Formula Ford 1600 Focus
Formula Ford 1600 Focus
FORMULA FORD 1600 is arguably the most successful single-seater racing category ever conceived. We tend to think of it largely as a nursery for driving talent, and it is certainly that, but it has also made significant contributions to other aspects of the British motor racing scene.
It has given an opportunity to dozens, hundreds, of people who have wanted to become racing car designers or constructors m a serious way of business. The sheer volume of the numbers of cars involved has helped the development of the British motor racing industry — in workshops around the 000000Y you will find fabricators serving both FF and higher categories, which is one reason why a number of tbreign major formula trains are based in Britain. The robustness of the racing has helped attract !ne're and more spectators to the circuits. It a training ground for mechanics and, increasingly, for team managers as well. Together with Formula Ford 2000 and Sports 2000, FF1600 is an esSential part of the fabric of current racing and it is ensuring the future health and success of British motor racing at all levels. The nurturing of driving talent is the visible role of the fftlula, but the invisible role is equally laVortant. The category first appeared in 1967, in the san.le Year as the debut of Formula Vec whiOh. it has gradually overshadowed. The rthrer Instigators of the formula represent the ,easons W " forbb its initial and continued success. J!',1 e of MCD wanted a low ,ost ;re-Seater category which would provide , grids, good racing and bring in the "tRers. Geoff Clark, who ran the racing ,hnol at Brands Hutch, was looking for a
class which would be seen by his pupils as being "real" racing cars and which would be suitable not only for schooling but which would enable them to make the transition to racing proper.
Henry Taylor, then Ford's competition Manager, gave his company's support to it as part of Ford's massive involvement in motorsport. Ford's involvement has recently been revitalised. This year the company arranged for 30 Reynard FF83 kits to be delivered to Jean Rondeau and they have formed the basis fora highly successful launch of FF1600 in France.
Next year, winners of important national championships from around the world will be invited to take part in a "World Championship" race which will be a featured support at a Grand Prix in Europe. Ford will buy two dozen or so identical machines and take them and the drivers to a circuit for a week for testing. After the "World Championship" race, the company will then use the cars to launch the class in one of the few countries where it has not caught on. My guess is that it will probably be in Italy, the one country where FF1600 has failed. The reason for its failure tells us something about why it has succeeded elsewhere. The regulations governing the formula are very tight but they were modified in Italy I () allow the cars to perform to a level where they would not be overshadowed by an existing Fiat-based formula. This immediately made it a purely national formula and Attottico o. for example, were no longer able to swoop Oyer the Tyrol to take part. Part ol the pleasure in Ibllowing F171600 in this country is to watch
each year's crop of foreign drivers arrive to try their luck and, of course, British drivers are able to compete abroad.
This article will not concern itself with drivers apart from making the Ibllowing points. FF1600 is merely a stage in a driver's career, nothing tnore and nothing less. It will teach him race craft, slipstreaming, car control and self control within fairly broad safety margins. The publicists will tell you that it is a breeding ground for champions etc etc. They will make exaggerated claims and tell you that Fittipaldi, Hunt and Sheckter all owe their titles to their grounding in F1,1600. This is nonsense, all three had previous racing experience, Fittipaldi drove in only four FF1600 races, Scheckter did not . complete a full season and Hunt spent mist of his time crashing. Nobody who has won an FF1600 Championship has yet won a Grand Prix. The drivers who have been outstanding in FFI600, such as Schenken, Acheson and Lees, have never translated that early promise to Formula One stardom. Many t,f the best British drivers have never raced in FF1600 and they include John Watson, Brian Henton and Martin Brundle. There toots single way to the top. Early performances CO alit for little (before reaching Fl. I-auda's single-seater wins comprised one in F Vec, none in F3 and a win in a minor F2 race against a sparse field of privateers). It is a driver's management of his career which will take hint to the top, that, and luck and money, of course. FF1600 basically calls for a space frame chassis, steel construction. lightly tuned Ford Kent engine originally the 1.500 cc Cortina UT engine to, ',et:111,1 so)
aerodynamic aids, steel wheels and 13 in x 51/2 in tyres.
Originally road tyres were specified in order to keep down costs. Some manufacturers started to market some rather dubious "road" tyres which had high wear rates on road cars but which, by a coincidence, worked very well in FF1600. Some of the smart boys also found that . buffing off most of the tread from a road tyre helped them enormously and covers were being used for a single race. Since 1976, there has been a control tyre, a treaded, cross-ply Dunlop made from a racing compound. In some countries, such as the USA, wets and slicks are permitted, though to the original dimensions.
