Reviews SMRC

Scottish FF1600 season review: Martin’s perfect year

Not since Stewart Roden’s hat-trick of championship titles in the late 1990s has a driver successfully defended his Scottish Formula Ford 1600 crown, but Ross Martin put an end to the drought with another dominant season.

The Graham Brunton Racing driver was the points-scoring winner in every race, the first time that’s been achieved since Kenneth Thirlwall’s clean sweep in 2011, continuing a winning run stretching back to September 2017.

In normal circumstances, Martin would not have had to defend his title. A planned assault on the BRSCC Avon Tyres National FF1600 championship fell through due to budget issues on the eve of the first round, but if anything that only served as added ammunition for a driver already well-versed in bouncing back from adversity.

“It’s gutting because I felt like I had a good chance in the National championship this season,” Martin explained at the start of the season.

“But it’s just that age-old thing budget that is stopping me. I hope to do as many Scottish races as I can though.”

Budget may have stopped him venturing further afield, but nothing could stop Martin when racing at Knockhill. He took 11 poles out of 12, with just Jordan Gronkowski’s stunning last-gasp effort in the July round denying Martin a clean sweep by 0.058 seconds. It showed just how tuned into the recently resurfaced Fife circuit the teenager was.

Had it not been for chronic unreliability and a spate of bad luck, Gronkowski could have made a fight of the championship in his family-run Van Diemen. The series veteran – in the nicest possible way! – was pound-for-pound as fast around Knockhill as Martin and pushed the champion close to his limit during a trio of stunning races at the David Leslie Trophy meeting in August.

Again, the response was emphatic. Another four comfortable wins rounded off the perfect season to set Martin up for a strong result in Silverstone’s Walter Hayes Trophy and the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout in Arizona, USA.

Gronkowski was left to dispute second in the championship with another driver to suffer an up-and-down season, Martin’s GBR team-mate Sebastian Melrose. Despite coming to blows at McIntyres in the closing stages of July’s first race, Melrose and Gronkowski raced hard and clean for the runner-up spot, with the former recovering from early season troubles to come out on top at the final round.

FF1600website’s top 5 Scottish FF1600 drivers

5. JAMES CLARKE

MCK Motorsport Mygale SJ08
7th in standings, 112 points

Copy of Photo Watermarking (1)

The former Clubmans and Historic Touring Car racer made his first foray into single-seaters with a dual National and Scottish FF1600 campaigns. A lack of reference within each paddock meant Clarke initially struggled to get on terms with his Mygale chassis. But the results steadily came throughout the year and the 18-year-old was rewarded with an opportunistic – but well-deserved – maiden podium in the August meeting’s first race.

Despite this, he left the championship ahead of the penultimate round, with 2014 Scottish FF1600 champion Ciaran Haggerty taking his place.

4. SEBASTIAN MELROSE

Graham Brunton Racing Ray GR14
2nd in standings, 197 points (1 fastest lap)

Melrose-Sykes

It’s always difficult being in the shade of a champion team-mate, but even by his own standards, this was far from a vintage year for Melrose. The Bathgate driver – godson of IndyCar legend Dario Franchitti – struggled massively in qualifying, regularly finding himself in the midfield and having to fight through in the races.

Melrose’s pace was right up there with Martin in racing conditions, but careless contact with Gronkowski while disputing second in the opening July race was a blot on the copybook. A further collision with one-off team-mate Josh Smith in the David Leslie Trophy meeting did not help matters, but a strong end to the year secured second in the standings for the second successive season.

3. GARY SYKES

Graham Brunton Racing Ray GR10
4th in standings, 150 points

For a driver in just his first full-season of FF1600, Sykes was hugely impressive in the GBR Ray GR14. It is fair to say that, while his one-lap pace was evident from the opening round of the year with fifth on the grid, he initially struggled in the races.

He’d been on course for a fortuitous podium in the aftermath of Melrose and Smith’s contact in August when he was denied by Clarke on the final lap, but Sykes scored three podiums on merit in the final two rounds. A superb second place behind Martin and a third in the final race – staving off a fierce Melrose attack – showed a remarkable progression over the year, turning Sykes into a natural frontrunner.

2. JORDAN GRONKOWSKI

Jordan Gronkowski Racing Van Diemen JL012K
3rd in standings, 159 points (1 pole, 3 fastest laps)

The perennial nearly-man, Gronkowski seemed destined to fight Martin tooth-and-nail for the title had it not been for a severe dose of bad luck. A gearbox failure robbed the Van Diemen driver of a shot at victory in the first round, while a missed gearshift ultimately led to his July contact with Melrose which put him out of the meeting. A further gear selector failure in the penultimate race of the year cost him second in the standings.

There were positives however: searing pace throughout the David Leslie Trophy weekend proved that, with luck on his side, Gronkowski is one of the fastest drivers around Knockhill, giving Martin a proper run for his money. Always a force to be reckoned with.

1. ROSS MARTIN

Graham Brunton Racing Ray GR17
1st in standings, 334 points (12 wins, 11 poles, 9 fastest laps)

Ross Martin, Graham Brunton & Craig Brunton - Graham Brunton Racing - 2018 Walter Hayes Trophy

What else is there to say about a driver who’s gone unbeaten in the championship for over a year? Martin was dominant, but what made him stand out from the rest of the field was his consistency. He broke lap records for fun in the opening two rounds, lowering the barrier to previously unthought-of levels.

Always within seven-tenths of his previous lap, Martin’s race pace is what allowed him to open up a staggering 12s winning margin in 12 racing laps in September’s first race. A driver in his element all year, Martin will now look to exit his comfort zone in 2019.

The Interlopers

With the number of full-timers down on last year, one-off entrants played an important role this season.

Team Dolan, Cliff Dempsey Racing, B-M Racing and Kevin Mills all sent their drivers to the May meeting ahead of the National round the following weekend to prepare on Knockhill’s reverse layout.

Dolan’s Matt Round-Garrido claimed victory in the second race, while karting graduate Hugo Bentley-Ellis managed a close second to Martin in the opener for KMR. CDR trio Jamie Thorburn, Jonathan Browne and Nico Gruber all elected to start from the pitlane to preserve their cars.

GBR then ran Oldfield Motorsport’s National driver Josh Smith for the David Leslie Trophy in August, before handing Young Racing Driver Academy member Logan Hannah a FF1600 debut at the season finale, alongside the returning Michael Macpherson.

Ciaran Haggerty made a sensational return to the series in place of Clarke in September’s reverse configuration round. Unfortunately, engine issues in testing ruled Haggerty out of the final round of the year, while mooted appearances at both the Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy failed to materialise.

haggerty-quali

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