Any Formula Ford Festival will give rise to a variety of tales up and down the order – running the range from contentment through to sheer frustration in this most pitiless of events. This year’s Festival was no exception, and FF1600website has therefore looked at a few of the stories from those who missed out on ultimate glory this time.
Niall Murray – looking to Festival return after heartbreaking defeat
Team Dolan Van Diemen RF99
2nd in Final, 1st in Semi-final 1, 1st in Heat 1, 2nd in H1 qualifying
Niall Murray was firm favourite heading into the Festival final, starting from pole having dominated his heat and semi. The Team Dolan man led almost all of the final too, but not the lap that mattered as Josh Smith nipped by at Druids on the final tour.
“I’m fairly gutted to be honest,” Murray said afterwards. “To lose on the last lap is very heart-breaking, especially when it was something I could probably have avoided.
“Ollie [White] went around the outside, I just locked up and went a bit straight on. Josh managed to slip up the inside. Unfortunately there was no chance then to get it back.”
That Murray had won the Festival twice before was no recompense. “Every time I have finished this event I have won it, so I kind of wanted to keep that record going.
“Hopefully we will be back again, I want to be the first person to get my name on that board three times. Don’t know what I’m doing next year, it is all up in the air. I am going to the Mazda Road to Indy shoot-out. Josh and Matt [Round-Garrido] will be going as well, so it will be tough.”
Neil Maclennan – impressed by KMR after Festival tie-up
Kevin Mills Racing Spectrum
5th in Final, 3rd in Semi-final 1, 2nd in Heat 2, 1st in H2 qualifying
Neil Maclennan has raced only sporadically this year, yet having started on pole in last year’s Festival final and finished third his ambitions were still high this time. It would be a new experience too for the Scot as this was his debut in a Kevin Mills Racing-run Spectrum, his more regular mount having been a Ray. He raved about his new car’s responsiveness on set-up.
“It’s a learning curve,” he said, “we’re getting there with the car.”
He started where he left off 12 months ago by taking heat 2 pole, though dropped behind Matt Cowley to finish the race second after his car lost pace partway through, possibly due to tyres overheating.
He made another set-up change before the semi to make his car less loose, and it worked. “The car didn’t go off from start to end,” he noted. He finished third in a self-admittedly safety-first run. He then started and finished the final in fifth, a race which he said was a mess. Still he was happy with his result and effusive of his car and team.
“I can’t thank Kevin Mills enough,” he said after his heat. “The car’s been great. I think it’s just me this time!”
Guillaume Archambault – Canadian stars on UK debut
Team Canada Scholarship/Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray GR08
7th in Final, 7th in Semi-final 1, 5th in Heat 1, 5th in H1 qualifying
For Guillaume Archambault the Festival learning curve was steep. In only his second year of car racing, as the latest Team Canada scholarship recipient it was his first time racing the England.
His ambitions undertook a similar upward curve throughout the weekend. He started his heat aiming for a top five finish, but in the event was disappointed with fifth place amid a multi-car scrap.
He was more content with his seventh in his semi-final and he applied his fresh learning in the final, fighting from 13th to finish seventh.
“It was fun,” he said. “We had four places for free at the beginning [with accidents elsewhere]. And I took two guys coming out of Druids so that helped me. So after it was just keeping it on track with all that oil. It’s maybe luck but it’s also focus and mind.
“I’m pretty happy with it. I’ve got to say, for the first time it’s brilliant.”
His likely next step is the Mazda Road to Indy shootout in December at Bondurant Racing School; otherwise the perennial issue of budget will likely dictate. Even more immediately, he expressed interest in the Walter Hayes Trophy but admitted his participation therein was unlikely.
Matt Round-Garrido – amazing comeback after semi-final clash
Team Dolan Medina Sport JL17
9th in Final, 12th in Semi-final 2, 4th in Heat 3, 3rd in H3 qualifying
Matt Round-Garrido was the latest to discover that Festival chances can be dashed in a moment. But he didn’t let it diminish his determination.
The Northern Ireland FF1600 champion finished fourth in his heat, yet his chances looked done on lap two of his semi-final when he collided with fellow Team Dolan runner Chris Middlehurst at Graham Hill Bend. It relegated Round-Garrido to 22nd.