Tyres are currently a major preoccupation with leading FF1600 runners. Leading teams will spend a day each week tyre testing to discover optimum matched sets. Although there is only one type of cover for all conditions, the professionals carefully monitor tread wear and temperature and maintain sets of tyres, scrubbed to different tread depths, for use in wet or dry conditions. A set of tyres costs £220 and a front runner will get through a set in a race, the practice for the race, and, perhaps, a subsequent test session. A strictly amateur driver, out to enjoy himself in a minor championship, may find himself doing five
races on a set. Over the past few years we have seen the emergence of some highly professional outfits running drivers who do little else but race and test, and test sessions, on the whole, work out more expensive than racing. British Racing Prospects, for example, quote £650 for a properly conducted test session and £600 for a race. A detailed breakdown of their figures shows they are not making a profit at these rates. Originally there was a rule which stated that a complete car, ready to race, had to cost less that £1,000 and Lotus used to advertise their Mk 51 with a hire purchase deal — spin now, pay later. This rule quickly went by the board and now one is looking at around £6,500 for a chassis, about £1,250 for a Newland Mk 9 gearbox and spare ratios and around £1,800 for an engine. A new car. including signwriting and essential spares, is currently, then, at
Taking inflation into account, this is not actually an excessive amount. Lola Cars, for example, make little or no profit on the FF1600 cars they sell. Their motive for being in the market is that the production of the cars helps to keep their workforce fully occupied and aids cash flow, it also gives experience to young designers and forms valuable relationships with drivers and teams at an early stage.
Van Diemen and Reynard, who this year will produce more than 100 FF1600 cars apiece, are able to make a profit by the sheer volume of sales and being in a position to command keen prices from suppliers. The sale of spares, of course, is an important part of a company's turnover and profits. It is likely that over 90% of all new FF1600 cars seen in 1985 will come from Van Diemen, Reynard and Lola, and not so long ago such domination was unthinkable. The market is currently very tight indeed and a new constructor faces the same problems of any newcomer to any type of market, be it frozen peas or thermal socks. It is no use having a clever design if it is not backed soundly in a commercial sense and perceived to be so by the customer. There are a number of small constructors still in business, offering perhaps more personal attention to the customer, but the days when one might find a dozen different makes on a
grid are gone for ever. The rule applies: if you're not making money then, soon, you're not making cars. The main constructors now all spend time in wind tunnels, as do some private teams. An eight hour session in the tunnel at MIRA costs £1,000. The top end of FF1600 has become very serious business indeed. If you closely examine one of the cars run by a top outfit you'll see all kinds of small modifications, here some stiffening or bracing, threesome lightening or special roll bars and bigger brakes. What you don't see is the car being completely stripped after every race, the tyre matching, the experiments with different shock absorbers, the search for the best engine. As is frequently the case in motor racing, what costs the money is what you don't see. Over the past seven or eight years, it is the amount of testing which has escalated costs at the serious end of the formula. George
Burda, of Royale, says: "In 1976 you could undertake a serious championship for £2-3,000, now you're talking of about £30,000 and inflation does not cover the increase. The thing which has increased is the amount of testing. If needs be, a driver, can run himself at a race meeting, but he needs people loran him at a test session and that costs money. As soon as one driver tests three days a week, everyone feels he has to do the same.
"Quite apart from the cost of tyres, belt putting miles on his engine so needs to have at least one spare, then you start to add up the cost of rebuilds. To compete seriously in one of the leading championships a driver must go to a team, and that costs. It has become extremely professional racing but the promotional package has not kept pace. "In 1976, the lap record on the short Brands circuit was 50.00 sec. Isis now 49.00 sec. That second has come very expensively." British Racing Prospects quote £26,000 for exclusive use of a car in she 15 round Esso Championship. For that amount the driver gets at least 20 test sessions and a highly professional back-up to keep his sponsors happy, a permanent hospitality unit at Silverstone is part of the package. A 25 race season in a works Van Diemen, with a great deal of testing, costs about £30.000. This represents excellent value in
those years when Van Diemen are top but if another chassis is superior then the driver has not the facility to change cars. It inust be said, though, that it is not often that Van Diemen are not at least as good as anything else on the market.
Currently Madgwick Motorsport could offer you a test session and race for with such items as insurance and test and entry fees all taken care of. Depending on circumstances, the time of year, state of a team's finances etc, it should be possible to shop around and get a good deal for much less. Be cautious, though, when dealing w.'n, those who offer rock bottom deals, you rna.), find all sorts of hidden extras, especiallY you damage the car. In racing, as in Ws` things, you get what you pay loran long you deal with honest citizens. We often get asked by young drivers how to obtain sponsorship. In fact there is verl.' little true sponsorship in FF1600. Most °
the money comes from patrons, a driver's father, uncle or friend, or else the "sponsoring" firm belongs to the driver. It is not sponsorship, which is given for purely commercial reasons.
