Brands Hatch and Formula Ford are hard to decouple, for a number of reasons. And it is no surprise that to this day the circuit still has its own FF1600 series: Champion of Brands.
The series, open to all Ford Kent-engined FF1600 cars, has an extended past and in 2010 was brought back to the fold by the ubiquitous FFord mastermind James Beckett.
Though as we sit before the 2019 series’ season-opening double-header this Sunday, the first thing one might notice is that this year’s Champion of Brands in fact does not start at Brands. Rather it kicks off with an ‘away day’ meeting, at Donington Park.
A Brands Hatch date could not be found for the early part of this year, not helped by a late Easter squeezing things up. Beckett was therefore left with a choice between a late round one or starting at a more usual time but at another circuit. He went for the latter.
And it was a good choice as the season starts a strong turnout: some 23 cars are on the provisional Donington entry list.
“It was very important to get the series up and running,” Beckett tells FF1600 website, “and I think arguably it’s been a really good idea to have this away day to kick off the season because it gets people in a good frame of mind.
“The Champion of Brands is actually having a bit of a bonus starting with an away day at Donington Park. It’s really helped because the Brands Hatch regulars are all coming north, some of those for the first time to race at Donington, whereas Donington’s just a popular venue so you end up with racers from other groups, other regions.
“Also [it’s] on the same weekend as Heritage [so] there’s quite a good crossover, quite a solid turn out of Heritage boys staying on to race again on Sunday.”
That National FF1600 is not visiting Donington this year will have helped numbers too.
Another change is that the Champion of Brands has increased from three rounds to five for 2019.
“[It’s] back kind of to where it was because it was less [than usual] last year,” Beckett adds, “so having more is better obviously for regular competitors. The away day helps and then the rest [of the races] are all on the Indy circuit. It runs all the way through until after the Hayes [Walter Hayes Trophy in November].
“Champion of Brands has got its faithful following and attracts solid grids. I’ve no doubt that will continue to flourish quite nicely, so bring it on.”
One notable absentee from the grid this year is 2018 dominator Michael Eastwell. He took all three poles and won four of last year’s six races, bagging him the SuperSeries nomination for the end-of-year Mazda Road to Indy shootout in America.
He isn’t returning this season, but there will be plenty of strong competitors on the Donington grid nevertheless. Reigning Combe FF1600 champion Luke Cooper is there is his family-run Swift, as is the ever-quick Ollie White in his Medina.
There also will be Rory Smith, in a Medina JL18, who won National and Northern FF1600 races last season. This website late last year suggested Smith could be FF1600’s most underrated star.
Two-time Combe FF1600 champion Adam Higgins, driving a Firman, is also to be on the Doningotn grid and is worth watching. “It’s plenty to get your teeth into,” Beckett confirms.
That’s not the end of the interest, as this year’s early-September round is set to be particularly special. It takes place as part of the Ford Power Live meeting, a showpiece Ford gathering which is taking place at Brands for the first time in 2019 having previously been at Snetterton.
“It’s a proper Ford day attraction,” Beckett explains, “lots of Ford car clubs off the track. It’s one of the MSV’s regular festival meetings and the racing on track will only be Fords
“There’s a Ford all-comers race for Cosworths etc, and an EnduroKA sprint race, and the Champion of Brands, and the rest of the day is either demonstrations or track performances by performance Fords, and off-track stuff.”
Reflecting the importance, the series’ long-standing Bert Ray Memorial Trophy will be presented to the winner of that meeting’s feature Champion of Brands race. The trophy is named after the prolific and popular FFord constructor whose cars have won several Champion of Brands titles. He passed away in 2007.
“It is going to be pretty big and pretty special,” Beckett promises.
2019 Champion of Brands calendar
|1||Donington Park||14 April|
|2||Brands Hatch Indy||6 July|
|3||Brands Hatch Indy||20 July|
|4||Brands Hatch Indy||8 September|
|5||Brands Hatch Indy||16 November|