Unbowed and shrugging off fading brakes and a missing nosecone he climbed back to the claim the final’s last automatic qualification slot of 12th. And despite starting in 23rd and the final being interrupted and truncated he finished ninth, indeed had run as high as seventh. It earned him the John Nicol Trophy for most outstanding performance by a British driver.
It was all little compensation to Round-Garrido. “Well I didn’t win!,” he said. “It’s a shame the way that the races have gone.
“I’ve got to say a massive thanks to all the boys in Team Dolan. Just without all the boys, without my Dad and without Excel Labels it wouldn’t all be possible.”
And will he be back at the Festival? “Possibly, yeah,” he said. “I’d like to come back next year, definitely.”
Peter Dempsey – overcame issues to make final
Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray GR18
DNF in Final, 3rd in Semi-final 2, 5th in Heat 2, 7th in H2 qualifying
Although he has won the Walter Hayes Trophy three times, the Festival is an event that has always eluded Peter Dempsey. After an absence of almost a decade, perhaps it was too much to ask to put that record right.
The US-based Irishman is now 32 and has a young son, so perhaps it is no surprise that his Festival appearance was slightly less explosive than those he made in his youth. He was competing in an almost new Ray, run by his father’s team. In spite of some issues, he progressed to take third in the second semi-final.
“We’re making progress, but we’re still missing something – it is difficult to hang onto these guys,” he said. “It isn’t the engine – we have had three engines in now – but we’re trying to find it before the final.”
Alas, the multiple FF1600 championship winner would not last long in the final, a loose front rose joint forcing Dempsey to retire to the pits.
Joey Foster – frustration after steep Firman learning curve
Don Hardman Racing Firman
DNF in Final, 4th in Semi-final 1, 3rd in Heat 3, 5th in H3 qualifying
Defending Festival champion Joey Foster was another adapting to new equipment, as “a new challenge” hopping into the Luke Williams 2017 National Championship-winning Firman chassis on the Wednesday prior to the event. Still adapting and “trying all sorts of different set-ups” he qualified fifth and finished third in a strong heat, which he was content with given the circumstances.
He was less content with fourth place in his semi-final. Seeking to improve his cooling airflow after his heat, he lost speed as a result. But fixing this and with newer tyres he was confident of improvement in the final.
He didn’t get to find out by how much though. Having already hit the back of what he thought was a ginger Peter Dempsey at Surtees on lap one, shortly after the first restart his Festival ended when he tangled with Jake Craig. “Craig moved down the inside into Paddock so I gave him space,” Foster observed. “His front left hit my rear right and turned me round. It was light tag but it sent me straight back in front of him and did the front right and sent me back into the gravel. I was really far and I couldn’t get any further out.”
Carter Williams – promising Festival ends early
Don Hardman Racing Ray GR10
DNF in Final, 4th in Semi-final 2, 4th in Heat 1, 4th in H1 qualifying
Carter Williams has improved throughout this season and the Don Hardman Racing man was well in the Festival’s frontrunning mix.
He started and finished fourth in his heat amid a multi-car fight including Josh Smith, then finished in the same place in his semi-final within four seconds of winner Ollie White.
However his final was short; a spin at Paddock Hill Bend and resulting collision with Gary Sykes at the start of lap two ending his day and causing the first race stoppage.
“Joey [Foster] had a little bit of damage [from hitting Peter Dempsey] so he pointed me by, so I got on with it,” Williams recalled.
“Then [at Paddock] I’m not sure if I got tagged, but I think I just spun, just cold tyres. Tried to get going again, put it in first gear and the last guy by just clipped me.
“The car felt great – the guys from Don Hardman have put together a fast car. It was a good week. Running seventh in the Festival, the first time, so I think that was pretty solid to start off with.
“[I’ll] definitely take the positives to Silverstone [for the Walter Hayes Trophy]. I think we’ve got the momentum going there.”
Noel Robinson – supreme efforts to get Craigavon man on track
Van Diemen JL012K
11th in Semi-final 2, DNF in Heat 1, 8th in H1 qualifying
The Festival weekend was the ultimate rollercoaster ride for Noel Robinson. Engine problems in testing meant an overnight trip to the Cannock-based Toovey Race Engines to get his Van Diemen out for qualifying.
