Formula Ford, also known as F1600 and Formula F, is an entry-level class of single seater, open-wheel formula racing. The various championships held across the world form an important step for many prospective Formula One drivers. Formula Ford has traditionally been regarded as the first major stepping stone into formula racing after karting. The series typically sees professional career minded drivers enter alongside amateurs and enthusiasts. Success in Formula F can lead directly to other junior formula series such as a Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula Three, or the W Series for female drivers.
Formula Ford is not a one-make championship. It allows freedom of chassis design, engine build and numerous technical items of specification on the car. This opens the door to many chassis manufacturers, large and small. Many other single-seater formula series impose fixed specifications. Only two other professional single seater racing formula seriers in the world offer the same freedom of chassis and engine build: Formula Three and Formula One.
The origins of Formula Ford began in the early 1960s, where motor racing schools such as the Jim Russell school and Motor Racing Stables featured single seat Formula Junior and Formula Three-like machines from world class constructors like Cooper and Lotus. Many aspiring Formula One stars looked to these schools in the hope of learning the craft and also looking the part. However, although there was no shortage of aspiring drivers, these schools had much trouble avoiding bankruptcy. The 1-litre Formula Three engines, the 1.1-litre Coventry Climax FJ and later the "Kent" engine from the Ford Anglia 105E, cost around £3,000 at the time in addition to the Dunlop racing tires which cost £80 a set. Furthermore, these engines were incredibly fragile and had a tendency to self-destruct. All these factors contributed to a steep maintenance and upkeep cost of the schools.
In 1963, Geoff Clarke; the owner of Motor Racing Stables, moved his racing school to the Brands Hatch circuit. This brought him in contact with John Webb; managing director of developments at Brands Hatch. At about this time, two of the school’s Lotus Formula Junior chassis were fitted with a standard 1498cc Ford "Kent" pushrod engine as featured in the recently introduced Cortina GT saloon. The 1500 Cortina, with its reliability and horsepower output fairly close to “F3 proper” proved a resounding success in the school. The earliest experiments with radial tires bore fruit as well: the students of the day did not care that these were not the racing engines or racing tires, just that the cars were equal.
At an informal meeting at the December 1966 racing car show day at Olympia, Webb and Clarke were discussing the possibility of building a fleet of identical open wheel race cars based on the success of combining the Ford power plant and road wheels, radial tires, and Formula Junior style chassis. Not only would they make ideal school cars, but would also provide a new entry level formula for a race series. They felt if they called it “Formula Ford" they could get backing from Ford itself. Webb was on the phone the next day to Ford competition manager Henry Taylor, who agreed to provide Clarke and MRS with 54 Cortina GT engines at £50 each (£15 below retail). Webb also approached the Royal Automobile Club's competition director, to establish rules for this new class. Late in 1967, Ford announced the new Formula Ford class to the world.
|Rules: (reprinted from May ‘67 issue of R.A.C. Motor Sport Bulletin)|
Clarke then set about approaching existing race car constructors to build the first Formula Fords. Both Bruce McLaren and Jack Brabham turned down the idea; Colin Chapman however dusted off the obsolete Lotus 31 Chassis and reinvented it as the Lotus 51. He agreed to provide the first of two 25 car batches at £850 per car. The only stipulation Chapman had was that a Renault gear box was used. This proved to be fundamental weak point in the drive train. Difficulty with the Renault transmission resulted in a failure to continue with the second batch of cars for MRS.
Russell approached Chapman to supply Formula Ford cars for his own school. Chapman insisted Russell match Clarke’s 50 car order; Russell would only commit to 10 cars so the deal fell through. Russell then approached Taylor who built the Alexis car and a deal was struck to jointly produce the Russell-Alexis. This car had a Hewland racing gear box which made the car more expensive (£999), but was more reliable and allowed interchangeable ratios.
The first standalone Formula Ford race took place at Brands Hatch on July 2, 1967. Of the 20 cars that competed, 10 were MRS Lotus 51s, including the eventual winner, Ray Allen. The Russell-Alexis car won its debut race in August 1967, and by 1968 54 Russell-Alexis had been sold. Based on this success Russell opened two more racing schools in Britain, another in Canada, and another in the United States.
