The 2019 Scottish Formula Ford 1600 season kicks off this weekend, with a genuine air of uncertainty for the first time since 2013 as the dominance of Graham Brunton Racing looks set to be challenged. We look at some of the key questions to be answered ahead of the new season.
What impact will Ross Martin’s departure have on Scottish FF1600 in 2019?
The biggest change over the winter break comes from the all-conquering GBR outfit, which enters the new season without a clear title favourite after losing double series champion Ross Martin to the BRSCC National FF1600 championship, as well as GT-bound Sebastian Melrose.
There’s no doubt that Martin can be seen as one of, if not the, greatest Scottish FF1600 driver there has ever been, with a total of 24 wins from 28 races – including a clean-sweep of 13 wins last year – en route to comfortable successive titles in the last two seasons.
While this was impressive, Martin was a cut above the rest of the field and often cantered to victories – with the exception of a trio of stunning David Leslie Trophy races where he sustained sustained pressure from Jordan Gronkowski’s Van Diemen.
That looks set to change in 2019, and while GBR is sure to miss the technical input and raw pace of Martin, Scottish FF1600 may yet benefit from a more balanced playing field.
Now without its star driver, GBR has opted to invest in youth for 2019 through Arden Young Driver Logan Hannah and karting graduate Cameron Thomson. Both teenagers have impressed in testing and should be quick out of the blocks, with Hannah targeting race wins as she looks to step up to the W Series next year.
Gronkowski is sure to taste more success than in previous years as well. The Aberdeenshire driver has taken just two wins since 2014, enduring a barren run last year despite having the fastest car on occasions.
Jamie Thorburn is also set to contest the opening round next weekend in his family-run Border Reivers team in preparation for a partial National campaign later in the year. Despite missing the recent test – due to his dad’s trailer getting stuck in the Duns snow! – the 2016 Newcomers champion is as quick as anyone around Knockhill and is a dark horse for victory.
With Gronkowski and Thorburn likely to battle for honours in the opening round, there is a distinct possibility that this year could deliver more than one non-GBR race win for the first time since 2013, when Thorburn’s father Stuart won his last title.
Rookies Hannah and Thomson may also taste victory throughout the season along with the consistent Neil Broome and the increasingly rapid Gary Sykes.
Is this finally Gronkowski’s year?
Third in the standings last year was hardly reflective of how good Gronkowski was over the course of the 2018 season. The Aberdeenshire driver failed to score on three occasions, through car failure, contact and accident damage.
Gronkowski is clearly the favourite based on his wealth of FF1600 experience and should be the man to beat in the early rounds. Whether he finds the luck he severely lacked last year remains to be seen, but the Van Diemen is undoubtedly one of the fastest FF1600 drivers around Knockhill.
He’s improved certain areas of his car over the course of the off-season and completed an incident-free shakedown and test of the car in the weekend before last, continuing the sort of pace he showed at the back-end of 2018. The multiple race winner however knows that he needs to bolt out of the blocks before the GBR rookies get to grips with the formula if he is to claim his firm title triumph.
Who are the dark horses?
With the technical prowess and experience of GBR, it is hard to look past Thomson and Hannah as regular podium finishers and even race winners this season. And while immediate success might be a stretch next weekend, the young pairing have shown enough promise so far to suggest they could be a threat to Gronkowski by mid-season.
Broome returns for another season, his third full year with the Ray. He has tweaked his gear ratios for the new season, specifically third gear, and is feeling more confident on the exit of Clark’s as a result, with the caveat that the back-end is now more loose at Duffus. Engine issues that dogged his 2017 campaign have been put to bed now and the Edinburgh resident displayed far more consistent pace towards the end of last year.
What is the state of Scottish Formula Ford 1600 in 2019?
On the face of testing, the grid size does not look promising with only six turning up then (Matt Chisholm and GBR’s Steve Barlow among the additional runners). That said, there is hope that Ross Howe will return in his Van Diemen, along with a guest appearance from Thorburn.
Scottish Formula Ford has definitely endured some tough times of late, with grid numbers diminishing and a lack of karting graduates making the full-season step up.
Despite this, there is still a large degree of optimism ahead of the new season, with the youthful additions to GBR set to make life difficult for the veteran title favourite Gronkowski.