Since its inception in 1972, the Formula Ford Festival has been the one all aspiring young drivers want to win. Traditionally, the winner would vault into F3 and the doors were open to a potential F1 career, should the planets align.
Drivers from this side of the water, both North and South have traditionally excelled at the event. Niall Murray won the event twice, as did his arch rival Wayne Boyd- who has gone onto race sucessfully for United Autosports on the world sportscar stage. Previous to this, Derek Daly and Eddie Irvine both won the event, en route to F1 and Michael Roe was also victorious. Kevin McGarrity stood on the top step in 1995 and fellow Northern Ireland racer Richard Tannahill took a win in 2006 for Kevin Mills Racing. Others to take wins in the Kent section, (when it was briefly overshadowed by short lived replacements) include Andrew McAuley, Noel Dunne, Keith Dempsey and Ivor McCullough, twice.
Despite the fact that we no longer have FF1600 racing at Mondello, a few Irish hotshoes have thrown their hat in the ring for the famous event, which takes place this weekend at Brands Hatch. The one that has made everyone sit up and take notice is the fact that Niall Murray has reunited with Bernard Dolan’s Team DOLAN. Already a double winner, the feisty Dubliner will be keen to do the hat trick, and with his old team and his old car under him, he has to be one of the favourites. Peter Dempsey is another former Formula Ford star and has taken a break from running his Turn 3 Motorsport in the states, to take another run at winning the event, driving a Ray GR18 with his father Cliff’s team. Peter is famous, of course, for taking the closest ever victory in Indy Lights, back in 2013!
Morgan Quinn is also on the entry list as part of the Team DOLAN squad. Having just wrapped up the 2019 BRSCC rookie title, the young Dubliner will be keen to run at the front. Jonathan Browne, from Meath, has been a frontrunner all year in the UK and running with Festival specialists Cliff Dempsey Racing, should definitely be one to watch.
Fresh from a season in Asian F3, Jordan Dempsey has also thrown his hat in the ring for the event. Having worked hard to put a deal together, the Mullingar racer impressed by raising backing from pretty much everyone involved in the Motor Trade in his town!
Former Irish Formula Vee Champion Colm Blackburn has dipped his toe in the FF1600 water on a number of occasions and he is also on the entry list, with Morgan Dempsey’s MCP team. Fellow former Veester Trevor Delaney is also entered, as is Mark Armstrong in a Van Diemen RF80.
Top Northern Ireland races also entered include Ivor McCullough who, like Murray, is chasing a hat trick, along with brother David and Noel Robinson. Alan Davidson is also on the entry list in the now famous Hugh Reid owned Mondiale M89S. Entered in the Super Classic section, the combination will doubtless be on the pace of the far more modern machines. Other Kirkistown regulars entered in the Super Classic section are Henry Campbell, Stephen Mawhinney, Andrew Blair and Ryan Campbell. All four and Reynard mounted so expect plenty of competition between them!
Many question the wisdom of racers “stepping down” to FF1600 when they are seen as having already climbed higher on the motor racing ladder, but Irish racers will tell them they don’t understand. The Festival is special. Like the Phoenix Park back in the day, but even more so, the Festival is the one every Irish racer wants to win, and as I said above, many managed it. The story of Tommy Byrne stepping down into Senna’s Van Diemen and taking the win, having just wrapped up the FF2000 title is, of course, the stuff of legends. There is another reason, however, that it would be special to win the Festival in 2019. This year is the 20th anniversary of the death of one of the best Irish racers of his era, Neil Shanahan. Each year at the event, Neil’s parents Liam and Mary present the Neil Shanahan Trophy to the winner of the final. You can listen to Neil’s story in the excellent Off The Ball documentary below.
Thankfully, for the first time since 2013, when Mondello TV travelled to the event (watch it HERE), the action will be live streamed for all to see. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that one of the above names raises the Neil Shanahan Trophy on the famous podium on Sunday evening.
Full Festival entry list can be seen HERE