Chapman and his Lotus 51 did recover, replacing the troublesome Renault gear box with the Hewland unit, even claiming Russell as a customer in 1968. Also in 1968, Meryln debuted as a Formula Ford constructor, dominating sales for that year. Other new manufactures included Crosslé Car Company, Dulon, Elden Racing Cars, Hawke Racing Cars and Royale Racing Cars, together with existing constructors such as Brabham choosing to build a Formula Ford chassis.
As the production Ford Cortina engine evolved to a new 1600cc crossflow unit, so did the Formula Ford regulations. Increasing costs forced them to relax the £1,000 price ceiling on Formula Ford as blueprinting of the engine was now allowed.
Belgium hosted the first race outside England, in 1967. Formula Ford racing quickly spread across Europe and North America, with the first official Formula Ford race in the United States on March 23, 1969 and was included in the SCCA Runoffs that same year. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Formula Ford had established itself as a direct path to a seat on a Formula One car, the highest level in open wheel motorsport. Australian Tim Schenken won over two dozen Formula Ford races in 1968, two years later he was driving a Formula One car for Frank Williams. Emerson Fittipaldi impressed during the 1970 Formula One Grand Prix season after a short stint in Formula Ford. In 1970, he became the first Formula Ford graduate to win a Formula One Grand Prix. In 1972, he became the first Formula Ford graduate to win the Formula One world championship.
In the United States, starting with a 1983 debut race and victory at the 1983 SCCA Runoffs the Swift DB-1 became the dominant chassis in North America Formula Ford racing with ten championships between 1983 and 1996. The DB-6 evolution of the chassis won an additional six championships through 2008. During this time Formula Ford was on the decline in the US for several reasons. The rising cost of competition, SCCA's introduction of a spec sports racer, Sports Renault, and the dominance of the Swift chassis helped to collapse the class in the US.
Currently, Formula Ford racing exists in two main forms in Europe: National Series for aspiring 'career' drivers run around the world which have used the 1600 Duratec engine, (which replaced the heavier but not significantly more powerful Zetec engine in 2006), and for 2012 are beginning to adopt the new EcoBoost 1600 turbo engine; and a mainly amateur, club-racing series attracting serious enthusiasts using the now rejuvenated 1600 Kent engine with which the formula ran from the mid-1960s to mid-1990s, as Ford restarted production of the Kent engine in 2009 for motorsport reasons. Whatever the engine of the Formula Ford car, it has long provided a relatively inexpensive way for drivers to race purpose-built racecars. There are many Formula Ford 1600 series for drivers of the older Kent-powered cars.
Formula Ford cars
A Formula Ford car is one of the more distinctive-looking open-wheel race cars because it does not have wings to create aerodynamic downforce. In order to reduce cost and allow smaller manufacturers to produce their own design of chassis without prohibitive tooling costs, chassis are steel space frame, unlike the monocoques found in other types of single seater racing.
The more popular marques as of 2012 were Van Diemen, Mygale and the Australian-built Spectrum, but smaller manufacturers such as Ray Race Cars and have had some success. Historical designers who have made a mark on the series have included: Titan, Lotus, Merlyn, Hawke, Citation, Swift, Euroswift, Elden, Reynard, Crosslé, Lola, Zink, Bowin, Royale, and Cooper Racing.
Top speeds in the National Class are easily as high as in the other junior formulae of BMW and Renault, but cornering speeds tend to be lower as Formula Ford cars lack the downforce-producing aerodynamic aids on the other cars; handling is therefore entirely down to mechanical grip, and the lack of wings ensures that cars following another are not aerodynamically disadvantaged, allowing some of the closest racing with plenty of overtaking. Series' rules may permit slick or treaded tires, generally supplied either by Dunlop or Avon. As the rules limit engine modifications, all cars are relatively equal and racing results tend to be close. Formula Fords allow suspension, damping, gearing and braking bias changes, but not aerodynamic options such as winged cars.
