With the MSA Formula season fast approaching, thecheckeredflag.co.uk’s Formula 4 reporter Connor Jackson took the opportunity to interview a promising young rookie making his debut this season. Ayrton Simmons will be one of TRS Arden’s four young hot shots as they aim for the 2016 title.
Many people questioned whether MSA Formula would live up to the wheel to wheel racing of its predecessor, British Formula Ford, but with its first successful season under its belt, the championship looks to grow in order to accommodate the next generation of racing heroes.
While he may be one of a number of British drivers, his roots stretch into the continent, where he also competed in karting for a number of years. But will Simmons’ Spanish upbringing change his racing style compared to his competitors.
Adapting to cars seems to have not been too much of an issue for him, with gears being an easy transition, but there have still been teething troubles for the 14 year old. “It’s totally different really, completely different! You’ve got so much more to get use to. You’ve just got to learn completely different settings.”
Simmons acknowledged that he’s already seen the difference between some other series machinery. “I tested BRDC [F3], that was the first car I’d tested and that was pretty fast. The F4 (MSA) was not as fast but then it’s easier to do whatever you want in it, so MSA cars are bit freer, so you can have a bit more fun trying to get the car settled. But with the BRDC, it’s more stuck to ground so it’s harder to control what’s going on.”
Simmons has already tested at Donington, Brands Hatch and Snetterton, with more tests lined up before the season starts, however, he admitted that this wasn’t the only way he was preparing for the new season.
“To start, we get to spend lots of time in the simulator, back at the factory. Then we try to organise days where we can go testing with other people. Have some time with Arden, who can do what you want. We’ve already been testing at some tracks, so it’s good to get experience.”
A drivers skill is what makes the difference in this series, with Simmons confident he can utilise his set over the field. “I’m very quick around the fast speed corners, especially compared to the other drivers, I don’t mind the high speed movement. So if the rear comes out a bit, I’ll keep my foot in and manage it on the steering wheel, where others might back off a little bit.”
“So what we’ve got to improve on in the next few weeks is the slow corners, it seemed normal in karting. So it seems the other way round, where most people are quick in the slow corners and visa versa, but for some reason I’m completely different to the others.”
In the recent MSA Formula test at Brands, he managed a fifth place in the morning, sixth in the afternoon, ending the day seventh overall. Finishing the day as the second fastest rookie. Simmons was content with the times saying he wasn’t expecting the result to be so positive.
“Yeah, I’m really pleased! To be fair, I never thought we’d be that high up in the table. We started off in the morning quite fast and then maintained the level of concentration, improving our lap time, which was really good.”
“But then, towards the end of the day, everyone else had one or two extra steps compared to us. We were really struggling in the afternoon compared to others, but that seemed to be the only issue. I was really pleased with my team and myself, so it was a great day overall, I really enjoyed it.”
All of the fifteen runners were within a second of each other, which only further builds the hype for the coming season. With the Arden youngster only 0.3 seconds behind the fastest man and team mate Luis Leeds, who Ayrton was keen to learn off.
“We always learn from each other, we work really closely so every bit of data is shared. So every session we see each others times and if someone is faster in one sector we can see each others times and improve. We’re constantly learning, so that’s where we get our good lap times from.”
“Our pace is really good at the moment and I feel if we carry this momentum forward, we should be up there, but I’m not sure what Carlin’s doing.”
Sadly for Simmons, he’ll miss the start of the season due to the fact he won’t be old enough. “Yeah, my birthdays on April 29, so it’s unfortunate. We’d like to do the full season, but it’s just rules”
This does beg the question though, if he knew how long the season would be, why choose to not race in another series, such as Ginetta Juniors, Formula Jedi or even spend another year in karting? Despite the options, Simmons was adamant about his MSA promotion.
“Well, we didn’t want to spend another year in go-karting. First of all, we’ve already done karting for eight years, also now a days, in karting, the kid with the most money is always at the front, which we’d struggle with.”
“I wanted to move into single-seaters, I was part of the YRDA, which is Arden effectively and I was told that was the best way to go, with MSA Formula especially. There are other options, but the MSA Formula is the most competitive and the cleanest as well, I think Ginetta’s can be a bit dirty.”
2015 saw the MSA Formula come under scrutiny, with Dan Ticktum’s controversial incident at Silverstone bringing up the question of age limits, a fact that Simmons will have to face at some point as he goes into the year as the youngest driver.
After the three car team of 2015, Arden were given permission to field another candidate, meaning that the experienced Leeds joins the team, alongside Jack Martin, and Rafa Martins. Ayrton talked about his relationship with them and the competition he’ll face over the year.
“I’ve met all of them and we all get along really, really well. I already knew Jack [Martin] from the YRDA as him and myself were in the academy a year before this and we’ve competed against each other in go-karting.”
“At the moment I don’t have anyone to directly compete against, but I’d probably say Luis [Leeds], he’s been up there every single test day. However, I don’t want to compete against Luis as he is my team mate and he’s got a year experience, but other than him there’s no-one really that stands out.”
With the two round disadvantage, he knows that any title may be beyond him, but Simmons still has goals he wants to hit this year. “I want to do well in the rookie championship, because if we do well in that, we’ll be in a good position for the future. If we do well this season that’ll put us in a good place to do better the season after.”