For fans of the Industrial Revolution and Boy George, there’s a new icon of the Black Country: Matt Round-Garrido.
The 6’2″ 18-year-old made his car racing debut in 2016, and has since become one of the stars of the UK Formula Ford 1600 scene. He’s already a Star of Anglesey champion, and is hoping to add the Northern Irish title to his achievements this year. Victory in the latter will give Round-Garrido a ticket to the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout, offering him the opportunity to race in the IndyCar paddock next year in USF2000.
Round-Garrido’s focus is predominantly on the BRSCC Avon Tyres National FF1600 Championship though, in which he is lying third behind title-winning Team Dolan team-mate Niall Murray and Kevin Mills Racing’s Michael Eastwell. He has two victories to his name in his second full season in the championship, which has been dominated by FF1600 expert Murray.
“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,” Round-Garrido reveals matter-of-factly.
There is a level of irony that one reason Round-Garrido is in a winning position is also the biggest factor preventing him from winning more in the National championship: Murray acts as his driver coach.
Of course it’s not just Murray that has enabled Round-Garrido to progress this far, as he also has 1989 British FFord champion Bernard Dolan as a team boss, his own ferocious talent, and a car he believes is the best on the grid.
“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 champion – also copying Niall, learning things off him. It’s those last little tweaks.”
“The on track stuff, if you’re doing good you’re just over the moon. But if you have a bad time, you’ve got to try to keep your chin up. I guess that’s something that comes with maturity, and something I’m getting a bit better at over time.”
Further explanation comes in a story about how Round-Garrido cried for an hour after crashing out of a karting race a few years ago. Despite some initial anger at the situation, when he collided with Murray and then Luke Williams in the second National race at Oulton Park earlier this year he brushed it off with ease.
Round-Garrido describes Murray and Dolan’s coaching techniques as “hard love”, and each debrief often starts with a still from an onboard video and the question ‘So what do you think you’ve done wrong there?’.
“Bernard likes stuff like discipline as well. If you don’t check your water temp he goes ballistic.” When asked by FF1600website if Round-Garrido has checked his water temperature, he immediately fires back with his most recent reading.
Dolan team-mates Murray and Jack Wolfenden both use Van Diemen chassis now, but Round-Garrido is convinced his Medina JL17 is the best option.
“The Medina was in a league of its own at Knockhill. By miles I had the best car on the grid. It’s a good car at Oulton as well. As long as I’m doing FF1600 I’ll be in a Medina.
“It’s just a brilliant car. It’s got the advantages of a Van Diemen, like the front end and that, and then on top of that it’s got a different rear end. I really like the traction on it, especially in the rain. I love driving in the rain, which is definitely one of my strengths.”
Round-Garrido is confident where the performance of both him and his car lies, and after discussing improvements he could make to himself, he moves on to the same answer for his car.
“Just little things to improve. Recently, we’ve struggled to keep it cool. But that’s development [and record-breaking hot weather], isn’t it? You look at Niall’s car that’s been around since ‘99 and it has all these little tweaks. They all add up and it’s keeping it cool while the performance is still there. Whereas for me, we’re having to just start putting them [tweaks] on the car now.”
B-M Racing has also contributed to the development of the Medina chassis, it being the factory team, and was where Round-Garrido raced last year. He finished 12th in the National standings, with two top five finishes, third in the Northern standings, winning twice, and eighth in the Walter Hayes Trophy after a (stunning) battle with Luke Cooper. A win at the Anglesey winter meeting secured him the circuit crown at the end of his first season.
The retirement of Medina boss John Loebell prompted Round-Garrido onto new pastures, and he joined the newly branded Team Dolan at the start of this year.
Round-Garrido made his FF1600 debut in a one-off National appearance in 2016, but his desire to race in the category started long before then.
“My earliest memory in my whole life is watching Michael Schumacher with my dad,” Round-Garrido explains.
“So Michael Schumacher [was my idol]. And when I was 10 or 11, I went to watch my dad Matthew race at Brands Hatch. First time I went to a car track.
“And there was a Formula Ford race there. Little 10-year-old me, I was so excited by it. I remember seeing two people go side-by-side at Surtees, and the one that had had a drift on – I’ll never forget this moment – I turned to my dad and said: ‘I wanna do that’.
“At the time I was just starting off in karting, so that was like the target. Well not target per se, but I was always going to do at least a couple meetings in Ford, no matter what. Then we ended up going full-time.”
How long will Round-Garrido remain in FF1600?
“If I stayed on to do a couple more seasons in this, I’d be Niall Murray, I can almost guarantee it.”
In conversation, Murray is continuously referred to as being an oldtimer (Round-Garrido jokes that his team-mate “was probably just retired” when he watched his first FFord race at the start of the 2010s), as well as being the benchmark driver in FF1600. For Round-Garrido to remain in racing long enough to be a Murray he’ll need to gather sponsors, one of which already makes his car one of the most recognisable. The easiest way to attract them is to continue getting results.
“I have actually had a couple of emails before [about sponsorship], but they were back in my karting days, and back in my karting days I was a bit more of a Niall Murray than a Matt Round-Garrido, let’s put it that way. But that was because I was just so experienced in karts.
“It’s hard to say [where I want to end up]. I think the best answer to that is full professional, like make my living off just racing. Obviously short-term looking at a couple of championships for next season, I’ve got a rough idea what happens, what goes well, what backing we get, if all goes well then what I could do.”
Round-Garrido has tested in BRDC British Formula 3 with Lanan Racing, a team linked to FF1600 rival Joey Foster, but with a Shootout ticket at his disposal, racing in America could be a very feasible option for 2019.