In 2012, new specifications and regulations were introduced, allowing the use of the new Ford EcoBoost engine along with improvements in chassis design. Unlike its predecessors, that used naturally aspirated engines and manual gearboxes, the EcoBoost car utilises power from a turbocharged engine and a sequential gearbox. The new car has 165PS, with identical engine calibration for every competitor's car. The chassis remains a steel spaceframe construction, with free chassis design open to all manufacturers. New to the car is its compliance with Formula Three safety standards, which involves mandatory crash structures, side-impact panels running the full height and length of the cockpit, an FIA-specified headrest and an extricable safety seat. In addition to the safety enhancements, some mandatory elements of bodywork shape have also been introduced. These will define the shape, size and orientation of the sidepod air intakes and the roll-hoop cover. By mandating these the frontal areas will be equalised between different manufacturers, removing the potential for significant aerodynamic advantage, making driving ability and the skills of engineers and designers in car set-up the major factors.
In the United States Formula Ford continues to use the earlier Ford Kent engines. For 2010 the Honda L15A7 engine used in the Honda Fit was introduced as an alternative engine. The Honda engine was developed in partnership with Quicksilver RacEngines with the intent of providing power similar to the existing Kent motor. Honda developed an install kit around the Swift DB-1 chassis. With the introduction of the Honda motor SCCA changed the class name from Formula Ford to Formula F.
Formula Ford has given birth to several other categories of racing: Formula Ford 2000 evolved in the 1970s to use a Pinto engine and, although it used basically Formula Ford chassis, permitted use of slicks and wings; it was seen as a natural step up from the 1600cc formula and a stepping stone to categories such as Formula Three. Formula Ford 2000 engines and transmissions were married to sports-racing chassis to produce Sports 2000.
Older Formula Fords, with outboard shock absorbers, race in the United States as Club Formula Fords in SCCA and other club racing series.
Formula 100 was an unsuccessful attempt in the late 1960s to create a sportscar category related to Formula Ford but using a 1300 cc Ford engine; the cars were heavy and slow. The proposed , an attempt to update FF2000, of the mid-1980s was limited to one Reynard that ran a few demonstration laps.
Formula Ford remains popular in its 1600 cc form—the cars are widely raced, sprinted and hillclimbed. Formula Continental is also a popular choice in the USA and Canada. The class provides a venue for Formula Ford 2000 as well as the earlier Formula C (1100 cc pure racing engine) and Formula Super Vee (production-based VW engines) cars. Formula Continental cars employ aerodynamic effects (front and rear wings).
In the United States, used Formula Ford racing chassis are also proving to be a popular source of conversion into Formula 1000 cars and their closely related sports car bodied cousins .
Ford Motorsport administers some of the national Formula Ford championships around the world, and continue to control the technical regulations for all cars globally. The older Kent-engined cars are very popular with club racers, providing the ground for several organizations to run their own series. Many racing schools offer driver training in Formula Ford cars. However, in many countries, Formula BMW and Formula Renault Campus had superseded Formula Ford as the main entry level class in the mid-2000s; the demise of Formula BMW in Europe after only a few years of operation caused somewhat of a resurgence in support for the Ford grids. In the UK there are many club-level regional series aimed at the amateur enthusiast, as well as championships for older Fords. Since 2009, Ford officials in the United States has begun active production of Kent engines in the wake of the United States rules allowing Honda engines. Ford officials have noted the US-made Kent blocks are based on modern stamping, and shows how well-established the formula has become.
Championships and events around the world
Championships for Formula Fords are run in many countries around the world. The major series is the British Formula Ford Championship, however there are many other thriving series. Each run to essentially the same rules and regulations, with minor variations for local conditions.
British Formula Ford Championship
The British series is the main Formula Ford championship in the world[according to whom?]. Created in 1976, the championship has run to all four generations of regulations and specifications. In 2013, the series adopted the Formula Ford EcoBoost 200 specification, which include an increase in the EcoBoost engine's power, along with the addition of a fully adjustable aerodynamic package which includes front and rear wings previously never used in the British championship. Another change for the 2013 season was Duratec class cars being ineligible for the championship, leaving only the EcoBoost class. The series also moved back to supporting the BTCC. In the 2015 the championship was renamed MSA Formula. In 2016, it was rebranded as F4 British Championship.
Several former drivers of the British championship have become successful in Formula One, including Eddie Irvine and Anthony Davidson, while Formula Ford champions Ayrton Senna and Jenson Button also went on to win the Formula One Drivers' Championship.