What sponsorship there is tends to be relatively small amounts of money, part sponsorship, a firm paying an employee's entry fees and giving him time off for testing in return for their name on the car isa fairly typical example. Complete budgets have been obtained but are exceptional. Fortunately, though, FF1600 is a broad church and with nearly 20 championships in Britain alone, including low-cost categories such as Pre-'74 and Pre-'78, there are plenty of opportunities to go racing within a reasonable budget. In 1981 and 82, Bob Higgins won the Castle Combe Championship driving rented Martlet cars built by Dave Martin at Goodwood. Each season cost him around £2,000 for cost of hire, and some of that he got back in prize money. Last year, John "Butcher" Booth Vent a nett £10-12,000 and won three championships (Oulton Park, Donington and the North of England) as well as the "Champion of Champions" race. He kept his costs down by preparing the car himself with the help of his friends. He also calls on a wealth of experience and needs to spend less time testing than relative newcomers. Richard Mallock computes the "at cost" Price of racing his U2 Mk 9 in pre-'74 events as £150 per race, exclusive of entry fees and transportation. It's the some car with which, in 1970, he became the first FF1600 driver
laP a British circuit at more than 100 mPh. Over the last few years, chassis design ,vhich progressed very gradually for the first lb: Years of the formula's life, suddenly came more complex with the building of "emelY slim cars with inboard susPension. The reason for the sudden ;hang, around 1981/2 was to meet the `einands of the important American market. Tracks in the States tend to have
longer straights than here and so outright speed becomes more important. The only way you can increase top speed in FF1600 is by reducing drag, hence the recent emphasis on aerodynamics. Now, a marginally improved shape is not going to make much difference around the Brands Hatch short circuit but, in racing, if someone wins with a coffee perculator on board, then everyone has to have one and the only argument remaining is whether a Russell Hobbs is quicker than a Rowenta. When inboard suspension came in, one successful constructor told me gloomily that in order to sell any cars at all he was going to have to dump his perfectly good outboard suspension and substitute a system which, at best, would be no better but would anyway be more expensive and more tricky to set up. Until dictated to by fashion he was a successful constructor, now he no longer makes racing cars. Black magic, fashion, psychology, call it what you will, plays its part in every level of racing. They will tell you at Cosworth that some drivers swore by a particular engine, even when it had been completely rebuilt
ten times and the only original parts were the block and number. By and large, engine builders are the sanest group of people in motor racing. In Formula Ford, they see drivers come, and drivers go, and know that every year they will supply two identical engines to a competitor who will swear by one and loathe the other. They accept philosophically the fact that each in turn will become flavour of the month, who can do no wrong. One said, with a world-weary chuckle, "Thirty guys start a race which ends with one winner and 29 drivers looking for excuses. The first thing to blame is the engine, the last thing is the driver."
'There is in fact, little to choose in the way of power, reliability or price of any of the engines offered for sale by the leading builders. Every so often a particular engine will prove to have a slight edge but this is almost always because the cast iron block has been cured by leaving it outside for a couple of years. In an ideal world, this is something which should happen to all cast iron blocks but the economics of the operation make it impossible. Alternatively, one heat treats and hones an older engine — everyone by now knows that the BMW Fl engines have blocks which have been retrieved from road cars after 100,000 miles. Unless an engine is owned by a builder and loaned under strict conditions to a favoured runner, then any new tweak is soon going to be common knowledge. When Scholar is flavour of the month, everyone buys a Scholar engine but, come rebuild time, Auriga may be flavour of the month no the engine is sent there. This way every builder sees examples of his rivals' work. Secrets do not remain so for long and the steady interchange means that cheating is soon found out so, among established engine builders, cheating does not exist. The essential skill of the engine builder is a subtle one. First the engine is balanced and blueprinted. Blueprinting does not, by itself, give a power increase but because the engine runs more smoothly and freely as a result, it allows every last ounce of power to
be extracted. An unblueprinted engine which still had the polished head and ports and permitted carburetter adjustments and cam timing tweaks, would lose about 5 bhp because it would not run smoothly at the top end and would be likely to run into fuel mix problems.
The minimum permitted capacity of each combustion chamber at TDC is 41 cc. The serious builder aims to get to this figure exactly, which is achieved by skimming the block. The rest is a question of teasing power from the engine and given the regulations which ensure that the engine remains as near standard as possible, this is delicate work.
We spoke to half a dozen leading engine builders and all conceded that a figure of 104 bhp was about the mark loran engine. Most also volunteered that they felt there really was no difference between the products of any one of them, though some did mention certain areas of practice and finish which they did not like in some others. The best engine, though, is without a doubt. . . the one which won the last race.
