The 2017 Formula Ford Festival kicked off at Brands Hatch this weekend, with each of the three heats along with qualifying taking place on the Saturday. A pole and win for Joey Foster and Chris Middlehurst ensures they’ll likely be the favourites going into Sunday, while Matthew Cowley came through for race three victory.
With a last years champion Niall Murray not present and a number of previous winners also not making the journey down to Kent, it was a perfect opportunity for the Festival to crown its first new winner since 2014. Foster though could easily continue this pattern, with the 2003 champion taking the opening heat victory in his Ray GR08 after pressure from Neil Maclennan.
Elsewhere, Chris Middlehurst initially lost the lead at the start of his round, but fought back to take a well deserved win. Many people though were more interested by Keith Donegan, who scythed his way up to second over the course of the race. In the final Heat of the day, Cowley took the honours after polesitter Jake Byrne crashed out.
Outside of the Post ’89 class; Mark Armstrong was the only Pre ’82 class to record a top ten, while in the final race of the day, Conor Murphy picked up eighth in a Pre ’90 Mondaile M89 with Klaus-Dieter Hackel tenth and second in class.
Polesitter: Joey Foster – Independent
Qualifying proved to be a three-man affair for most of the session as the experienced Joey Foster took the initiative in the opening minutes. He was soon joined by former-F4 drivers Ross Martin and Joshua Smith. Both have moved back into Formula Ford this year and have adapted quickly.
As the flag dropped it was Joey Foster setting the fastest qualifying lap of the day (56.610sec), under one tenth in front of Martin. Smith dropped to fifth in the closing stages, with Neil Maclennan and Luke Williams occupying the second row.
Winner: Joey Foster – Independent
From pole it was Joey Foster who rocketed off into the distance as Neil Maclennan and Ross Martin battled over second. This gave the advantage to Josh Smith, who jumped up to third and pressured the fast starting Maclennan.
Foster was hoping for an easy run to the line, but having shaken off Smith, Maclennan started to close the gap as a safety car was called due to James Gowens stricken Jamun T25.
As the restart took place it was advantage Maclennan with the Ray GR09 all over the back off Foster. It was a disaster for third place Luke Williams though as his car died on the exit of Paddock Hill. Traffic would be the story of the final four laps, with Foster using the cars to hold up Maclennan.
A late mistake for Maclennan allowed Foster to take the first Heat victory with Smith rounding out the podium. Martin could only take fourth after an early mistake, with Jordan Dempsey and Team Canada’s Ben Hurst rounding out the top six.
Polesitter: Chris Middlehurst – Middlehurst Motorsport
It was Chris Middlehurst who set the early pace as Jamie Thorburn impressed many with his run to second in the opening three minutes. Middlehurst though, succumbed to the potentially ruining his chances.
Drivers would fail to improve in the second half though as Middlehurst claimed pole from Thorburn and Michael Eastwell. Meanwhile Noel Robinson took fourth ahead of Darren Burke. Team USA Scholarship driver Jonathan Kotyk was only tenth.
Winner: Chris Middlehurst – Middlehurst Motorsport
It was a strong start for second place Jamie Thorburn as he took the lead from Stuart Middlehurst. The pair would break away in the early stages though with Michael Eastwell holding on to third. The best start had been made by James Roe Jnr, but soon found himself dropping outside the top five.
Thorburn found a rhythm towards half distance with Middlehurst, Eastwell and Burke who had the momentum chasing him down. Thorburn’s early pace was starting to drop off and on lap seven sacrificed the lead back to Middlehurst.
Keith Donegan soon became the man to watch. Having set a number of fastest laps in fifth gradually picked off the runners in front, to take second as Middlehurst used the backmarkers to extend his lead.
It would be a hard-fought victory for Middlehurst as Donegan’s failed overtake saw him just hang on to second with Burke rounding out the podium. The resulting final corner bunch-up knocked Eastwell to thirteenth, with Thorburn managing fourth, from Noel Robinson and Roe.
Polesitter: Jake Byrne – Independent
Oliver White topped the majority of the session with Jake Byrne the only driver near him before the first red flag. The wet conditions were clearly catching drivers out, with South African F.Ford champion Julian Van Der Watt running into the gravel.
Drying conditions mixed the grid up in the final minutes as a second red flag was called, resulting in a final sprint to the flag which Byrne won by over half a second from Matt Cowley and Matt Round-Garrido. As for White, he fell to fifth behind Team USA’s Aaron Jeansonne.
Winner: Matthew Cowley – Independent
Once again, it was the story of the front row at the start, with Matthew Cowley going around the outside to almost take the lead from Jake Byrne. A small mistake was made by Luke Cooper during the opening lap scuffle, but soon recovered to set the fastest lap and pressure for the podium.
Byrne would pull out a slight advantage in first as a number of cars spun further back. Second place would soon become the biggest prize with Matt Round-Garrido at Cooper challenging Cowley’s Van Dieman JL13.
It would be a disaster for Byrne though, as Cowley caught up and pressured into Surtees. Byrne ran off into the barrier allowing Cowley to inherit the lead.
This mean that Cowley took a close win from Round-Garrido and Cooper completing the podium. It would be Rory Smith and Sebastian Melrose in fourth and fifth, while the recovering Oliver White took sixth from the back of the grid.