Formula Ford Festival
For many years the highlight of the Formula Ford season was the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, England. Entries of several hundred cars from all over the Formula Ford world were common into the 1990s, with racers competing in knockout heats to decide the grid for a grand final. Entries later declined, and later festivals struggled to attract more than 40-50 cars, enough for two heats and a final. More "historic" FF1600 cars had been turning up for the supporting races than contemporary Zetecs, however in 2006 the Festival saw the Duratec engine for the first time thereby having a final for all three marques at one meeting for the first time. The Walter Hayes Trophy now recognises the continuing interest in 1600cc 'Kent' Formula Ford and attracted over 150 entries in 2006, including several drivers who more commonly compete in much more senior formulae.
Formula Ford EuroCup
The Formula Ford EuroCup, known originally as the "European Formula Ford Championship", is the current incarnation of a pan-European championship for Formula Ford competitors, last held previously in 2001. The 2011 series was aimed at giving drivers experience at European race circuits. Three national Formula Ford championships are involved in the revived championship, these being the British, and championships. While individual events nominate a winner, there is no overarching point score to declare a series champion.
Australian Formula Ford Series
The Australian Formula Ford Series is an Australian motor racing competition for Formula Ford racing cars. It has been held annually since 1970, originally as a national series and from 1993 to 2013 as the Australian Formula Ford Championship. The control engine was changed from the first-generation Kent engine to the third-generation Mazda-sourced Ford Duratec engine in 2006. In 2014 the championship was downgraded to a national series with Duratec-engined cars and Kent-engined cars both eligible to compete alongside each other. Currently, the winner wins a ticket to a scouting combine for INDYCAR at the end of the calendar year.
U.S. F2000 National Championship
The U.S. F2000 National Championship powered by Mazda is an American racing series using the American variation of the Formula Ford formula, Formula Ford 2000, that resumed operation for the 2010 season. It is sanctioned by IndyCar, and is a part of The Mazda Road to Indy.
F1600 Championship Series
The F1600 Championship Series was created by the SCCA in 2011. The series is organized by Formula Race Promotions, the same organization which organizes the F2000 Championship Series. The class operates under the same rules as the SCCA Formula F. Therefore, many drivers from the local club racing scene make their appearance in the national series.
Southern Formula 1600 Championship
The Southern Formula 1600 Championship was created by Right Turn Promotions and Primus Racing Parts for 2018. The series races on SCCA event weekends, alongside the Southern Formula 2000 Championship. The class operates under the same rules as the SCCA Formula F. Racing at traditional road race tracks in the southern United States, the series attracts drivers from across all forms of club and pro racing.
The SCCA National Championship Runoffs is the end-of-year championship race meeting for Sports Car Club of America Club Racing competitors. Divisional champions and other top drivers from the SCCA's 116 regions are invited to participate at the Runoffs. National championships are awarded to the winners of each class. Formula Ford (now Formula F) was first included in the Runoffs in 1969.
List of Formula Ford championships and events
|Country/region||Series/event name||Active years||Additional information|
|Australia||Formula Ford National Series||1970|
|Formula Ford Driver to Europe Series||1971-1992|
|Australian Formula Ford Championship||1993-2013|
|Australian Formula Ford Series||2014–present|
|New South Wales Formula Ford Championship||1991–2011?||Regional state championships.|
|South Australian Formula Ford Championship|
|Benelux region||Benelux Formula Ford Championship||1981–present||Linked with the Dutch championship.|
|Canada||Canadian Formula Ford Challenge||?–2004|
|Europe||European Formula Ford Championship||1969–1973, 1995–2001|
|Formula Ford EuroCup||2011–2012|
| West Germany
|Netherlands||Dutch Formula Ford Championship||1970–2012||Linked to the Benelux championship. To International North Sea Series.|
|New Zealand||New Zealand Formula Ford Championship||1971–present|
|FIA Northern European Zone||||Single round format.|
|United Kingdom||British Formula Ford Championship||1976–2014|
|Formula Ford Festival||1972–present|
|Walter Hayes Trophy||2001–present|
|United States||U.S. F2000 National Championship||1990–2006
|From 2017 onwards no longer compliant with any other FF rules set|
|F1600 Championship Series||2011–present||Run in the eastern United States|
|F2000 Championship Series||2006–present||Run in the eastern United States|
|Pacific Formula Ford 2000 Championship||2004–present||Based in California, with one Nevada round|
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