Because the Kent engine, supplies of which have been guaranteed until 1990, is kept to near standard specification, and because skilled tuning extracts over 20% more power, and because they are subjected to racing stresses, they do need rebuilding every eight hours or 800 miles at an average cost of around £500. After that time they will have lost a little of their edge but, more importantly, the crankshaft will have become suspect. This tends to crack between number four big end journal and number five main bearing journal, where all of the power is transmitted. An identical engine can run in a Clubmans "B" car for four times as long, but when fitted to an FF1600 car the exposed ring gear transmits violet forces when bouncing over kerbs (nobody has yet been able to design a guard which may not implode and cause worse damage and rubbing strips on the chassis only partially solve the problem) and greater stress is put on the engine by having the transmission bolted directly behind it without a propshaft which will absorb some of the torque.
Everyone uses the Hewland Mk 9 gearbox, which has four forward gears, and most will have 10 or a dozen spare ratios to cover all circuits. £1,250 covers the cost of the 'box and ratios and it generally goes for an entire season with only routine maintenance. Non-slip differentials are banned and the only usual tweak is to run different gear ratios in practice at some tracks — a low first gear for starting not being essential in practice. Although cheating is endemic in many forms of racing, in FF1600 it only occasionally rears its ugly head and is generally quickly spotted. There are cases of cars being run in practice fractionally underweight but the benefit is so marginal that any advantage is more psychological
than anything. One small race hire operator cheerfully admits to running illegal engines — he attracts a poor class of custom and is merely trying to prevent them from coming last. One firm used nitrous oxide injection a few seasons ago — they are now out of business. A German firm produced some very bent engines for F2000 last year, and are now out of the British market.
When bent engines are used, it is almost always by someone who is preparing them himself and who is attempting aorta be last rather than to win races. Even then they are probably deluding themselves. One character I know built the most bent engine of all time, it had the high lift cam, steel crank, lightened flywheel, thin gasket, large valves, everything. And it was two seconds a lap slower than his standard Auriga engine! The point is that the professionals make everything work in harmony whereas the amateur faker tends to believe that adding this or that, regardless of its effect on the whole, will make an improvement.
There are always whispers about this driver or that running illegally, but the facts rarely support the allegations. Relatively small increases of power within so tightly regulated a formula are soon apparent to the opposition. As Martin Spence of Auriga says, "an illegal cam will make a car quick. Quick into the scrutineer's bay". At present, British designs reign supreme in the formula worldwide, but there are signs of growing opposition. In America, the Swift has proved to be highly competitive but apparently the company has had some problems in meeting its production targets. This is something vvhich British makers do not face since every constructor can call upon the in-depth strength of the motor racing industry which. geographically, is close at hand. The works Van Diemens,
which have had a very good season, have been using the Gatmo engine from Germany. There is no doubt that Jean Rondeau will want to become more than a Reynard assembler in France. As the formula spreads and grows it will encourage the development of grass roots motor racing industries. In two or three years time we might have to endure the spectacle not only of a Brazilian winning races, but perhaps in a French car with a German-tuned engine and an American gearbox. That's the sort of dream normally induced only by eating bad shellfish.
Writing about Formula Three (Mt)TOR SPORT, July 1984) we mentioned in passing a Formula Ford novice who by mid-season had spent over £70,000 on his first year of racing. This raised a few eyebrows, but not among people in the know. This article may have shown how easy it is to spend such an amount, if you have it. You buy several engines and have them rebuilt regularly. You have several chassis at your disposal, so you can choose the right car for the right circuit. You go testing several days a week and buy a good transporter, pay your mechanics sensible wages and accommodation expenses. You become a professional in an amateur category, a professional in every sense except that you do not actually make money at the game. You get more circuit miles under your belt than all but a handful of drivers at any level did 10 years ago.
In preparing this -article, it was suggested to as that everyone who went testing should have his licence stamped. Beyond a set limit of test sessions, a driver would still be allowed to race in order to gain the experience he seeks, but would not .be eligible for Championship points, which would be the preserve of the amateur, the man who earns his living during the week and who races at the weekends. It's ci attractive proposition and certainly in keeping with the original aims of . the formula which offered compeuuve single-seater racing to anyone with £1,000 to spend an a car, ready to race.
It's a point we'd like readers' opinions on. FF1600 is too important in so many areas to be allowed to become the preserve of a handful of professionals each year. NobodY at the outset could have foreseen just how important it was to become, but perhaps she time is drawing close when some simple ruhle changes are necessary to protect it. T e sparse grids for some imPiirtant championship rounds are worrying. There are murmurs within that all is not well. There was a time when a Formula Three race had three heats and a final, but now regard two-thirds of a full grid as a bT turnout. It would be more than a shame, it would be disastrous, if in tweet three Year! time the same was true of the impcirial:'; FF1600 championships. The sad !lung le that it looks likely if nothing ns soon. — M.L.