Having left the circuit at 5.30pm on Friday, Robinson arrived back at Brands Hatch at 3.45am – then prepared his car, with its engine rebuilt, before grabbing one hour’s sleep ahead of raceday.
Robinson qualified eighth for his heat, in spite of the timing being out by four degrees, but that was fixed for the heat race. “We were back on the pace again and then, all of a sudden, coming out of Druids I lost power,” said Robinson. “I was catching the next group, so I definitely would have got top five, which considering the circumstances, I would have been well chuffed with.”
In the second semi-final, for which he scraped onto the back row, the Northern Irishman climbed to 11th, giving him an automatic berth for the final. However, having won the Masters race, he did not to take up his grid slot.
Luke Cooper – Festival curse continues with engine woes
Swift Cooper Swift SC16
DNF in Final, 12th in Semi-final 1, DNF in Heat 3, 8th in H3 qualifying
The Luke Cooper Festival Curse has now been permanently woven into FFord folklore. Without a top 10 result in the final for five years – something his talent undeniably deserves – a scarcely believable series of unfortunate events ensured that streak would continue.
An engine failure during Friday testing meant his Swift Cooper team stayed awake until beyond 1am for repairs. Running the engine in during qualifying, Cooper qualified eighth for his heat, only for the engine to expire during the race.
He had done enough laps before retiring to scrape a semi-final berth, which Cooper contested with the engine from Alan Slater’s Nike Mk4 (which his fellow Combe regular had crashed in testing on Thursday) fitted instead. That semi-final was his one moment of glory all weekend, storming from 29th to 12th and nicking the last automatic progression spot to the final from new team-mate Max Marzorati.
Alas, the curse would strike one last time, a misfire developing in the final. Keen to protect his borrowed engine for next week’s Walter Hayes Trophy, he pulled off.
One man’s sorrow is another’s joy, though, as Slater was beaming from ear to ear. His engine had made a FFord Festival final, even with his own car’s chassis damaged after his shunt in the week.
Stuart Gough – Car struggles turned Festival into WHT test
Oldfield Motorsport Van Diemen JL16
DNF in Final, 10th in Semi-final 1, 6th in Heat 2, 5th in H2 qualifying
With only a single National FFord round at the Silverstone season-opener with KMR under his belt in 2018, Gough went into the Festival something of an underdog. He was back in familiar surroundings though, joining forces with the team which propelled him to National FFord title glory in 2014, Oldfield Motorsport.
The dream reunion didn’t quite go to plan. While team-mate Josh Smith sped off to eventual Festival victory in the final, Gough was struggling with an ill-handling car, with all manner of set-up changes unable to find him extra pace.
Finishing only 10th in his semi-final, Gough treated the final as a test session for the Walter Hayes Trophy. With no testing available between the Festival and WHT, his entry for the latter rode on a better run in the final.
“I was banging wheels with people over 13th place and I thought ‘I don’t need to be doing this’ so I pulled in,” Gough said of his run in the final.
Despite switching engines before the final a misfire still blighted his run, though thankfully his spirits remain high – he’s still on the entry list for the WHT next week.
Max Marzorati – Rapid learning curve halted by crash in final
Swift Cooper Swift SC18
DNF in Final, 1st in Last Chance Race, 13th in Semi-final 1, 10th in Heat 2, 10th in H2 qualifying
After making his FFord debut with Enigma Motorsport in the Northern championship, then sampling Team Dolan equipment during the National finale at Donington, Marzorati moved across to Swift Cooper for the Festival.
Learning a new car for the third time in as many FFord events, the Clio Junior race winner’s pace steadily improved, culminating with victory in the Last Chance race when on-the-road winner Vincent Radermecker was penalised for starting out of position.
His Festival came to an abrupt end during the second of three attempts to run the race, tangling with John Svensson at Clark Curve. His Swift clattered the pitwall and, while able to extricate himself unaided, was taken to hospital .
With nothing more than bruising, Marzorati was cleared for Walter Hayes Trophy duty, in which he will drive for Swift Cooper once more.