Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year is Formula Ford. Often seen as the entry level formula and a springboard for many talented drivers, it continues to thrive and attract the stars of the future. The celebrations launched at this years Autosport Live with an exhibition of prominent Formula Fords by HSCC. Other celebrations include a display at Race Retro at Stoneleigh park later this month, Classic and Historic Formula Ford races at the 50th Celebration Ford Sport Meeting at Mallory Park on April 30th and the HSCC’s Brands Hatch Grand Prix meeting in July will be of special significance as the place where Formula Ford began.
Originally conceived as a cost effective, competitive way into racing and an ideal car for the racing school, the first chassis were based on the obsolete Lotus 31, then developed as the Lotus 51. With a Cortina GT engine and the backing of Ford, the new series launched in 1967. The following year the Lotus was joined on the grid by other manufacturers such as Brabham, Crosslé Car Company and Elden Racing Cars.
The 1967 rules stated the cars should be open single seaters such as those in Formula 1, 2 and 3, of tubular construction with no stress-bearing panels except bulkheads and undertray, rear wheel drive only and a minimum weight of 400kg. The rules also stated the cost was not to exceed £1,000 retail. Over time with development of the Cortina 1600cc engine, expenses rose and the rules on maximum cost were relaxed.
The popularity of Formula Ford very quickly spread and the first race in the United States took place in 1969. Today the series is competed in across the globe from South Africa to Australia.
As the cars developed drivers of the older marques in Formula Ford 1600 became dissatisfied with competing with the newer models so in 1979 a pre 1974 Championship was launched, the Classic Formula Ford. Today the Series runs two classes: Class A for Formula Ford 1600 cars built and raced between 1974 and 1981 and Class B for Formula Ford 1600 cars built and raced before 1974.
The BRSCC Formula Ford 1600 series runs five classes: Class A Cars built from 1.1.99, Class B Cars built from 1.1.90 to 31.12.98, Class C Cars built from 1.1.87 to 31.12.89, Class D Cars built from 1.1.84 to 31.12.86 and Class E Cars built before 1984.
In 2012 the 1.6 litre DI turbocharged EcoBoost engine was introduced to the series and in 2013 further changes included the engine being developed to produce 200bhp, the use of slicks and the addition of front and rear wings to allow some downforce. In 2015 the new MSA Formula – Certified by FIA, Powered by Ford EcoBoost series was launched, now named the F4 British Championship , the only MSA UK championship run to the FIA’s F4 regulations. The series is also the only single-seater series open to 15 yr olds.
Mygale, who have been producing Formula Ford Chassis since 1989 supplied the new series with carbon-
fibre monocoque chassis. Chassis in Formula Ford 1600 remain of tubular steel construction and monocoque chassis are prohibited. Other manufacturers producing Formula Ford over the last 50 years have included Ray, Swift Cooper, Merlyn and the ever popular Van Diemen.
Established in 1973 by Ralph Firman Snr and Ross Ambrose, Van Diemen has a distinguished pedigree in Formula Ford with many constructor championship wins to the name and a driver roster that reads like a Who’s Who of motorsport, prominent names include Jonathan Palmer, Tommy Byrne, Ayrton Senna, Eddie Irvine, Mark Webber, Jason Plato, Rob Collard and the Van Diemen founders sons, Ralph Firman Jnr and Marcos Ambrose. Van Diemen was bought by Élan Motorsport Technologies in 2002, the last Van Diemen Formula Ford being designed in 2008. In 2010 the constructor was fully incorporated with Élan and the name Van Diemen disappeared entirely from all new cars.
Van Diemen wasn’t the only Formula Ford constructor to have future racing stars at the wheel, the likes of Damon Hill, Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button, Nigel Mansell, Mika Hakkinen, James Hunt, Emerson Fittipaldi and Danica Patrick to name but a few all graduated from Formula Ford.
The close passes and individual personalities of the various chassis leading to varied performance at different circuits all adds to the enduring popularity of Formula Ford for drivers and spectators alike. With the advances in technology appealing to younger drivers eager to make their way toward Formula 1 and the older marques beloved by both younger and older drivers, Formula Ford looks set to remain in the motorsports calendar for many years to come.
Allison Remzi All Images ©Andy Fitzpatrick