There are five drivers who can consider themselves to still have a realistic chance of winning the 2019 BRSCC Avon Tyres National Formula Ford 1600 Championship. FF1600website reviews their seasons so far…
Team Dolan Van Diemen RF99
1st in standings, 313 points (6 wins, 2 poles, 5 fastest laps)
It took four races for Ross Martin to win a race in Team Dolan’s Van Diemen RF99, but from thereon he’s replicated the form of his predecessor Niall Murray.
Murray won two National titles for Dolan, and Martin is looking like he could add to that trophy haul after following up his breakthrough Oulton Park win, two further victories at Anglesey and a rare triple at Croft. Murray was the man who set that benchmark previously, and it’s clear that Martin has adapted to the car and circuits just as well as the Irishman did.
The source of Martin’s recent domination has been the ability to break the tow up front on the opening lap of races, then pull away as drivers behind squabble over second place.
His 47-point advantage in the standings can certainly be overturned, but the remaining rounds of the calendar look kind to Martin. The Van Diemen’s cooling ability should make it the car to beat in the heat at Brands Hatch this weekend, and Dolan’s intimate knowledge of Kirkistown should also play to Martin’s advantage.
An expected influx of entries at Silverstone and Brands Hatch, as warm-ups for the FFord Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy, gives his rivals fewer opportunities to steal points from Martin before season’s end.
Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray GR18
2nd in standings, 266 points (1 win, 1 pole, 1 fastest lap)He may be new to every circuit this season, but American teenager Spike Kohlbecker certainly hasn’t shown it, winning in just his second race in the championship at Snetterton.
With Cliff Dempsey Racing, he has been a consistent threat towards the front and had the biggest points haul from an individual round before Martin’s triple win at Croft.
There have been several near misses for Kohlbecker, who was denied victory on his debut by 0.218 seconds, with the rookie one of the fastest from the off at Oulton and taking pole at Anglesey.
Once a driver has got close to Kohlbecker, they usually get through, and he’s lost at least two podiums through unforced errors too.
He’s blindingly fast though, and is set to deliver CDR its best championship result since Neil Maclennan was runner-up two years ago. The biggest question is: will he be quick on the remaining four circuits on the calendar?
Kevin Mills Racing Spectrum 011C
3rd in standings, 257 points (2 wins, 2 fastest laps)National FF1600 regular Maclennan came closest to title success in 2017, and last year switched from CDR to Kevin Mills Racing in an attempt to go one better.
That campaign ended up being less than half a season, and he returned this year with only the title on his mind.
Maclennan has been one of the strongest in races, being the only driver other than Martin to win more than once, and has been racking up his mileage this year in various other FF1600 championships.
One-lap pace has been an issue though, with a best qualifying result of third at Anglesey. Elsewhere he is been far enough off the pace for pole to not even be in consideration, and given the race one result sets the race two grid, it’s of frustration that only once has Maclennan finished higher than he started in race one: fifth to fourth at Croft.
His two wins have come in reversed grid encounters, which offer the same amount of points as usual races, and although this has bolstered his title challenge it is not something he can depend on season-long.
Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray GR15
4th in standings, 207 points (1 fastest lap)James Clarke was plum last in the standings after the season opener. This didn’t worry him, as in the second race he rose from 19th on the grid to finish fourth, and climbed up to eighth in the standings in the process.
He finished the Snetterton round with a podium, but was back to square one at Oulton Park when he crashed out of race one. Once again, he charged through the order from the back of the grid for race two, and picked up another deserved podium.
It was qualifying that let Clarke down at Anglesey, prompting another charge from 10th up to third, which he followed with another podium to bring himself into a clear fourth in the standings.
A run of five successive podiums was broken in the most recent race at Croft, where he went off at Tower and got stuck in the gravel. Were it not for the three retirements, the teenager could quite easily have been second in the standings. The amount of points he’s thrown away hasn’t stopped his rivals praising him though.
B-M Racing Medina JL18
5th in standings, 179 points (1 win, 2 fastest laps)Rory Smith ended last season with two dominant wins at Donington Park, enough to make him favourite for the title this year in many people’s eyes.
The B-M Racing driver’s start to the 2019 season did not disappoint, coming from seventh on the grid to win the first race at Snetterton. His season has all been downhill since, starting with his failure to take up pole position in the second Snetterton race and then crashing out. He ended the weekend with a sixth place, but had already dropped 30 points to the top of the standings.
Engine issues kept him off track at Oulton Park, and when he returned to racing at Anglesey he quickly got involved in a crash. That was followed by a retirement in race two, and fifth place in the finale did little in limiting the damage to his title ambitions as he fell to 107 points behind.
While Smith finally put a weekend together at Croft with three podiums, a triple win for championship leader Martin means the gap between the pair now stands at 136 points. If Smith hasn’t significantly decreased that gap after the visit to Kirkistown in late August, then he’s all but out of title contention.