Heritage Formula Ford – recreating Formula Ford’s halcyon days

This year, Heritage Formula Ford has provided a much-needed home for cars from the category’s 1980s and early ’90s golden age. Its organiser tells us more

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The Walter Hayes Trophy that takes place at Silverstone towards the season’s end is now well established. One of the many creations of prolific Formula Ford organiser James Beckett, for many it’s the category’s high-point event.

Yet last year Beckett slipped in a new class, for pre-1993 cars. ‘At the time, nobody realised why I had moved the barrier,’ he says.

It was all to do with an idea that had been swirling in his head for some time. ‘Heritage Formula Ford is something I’ve thought about for two or three years,’ Beckett continues.

‘The race at the Hayes was really a taster to see what was out there and it proved very successful, which is really what gave me the push to introduce it fully for this year.’ Indeed no fewer than 28 cars from the period showed up at Silverstone to compete.

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Thus Heritage Formula Ford, a stand-alone series for pre-1993 Kent-engined Formula Ford racers, became a reality this season with an inaugural five-round series starting at Donington Park in April.

‘[I’d] worked on it considerably and thought this year was the right time to bring it out,’ Beckett adds.

Beckett, as indicated, had started up many Formula Ford series before, and while his initiatives have been evocative they in certain cases struggled for numbers and sustainability. As Matt Beer in Motorsport News put it, they ‘sometimes felt like answers to questions no one was asking’.

This absolutely did not apply to Heritage, though, where there was a conspicuous gap in the market. Historic Formula Ford caters for pre-1972 cars; Classic Formula Ford for pre-’82. The popular and still plentiful Formula Fords from the 1980s and early ‘90s – often cited as a Formula Ford golden age – had no home of their own, but instead were mixed in with modern machines where they found it hard to compete. And this is where Heritage Formula Ford came in.

‘It’s the halcyon days of Formula Ford,’ Beckett continues. ‘It’s the Kent-era car, because after 1992 you could have a Zetec car, so the Kent domination finished at the end of 1992 – which is what this series is designed to celebrate. It’s certainly filled a hole for this era of car.

‘Everyone knows my Formula Ford passion is built on tradition, hence the success of the Walter Hayes and everything I did to develop that from scratch to where it is today.’

Twenty-four cars showed up for the opening Heritage round at Donington, which was well beyond Beckett’s expectations of 15 to 18. The number roughly held up at round two at Silverstone, with 22, although there has been a decline since – just ten were at the recent round at Snetterton. Beckett reckons, however, this is in the nature of the season’s life cycle.

‘Middle of August at Snetterton is possibly a hard sell for competitors, because it’s in the middle of holiday season,’ he says. ‘I think any race meeting for grassroots motor sport struggles mid-August; when you’ve been racing from March already and it gets to mid-August, then something has to give.

‘[Then] before the end of season [people think], “oh let’s do some races before the off season kicks in again”.’

He also believes it reflects that Heritage in its first year is a series; in other words, there isn’t a championship table. But this is set to change for 2019, with Heritage moving to championship status.

‘It will become effectively the national championship for pre-’93 cars,’ Beckett says. ‘People would then be more keen to score points and keep themselves on a rota rather than just think, “I’ll go on holiday next week and I’ll put a new kitchen in the following week…”.’

Beckett’s desire for period specification is near absolute, going well beyond the chassis itself.

‘Championship status for 2019 will then allow us to ensure that the cars are as period specification as possible,’ he promises, ‘because over a period of time all cars will all evolve. They’ll run slightly different nosecones, or radiators have been moved into slightly different positions. But the idea is to turn them back into period-specification cars, so that enhances the heritage era not only for the owner but also for the aesthetics, and I think that’s important for this category.

‘Competitors [this year] can use a mixture of ACB 9 or ACB 10 tyre compounds. The ACB 9 is the traditional Formula Ford pattern; for next year we’ll go onto exclusively ACB 9 tyres so that they look right and the whole thing is heritage. So, period-looking cars, on period-looking tyres. I might introduce a class for period colour schemes...’

Avoiding clashes on the spider’s web Formula Ford schedule also can be a challenge, but Heritage has had remarkably few problems in that regard. Beckett also has consciously not overstretched in his first year’s schedule. ‘Nothing silly, just straightforward circuit choice where people want to go and race,’ he explains.

There has been a focus, too, on value for money. ‘Entry costs for the series are good; £299 for a double-header meeting [for the season-opener] – that’s exceptional value for circuit like Donington.’

Some notable names have taken part in the series, including Formula 1 commentator Ben Edwards racing his own Van Diemen in two rounds. He’s had success, winning twice at Snetterton and taking a second place at Donington.

‘It’s perfect in a way for me, because I can’t do many races,’ Edwards says. ‘I always look around to see what races I can do, and then James came up with this Heritage class, which is perfect for me because I’ve got a 1992 Van Diemen so it fits in at the top end.

‘It was one of the great periods,’ he adds of Heritage’s era. ‘Certainly my period, because I got involved as a mechanic on a Formula Ford in ’82, so it’s like the beginning of this group.

‘Certainly with working in Formula Ford at that time, it means a lot to me. And it’s nice now that there are different championships for different ages of Formula Ford; there’s crossover. It’s great to see quite a few late 1980s, early ’90s cars coming out, because it’s hard for them now to find a competitive environment.’

Much of the season has been dominated by Ollie White. Adding to his Champion of Brands success and even taking wins at Bathurst, White has won five of the six Heritage races he’s competed in this year. It likely would have a clean sweep but for retiring with a misfire in the Donington curtain-raiser.

Underlining his advantage having sorted the problem, he won the second Donington race from the back; indeed, he led within four laps. And in the second race at Silverstone he deliberately started from the back to give himself more of a challenge. He led by lap six of 15.

Beckett, though, doesn’t feel this domination has been a drawback – on the contrary.

‘Ollie’s on-track success has been good for the series,’ Beckett insists. ‘It’s brought awareness to Heritage Formula Ford. Ollie White in whatever Formula Ford he drives is going to be quick, because he is one of the top Formula Ford 1600 drivers currently in circulation. And it’s given a really sharp top end.’

Plus Beckett believes it’s not all about front-runners.

‘I’ve always said in any Formula Ford event I run you want the best you can at the front, but it’s not about everybody winning. Yes you want a good race winner, but it’s all about who’s in the middle and who’s at the back, so you’ve got to have everybody and you’ve got to cater for everybody because there’s no point just having two at the front and nobody else. That’s something I’ve worked very hard on and will continue to work hard on.’

There have been interesting cars, too. Simon Jackson for one; at Snetterton, he took part in a Javelin JL5 that Nigel Mansell raced at the start of the 1977 FF1600 season.

‘They’re all there to flush out!,’ Beckett adds. ‘The Javelin’s owned by Bill Bray, who has a lifetime in Formula Ford. [He’s] got his car and loves running it, and it’s good to see it. I’m all for the wild and wonderful individual Formula Ford cars, because that’s what makes the category so special.

‘The feedback has been really good from the competitors, the members of the public. I had some really good feedback and MSVR did, too – people who liked this era of Formula Ford and were pleased to see this category and the age of car back out on track and running against each other, as opposed to being lost in with more modern cars,’ Beckett concludes more broadly.

‘I want to try and build this into something that is not just good for the competitor, but is good for the spectator, good for the enthusiast and good for the people who come and watch at the venues.

‘So Heritage Formula Ford will build on all of those great things and hopefully give something back to everybody.’

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