“The circuits we went to this year were ideal; the circuits we’re going to next year are not ideal.”
So says Swift Cooper’s Alan Cooper about the recently-published, heavily-revised, 2019 BRSCC Avon Tyres National FF1600 calendar. “The teams, they’re not all 100% happy with it. Let’s put it that way,” he adds.
And for the boss of the Castle Combe-based team with which Luke Cooper won the 2018 Combe FF1600 title, the main issue is glaring: four of the National rounds in one way or another clash with Combe events.
“I’ve got two drivers who were committed to the National series but they’ve asked us to put a hold on it at the moment as they’re looking at other options because they’re not happy with the calendar,” Cooper continues.
“Two of them are actually on the same day [as Combe events] so there’s no way that they can do them both. One of them is in Ireland [Kirkistown] in the same weekend as Castle Combe so that’s a bit of a nightmare to get back to. The other one’s Snetterton, which is also a long way from Castle Combe to get back for the next day.”
Kevin Mills Racing is also Combe-based, and will be present at both championships’ rounds whenever there’s a clash. Team boss Kevin Mills envisages problems even so.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” Mills says. “If I’m away with the National cars I can’t be in two places at once, so that might put people off racing with me at Combe.”
The National calendar revisions include a return to Anglesey and the addition of Snetterton. These two changes heighten Cooper’s concern.
“That’s going to be a long way away,” he says of the Welsh visit. “Snetterton’s a long way away. Cost-wise it’s going to be a lot more expensive.”
Mills though is not worried on this point. “Anglesey’s no worse than Knockhill and it’s no worse than going to Kirkistown. If you sign up to National you’ve got to expect to travel all around the country.”
There are two Brands Hatch rounds on the itinerary, but Knockhill and Combe, venues with historically strong regional championships, are not present.
“We’ve got nothing against racing at Brands, but there’s other circuits out there they should be going to [instead of the second Brands visit] like Knockhill and Combe,” Cooper says.
“They’ve supported FF1600 for all this time so for them to not to be in the calendar is not right.”
Mills again agrees to an extent. “I believe that something should have been done to make sure we still race there, to make it a truly national calendar,” he says.
This point is muted by the fact that championship will be racing in three countries, and overstates FF1600’s bargaining power to hand-pick slots.
“The BRSCC can only choose circuits and events that are available to them that haven’t already been allocated to British Touring Cars or British Superbikes and so on,” James Oldfield of Oldfield Motorsport explains. “It’s [the calendar is] primarily based on, from what I can gather, exactly what is available.”
BRSCC’s FF1600 coordinator Ian Smith confirms as much. “Sorting out the dates is a nightmare just for Formula Fords,” he notes, “but when they’ve [the circuits] got I don’t know how many – 25, 30? – different championships…”
FF1600’s end-of-year flagship events create another constraint, resulting in one circuit being dropped for 2019.
“A prime example is Donington Park,” Smith continues. “You’ve got the last TCR meeting [at Donington] the same weekend as the Festival was this year, the Festival goes back a week and the Walter Hayes is a week after. That would have been three big meetings in three weekends, so we decided not to go to Donington with TCR.
“That’s ended up with a ‘where can we go?’ So that’s why there’s a second Brands Indy on it.”
Peculiarities also account for the other omissions. Safety concerns from teams about Knockhill’s reverse layout, as used for the 2018 round, were magnified when the safety car was left stationary on a blind brow and almost triggered a major incident. Oldfield’s Davide Meloni also barrel-rolled after digging in to the hairpin’s gravel.
A future return using Knockhill’s clockwise layout is possible, though Smith admits that for ’19 “we never got to that stage.”
A SMRC Scottish FFord round held on the reverse layout the week before National FF1600 visited became a, rather costly, de facto warm-up event.
“Once one of the National drivers announced they would do the SMRC round, that meant that a lot more had to do it as well,” says Knockhill-based team boss Graham Brunton.
“They were basically camped out at Knockhill for 10 days,” Smith adds.
Combe’s 2019 spot was compromised by that it only has one two-day race meeting for the year, and Mills believes hosting National FF1600 that weekend wouldn’t be “the priority to them”.
Oldfield notes more broadly that the abundance of UK circuits means tough choices will always have to be made.
“We’d love to have Combe and Knockhill and all the other regional tracks,” he says, “[but] there comes a point when you start running nine, 10, 11 weekends in the year plus the Festival and the Walter Hayes; [it] starts to very quickly become quite expensive.
“Maybe we’ll see some circuits come and go, just whatever’s available. We’re in a luxurious position in the UK that we can pick and choose which circuits we want to go and race at. Germany’s only got five circuits.”
Oldfield for one thinks this year’s National additions are welcome. “Snetterton is a premier UK circuit. [It] makes no sense to not go. Testing is highly available [there] in the spring.
“I’m really, really pleased Anglesey’s back on because it’s one of my favourite circuits for racing Formula Ford at. Anglesey has done tonnes of work to promote and help put on BRSCC Formula Ford races.”
For these reasons and more, perhaps the 2019 National calendar is in the least worst form that it could be.