gone under the radar this year that Michael Eastwell has, Murray aside, been the most consistently strong performer on the grid, and that’s despite being 105 points behind the leader.
The Kevin Mills Racing driver is currently set to lose 28 points in dropped scores, the same as Murray, but has remarkably yet to win.
On seven occasions he has finished on the podium, and has proven himself to be the lead driver at KMR, even if he says otherwise.
Eastwell is the first to admit that Murray is uncatchable “unless something really bizarre happens”, but is still highly motivated for the rest of the season.
“We’re in a good position at the moment, and looking to keep that position,” Eastwell said.
“I learn a little bit each round and gain a little bit of speed.
“I was hoping at the beginning of the season I would be [where I am now]. 2017 was a testing year. I learnt a lot, and the longer I spend in this – I’m still learning all the time. I’m happy where we’re at and really pleased with what we’ve achieved so far.”
Team Dolan Medina JL17
3rd in standings, 277 points (2 wins, 1 pole, 1 fastest lap)
The biggest arrow in Round-Garrido’s bow is his team. An unusual bit of praise for a driver, but it’s hard to see past the influence of Team Dolan boss Bernard Dolan and team-mate Murray in Round-Garrido’s rise to multiple racewinner.
Coaching from both has helped Round-Garrido up his game, as well as a car he believes is the best on the grid. Round-Garrido is also one of the most aggressive on track, which normally, but not always, works in his favour.
“Last year was a big learning curve for me, and I’d say this year’s more fine-tuning those last little bits.
“Bernard’s so great, that’s why he was British [FFord] champion [in 1989]. And also copying Niall, learning things off him. It’s those last little tweaks.
“I’d say the Medina was in a league of its own at Knockhill [where Round-Garrido took his first win]. By miles had the best car on the grid. It’s a good car at Oulton as well.
“I’m not looking at the points whatsoever. Only thing I’m counting is wins, and at the minute Niall is pretty far ahead of me on them!”
Swift Cooper Swift SC16
4th in standings, 242 points (1 fastest lap)
After starting the season so brightly with a win at Silverstone, Cooper has had a frustrating campaign, despite a much improved Swift SC16.
The nadir of his season has probably been Castle Combe, his local circuit, where he only visited the podium once and was off the pace in race three. He did pull off a stunningly rare overtake at Tower corner though, showing he’s still one of the most exciting to watch.
It was the Brands Hatch meeting that crushed Cooper’s title hopes though, where he retired twice thanks to a driver error and a collision.
“It’s been a very up-and-down season so far,” Cooper summarised.
“I started off really good with a win at Silverstone, Knockhill wasn’t amazing but ended well with a second place in the reversed grid race. Then Brands was a write-off.
“We’ve been fast everywhere. If that continues for the rest of the season we can turn it into really good places and pick up more wins. I think the target now is to get second in the championship.”
Don Hardman Racing Ray GR08
5th in standings, 240 points (1 win, 1 pole, 1 fastest lap)
Many people’s pick for the title before the season began, Foster has somehow clung on to a top five spot in the standings despite only two podium appearances since the Silverstone season opener and some weak qualifying results.
At Castle Combe a deficient engine was the cause of the poor qualifying pace, and a suboptimal spare was used for the races.
Foster showed his class though, judging the use of the tow with cooling concerns to get three top six finishes at a track he hasn’t visited in 17 years.
He’s just over a race win behind Round-Garrido in the standings, and if experience wins over youth in the remaining races he’ll be back in the hunt for success.