5. JOEY FOSTER
4th in WHT, 5th in National, 5th in TT, 6th in Triple Crown, DNF in FFord Festival final
Foster’s full-time return to FF1600 was affordable fun, but really Foster wanted to win the BRSCC Avon Tyres National title, having not achieved the equivalent in his youth.
He hasn’t lost any of the speed in the last 15 years, but it became clear that nobody would be able to beat Niall Murray over the full season, and it would be a case of making the most of the weekends where the long-term partnership of Foster and Don Hardman Racing was a frontrunner with its Ray.
The first example of this was Silverstone, where Foster started the season in the best way possibly by taking pole and victory. This year Foster had a young team-mate in Carter Williams, who by the second end-of-year trip to Silverstone for the Walter Hayes Trophy was challenging him on pace. Foster’s driver coaching skills are not to be underestimated.
The other two standout National weekends for Foster were Brands Hatch and Oulton Park. In the former he showed mastery of the tyres as many faltered, and at Oulton used racecraft to pick up a second win.
As always, he was a threat at the FFord Festival and WHT, and made the unusual choice of entering them in a car he had zero experience of. The risk paid off, as he came close to a record fourth WHT win.
4. LUKE COOPER
Castle Combe champion, 4th in National, 5th in Triple Crown, 6th in WHT, 7th in TT
If one word could be used to describe Luke Cooper’s 2018 campaigns, ‘bittersweet’ would perhaps be appropriate. The more pleasurable aspect was winning the Castle Combe FF1600 championship 34 years after his uncle Martin, in a family-prepared Swift SC16, at the circuit that’s a hop over the fence away from his home. Yes, the depth was lacking compared to Combe contests of old, but he was still up against some or all of Josh Fisher, Roger Orgee and Michael Eastwell through the season. A foregone conclusion it was not, and his six wins at the beginning of the season was no mean feat.
Cooper’s frustration was that his National aspirations did not come to more than fourth in the standings. The start to the year was encouraging, and he won perhaps the best race of the season in the Silverstone season opener. But the high points thereafter were few, the Brands Hatch meeting was disastrous, and another win didn’t come until the final Donington round.
Engine issues plagued the second half of the year, which effectively wrote-off his Festival aspirations, and resulted in him borrowing friend Alan Slater’s engine for the WHT. It wasn’t built for him, and struggled to sixth in the final. A decent achievement, but less than desired.
3. MATT ROUND-GARRIDO
Northern Ireland champion, 3rd in National, 3rd in TT, 7th in Triple Crown, NC in Scottish
Being a winner in the National, SMRC Scottish and Dawson WAM Northern Ireland FF1600 championships showed that Round-Garrido could go up against anyone and beat them (bar Team Dolan team-mate Murray).
Following up his Star of Anglesey title in 2017, he went up against proper circuit specialists in the Kirkistown-based Northern Ireland championship, and ended up winning the title. Being ran by Bernard Dolan was obviously an advantage, but the local knowledge of his rivals shouldn’t be underplayed.
He also beat the locals at Knockhill in a Scottish cameo, then repeated that achievement when the National championship visited. His second National win came, unsurprisingly, at Kirkistown, but he was a threat at all circuits in his Medina Sport JL17, a car he repeatedly said was the best FF1600 machine out there.
Across the National season he took seven podiums, and finished a mightily impressive third in the standings. He also took pole for the Martin Donnelly Trophy but skipped the race.
Round-Garrido is still in his teens, and looks to be the latest talent to use FF1600 as a springboard on the single-seater ladder.
2. MICHAEL EASTWELL
4x Champion of Brands, TT champion, 2nd in National, 2nd in Triple Crown, 5th in Northern (Post-’89), 5th in Champion of Oulton, 9th in Castle Combe, 9th in WHT, DNF in FFord Festival Semi-final 1
How quickly things change. As late as the final week of July this year Eastwell had never so much as won a car race. But after that the floodgates opened. ‘Floodgates’ is the appropriate term as Eastwell’s first triumph came in a sodden BRSCC Avon Tyres Northern race at Silverstone. He won there twice, and it was the shape of things to come as he squeezed another Northern double race win at Oulton Park, two Champion of Brands lockouts and a Combe victory before the year was out – and almost all were dominant. He also got the National championship’s and the Triple Crown’s runner-up spots.
The change had a familiar explanation: a combination of greater experience – Eastwell always described 2017 as a learning year – and the assurance of knowing you can take victory. And he might have had even more success late in the year. At the Festival he looked the pacesetter until his suspension failed. While at the Walter Hayes Trophy there was a similar story, this time a succession of technical problems, culminating with his plug leads coming loose in the semi-final, dashing his victory chance.
1. NIALL MURRAY
National champion, Triple Crown champion, 2nd in TT, 2nd in FFord Festival
You don’t come much more dominant in a championship as competitive as National FF1600 than Murray seems capable of doing.
Just like in 2016, the Team Dolan driver showed everybody a clean pair of heels, and handled the heat in more ways than one.
In the hot summer months, the Irishman was able to regulate car temperatures better than anyone, while simultaneously setting up his car to be quicker through the air than anyone else’s. It was a trick that worked extremely efficiently because when Murray led from the front, he didn’t have to worry about his car suffering in the thinner air of the slipstream, which caused frequent overheating woes for those behind.
The reversed grid races during this period was when people could steal points back, but even when the temperatures were lower, Murray most frequently had the car to beat.
He skipped the final National round having already won the title, and returned at the Festival in style, looking set for his second win there until Josh Smith’s last corner pass.