Motorsport started a few weeks after the first bunch of cars rolled off the production line. Two blokes looked at each other over a beer at the pub and simultaneously said “I’ll race ya!”. Bare seconds after they started racing they crashed. Again, they looked at each other and said: “ We don’t know how to race!”
Yes, that statement is essentially a bald faced giggle but you get the idea. That’s where categories that are seen as feeders into the big ones, like Formula 1, come into play. Step up, Formula Ford.
The cars are “simple”. Open wheeler, no wings, a tiny tub for the driver to lever themselves into and out of, and a basic four cylinder engine. Then there’s the organic component. It’s proven to be an ideal combination and here in Australia many, many, drivers in Formula Ford have gone on to compete in the top tier categories.
Formula Ford in Australia celebrates fifty years of the small cars pounding out thousands of kilometres worth of track time this year. The category itself was born in the UK just two years before. It was at Sandown, the famous Melbourne based circuit, that stakes its claim as the first track to see FF cars duke it out.
A national series was first put forward to drivers in 1970 but it wasn’t until 1993 that the Confederation of Australian Motorsport awarded it their official status to make it known as the Australian Formula Ford Championship.
Formula Ford has been raced at a state level too, with the majority of the cars using the “Kent” engine. This is an iron, not alloy, block engine. The origins of this go back to 1959. It’s also opened doors for chassis manufacturers. Companies such as Van Dieman, Lola, Elfin, and Mawer have designed cars to fit within the FF guidelines.
Along the way, Formula Ford builds into drivers a knowledge of racecraft. There are aspects of engineering that are taught, chassis setup, and the technicalities of tyre pressure for the racing conditions. It’s these kind of aspects that teams use to expect feedback from a driver to enhance a car’s setup.
In 1971 a young chap called Larry won the championship, and would be sent to Europe to race. The Formula Ford Driver to Europe series would see Mr Perkins make his way into V8 Supercars and build his own engineering business. He can see his name alongside Mark Webber as racing in Formula 1 thanks to being involved in Formula Ford.
Names such as Mark Larkham, Russell Ingall, and Cameron McConville head to the bright lights, whilst locally Leanne Ferrier, aka Leanne Tander, Garth Tander, and Jamie Whincup would become the big names in this talent driven category.
Formula Ford hasn’t run without hiccups though. CAMS effectively discontinued their support for Formula Ford in 2013 however the category did run a national series after and continues to do so.
Have you ever driven a Formula Ford car? Or do you have any memories of big name drivers racing the tiny open wheelers? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and tell us all about it in the comment section below this article!