It is Festival time ladies and gents. That means throw your FF1600 on the trailer or into the truck and head for Kent. Brands Hatch to be precise, as the former British GP venue will host its 40th Festival this coming weekend. If you haven’t got a Formula Ford, fear not- just bring your scarf, beanie hat and a tricolour and head for Paddock Hill Grandstand- it won’t take you long to find your buddies!
Back in ’92, I travelled to the Festival with Donal Loughrey and I remember sitting in the stand waiting for an early morning heat to start when we noticed some Mondello regulars a few rows in front- already breaking out the tinnies. I won’t name them, but “Brat Pac Racing”- you know who you are! Other memories include a FF1600 driver of note arriving into the Thistle Hotel in the early hours- on a moped, a gallon of Castrol GTX being “accidently” spilled on the dance floor, by the driver who had won it as a spot prize- and who will ever forget the infamous scooter race around the Kentagon Bar with Matt Feeney, having got the microphone by saying he was next up in the Karaoke, commentating on the whole thing. I think is is fair to say the Irish have always made their mark at the famous event, both on and off the track.
We have a history of producing some fantastic FF1600 racers in Ireland, and quite a few from this side of the water have managed to win the prestigious knock out event. Derek Daly, Michael Roe and Tommy Byrne’s names all appear on the plinth at the Kentagon Bar, but Noel Dunne, Keith Dempsey, Neville Smyth and Ivor McCullough’s don’t- as they won the “Kent” race at the Festival, while one of the doomed replacement classes ran for the main title. Niall Murray, however, drove superbly in 2013 to take the win, when the Kents were once again given the main race. James Raven won last year and I suppose we can claim a little bit of that one too, as James was run by Cliff Dempsey Racing, very much an Irish equipe, with Cliff and Michelle being justly proud of their Irish roots.
Despite FF1600 not being in the healthiest of states at home in 2015, we should still have some extremely strong runners in the Festival this year and it would not be unreasonable to hope that one of them might bring the trophy home. Jonny McMullan has had a superb year in the Motorsport Ireland car, wrapping up the UK title as well as the All Ireland and he will be heading to Brands with only one aim. He won the Pre 90 race at the Festival at a canter a couple of years ago and will be relishing the prospect of heading back there with the Bernard Dolan-run Van Diemen. Jake Byrne, similarly, has had a stellar year- completely dominating the Kirkistown NI FF1600 series and chasing down McMullan to cross the line side by side in a grandstand finish to the Irish Festival too. A trinity engineering student, Jake relishes the technical side almost as much as the driving and will be hoping to run at the very front this weekend too. Stephen Daly is also on the entry list, and after a giant killing performance at the recent Leinster trophy event at Mondello, he will be keen to erase the memory of a difficult 2014 Festival from his memory. Having won this year at Silverstone in a Spectrum chassis, he returned to his Ray for Mondello and wet or dry, had the measure of the competition. One suspects he won’t be too far away in Brands either.
Kevin O’Hara surprised everyone, except himself, with an incredible performance at the recent Martin Donnelly Trophy event at Kirkistown. In testing he had an advantage of somewhere around three tenths, and he held onto this pretty much until the event was over on Saturday evening. Having rebuilt his own Van Diemen at home, it must have been hugely satisfying for him to put one over on all the top runners in the class. This will ensure that he heads to Brands Hatch not just looking for a win, but expecting one! Niall Murray also returns to the event he won in 2013, back behind the wheel of his Murray Motorsport Van Diemen and would surely love to reclaim the trophy, and become only the second person to do the Festival double, having just wrapped up the inaugural SEAT Supercup Ireland at home. Rob Barrable jumped into a Formula Ford after a long absence for the “Dash For Cash” Irish Festival in 2014 and promptly put the regulars to shame, taking the prize money and the Vivion Daly Trophy too. His few appearances this year have not been quite as impressive, but he is confident of another good showing in Brands and definitely has no shortage of talent. From north of the border, Wayne Boyd has just announced that he had entered, once again with the crack Medina Van Diemen squad. Having run Murray close for the win in 2013 and won the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone late last year, he is definitely not to be discounted. He too, can become the second ever double Festival winner if the cards fall in his favour, having won the event in 2008. Noel Robinson is also on the entry list in his 2012 Van Diemen and is a proven winner too. Ivor and David McCullough also return to Brands with their Van Diemen’s with Ivor, in particular, capable of springing a surprise, if he can show the form he displayed before his sabbatical- he is also a double winner of the Kent event in 2011 and 2012. Geoff Richardson is also entered in an 03 Van Diemen and was spotted testing at Mondello recently in preparation for the Festival!
A man who has quietly impressed this year is Denis Sheehan. Denis is no spring chicken but last year he bought a Crossle 45F from Tommy Reid. If you haven’t watched Denis at Mondello on a test day I suggest you do, few are more committed! He somehow got the car down to a 59.2 at the Mondello Festival, with the fastest lap by “some young fella in a modern car” just 7 tenths quicker. That is pretty impressive stuff in a 35 year old car. He still claims there was a slight miss in the engine that day too- the young lads better watch out if it clears! Joining Denis in the pre ’82 Class is Crossle Car Company owner Paul McMorran, at the wheel of his immaculate 32F, whilst Ivor Mairs lines up in the Pre ’90 class in his Mondiale 84S.
There is one more very interesting entry from this side of the water too. Martin Donnelly makes his return to the famous event, in the Masters section, where he will pilot a 2000 Mygale chassis- that should definitely be worth watching! Cliff Dempsey again runs the Team USA Scholarship drivers. This year the duo is made up of the splendidly named Dakota Dickerson and Michai Stephens. 2014 winner James Raven also returns with CDR. Don’t discount any of them- Cliff’s cars always go well at the Festival!
All in all, it looks like the makings of a great event, and if one of our guys can take it home- the Kentagon better be well stocked up!