HSCC Historic Formula Ford has a reputation for being a wide-open championship with multiple title challengers, but this year it came down to a duel between two drivers: Ben Mitchell and Cameron Jackson.
Jackson was crowned the winner but had to wait until the Silverstone Finals to pick up his trophy. He finished 26 points above his rival and it would have been a far closer finish had Mitchell not gone off at Brooklands in the first Finals race and finished fifth. Between them, the pair won fourteen of the seventeen races and took nine of the second places.
Mitchell looked to have the upper hand in the early part of the season, winning the first round at Donington and picking up a double win at Thruxton in his Merlyn Mk20. He then traded wins with Jackson more or less until Finals weekend, when Jackson’s double victory put the championship out of reach for Mitchell for good.
Both drivers enjoyed almost trouble-free runs. Jackson’s Neil Fowler Motorsport-run Lola T200 was the picture of reliability, while the combined skills of Mitchell and his father Westie, a long-time Formula Ford racer himself, kept his Merlyn going almost as smoothly. When a rear suspension part failed during practice at Oulton Park, Mitchell Sr drove all the way from Cheshire to Gloucestershire to cannibalise spares from his own Mk20, then came back the same evening.
Former champion Callum Grant could not quite challenge in 2018 in the way he has previously showed he is capable. He was third with two second places but the Bolton driver was plagued by a range of fixable but race-ending problems, including a loose radiator pipe and an incorrectly bolted roll hoop. He began the season as one of Mitchell’s chief rivals but was undoubtedly affected by what happened at Cadwell Park.
The Wolds Trophy was held at the start of the summer heatwave. The first race was won by past champion Nelson Rowe in his Crossle 20F and he was in hot pursuit of leader Jackson in the second when Jackson’s Lola slipped out of gear and briefly stopped, sending Rowe’s car flying over it after contact. The Crossle landed upside down and caught fire. Grant stopped his car and ran to the aid of his rival, along with two spectators. Rowe was thankfully unhurt and Grant’s actions were rightly lauded by onlookers and the commentary team. He was shaken by his experiences but came back to finish second in the restarted race, behind Jackson who was also rather subdued.
Rowe seemed to be the least affected by the crash. He was racing again fairly soon, albeit in Formula Ford 2000, and said later in the season that he had enough positive memories of being in the driving seat of a FF1600 car to override the one negative one.
With Rowe’s promising challenge over, 2017 champion Richard Tarling had an opportunity. However, Tarling did not complete enough of the championship to challenge fully, although he did pick up a win at Donington in his Jamun T2. This year, he has had half an eye on James Beckett’s new Heritage FF1600 series. He raced his new Jamun M92 in the final race at Brands Hatch, converting it to a first win. The T2 is now up for sale and Tarling will be concentrating on Heritage in 2019.
Stamford’s Ed Thurston scored a podium place at Cadwell, behind Jackson and Grant, having won a qualification race from the back in some style. A main-race win could have been on the cards this season if the crankshaft on his Elden Mk8 had not self-destructed at Brands Hatch in September. A Historic Final win at the Walter Hayes Trophy in a Classic Team Merlyn Mk20 was a consolation and Thurston intends to return in 2019.
Maxim Bartell, driving another Mk20, looked like another potential winner after his run of four podium finishes at Thruxton and Silverstone, but funding issues reared their ugly head and he sat out the last three meetings.
Coincidentally, Benjamin Tusting had a burst of pace just after Bartell’s retreat, with third places at Oulton and Brands and a couple of pole positions. The Classic Team Merlyn driver could well be one to watch in 2019 if he converts his qualifying speed into speed over a full race distance, especially as none of Jackson, Mitchell or Tarling plans to contest the full championship.
There were some interesting young driver debuts in 2018 that could lead to some new winners in 2019. Danish teenager Mads Gravsen drove a Palliser in some rounds. His actual best race result was a sixth place at Cadwell, but he showed some extremely strong pace in the early part of races. A car-trashing accident at Brands Hatch may have dented his ambition, but he has potential.
The same race that destroyed Gravsen’s car ended in disqualification for Pierre Livingston, an Anglo-French undergraduate who drove for Classic Team Merlyn. Livingston also showed great speed in his Mk20A, if not yet enough consistency, and he has been tipped as one to watch in 2019 by Jackson.
Not all of the season’s debutants were young drivers. Clive Richards burst onto the scene in a Merlyn Mk20 in September, finishing second at Brands in only his second-ever Formula Ford race. The Surrey tree surgeon has previously raced Caterhams and Ginettas with some success.
Despite his short season, Richards was third in the Radio Caroline Over 50 championship, behind Rob Smith (Merlyn Mk20) and Brian Morris (Lola T200). Smith had a consistent season and came close to a podium finish at Oulton. Morris had a couple of accidents and was not quite on the level of Smith.
Notable cameos came from Tiff Needell, driving a Lotus 69F similar to the one he won in a competition in Autosport that helped to launch his career, and former Formula One driver Robs Lamplough, in a Winkelmann. Needell managed a fifth place at Thruxton. Lamplough was unable to challenge for honours but turned heads by arriving at Silverstone in a 1927 ex-Malcolm Campbell Bugatti.