Another sneak preview from "Around the Raceway"


Formula Ford

History of the Category

Towards the end of 1966 Geoffrey Clarke, boss of the Motor Racing Stables beginners' racing school at Brands Hatch in the UK, got fed up with lead-footed students blowing up his expensive Formula 3 engines. He installed a 1500cc Ford Cortina GT engine in a Lotus 31 F3 chassis and was pleasantly surprised by the results. The car was quick, and more importantly, far cheaper to run than a fully-fledged F3. His hybrid was discussed during a meeting with Motor Circuit Development’s John Webb (MCD owned Brands Hatch among other circuits) and Ford’s Henry Taylor at the 1966 Olympia Racing Car Show. The specification for a new low-cost racing series was agreed and Ford allowed the new class to be known as Formula Ford.

The specification was basic, to keep down the costs: a space frame chassis, standard Cortina J rims and 5½" tyres, the new Cortina GT 1600 cc crossflow ‘Kent’ engine and VW-based production gearbox. The first cars had Lotus 31 chassis but Lotus soon produced the Lotus 51 chassis specifically for the series. By the end of 1967 an astounding 12 builders were offering chassis for Formula Ford in the UK.

The world's first Formula Ford race was at Brands Hatch in Kent on 2 July 1967. It was a effectively a match race between Motor Racing Stables and the rival Jim Russell Racing Driver School. Seventeen cars were on the grid. MRS star pupil, Ray Allen, won the race followed by Malcolm Payne and Belgian Claude Bourgoignie (who became the European FF champion 3 years later).

By 1975 there were so many FF cars in circulation that drivers were being turned away from meetings. To ease this problem Formula Ford 2000 was introduced. These cars used 2 litre single overhead cam Ford Cortina engines with slicks and wings, but for some reason they did not take the public or competitors' fancies.

In 1994 in the UK the new Ford Zetec 1800 engine was introduced to replace the obsolete ‘Kent’ 1600cc unit and in 1995 slick tyres were introduced. Wings are still not allowed.

The Australian Scene

Introduced into Australia in 1969, Formula Ford has become the accepted proving ground for the nation’s champions, on a local and international level. Graduates include many F1 World Champions, including Michael Schumacher.

Australia’s current Formula One representative, Mark Webber, began his career in Australian Formula Ford. Some 70% of drivers in the Australian V8 Supercar field are Formula Ford graduates, including Craig Lowndes, Jason Bright, Marcos Ambrose, Garth Tander, David Besnard and, unexpectedly, Russell "the Enforcer" Ingall.

A National Championship is conducted at various circuits around the country, together with non-championship races at special meetings such as the Australian Grand Prix. State Championship series races are organised in most States. Unlike Formula Vee, which has numerous chassis builders in Australia, Formula Ford in this country has been dominated for years by the British builder Van Diemen, and the leading Australian builder Spectrum.

As supplies of the old "Kent" 1600 pushrod engine are drying up (the engine was discontinued some years ago), a replacement has been sought and the Australian national series now allows the 1600 cc twincam Ford Fiesta engine. This produces about 125-130 bhp, rather more than the 80 bhp or so of the Kent engine. This engine is not yet found in Western Australia, which still uses the traditional 1600 Kent engines.

Formula Ford has been around so long that early cars are now eligible for Historic (pre 1972) racing.

Western Australia

There were a few hesitant mis-starts before Formula Ford finally became a fully-fledged category in WA.

An early pioneer was Peter Briggs, whose racing days went back to Caversham. In the early 1970s he bought an Elfin 600 Formula Ford, which he raced himself, sharing with Trevor Hine and others. Bob Creasy started his career in the Fielding Formula Ford at about the same time.

LEFT: The bright yellow Briggs Elfin 600 FF (WASCC collection). RIGHT: Tony Houghton in the Sparton (WASCC collection)
LEFT: Frank Schultz in the Dulon FF, 1980 (Noble/WASCC collection). RIGHT: On the grid, circa 1990 (Wells/WASCC)
ABOVE: Despite restriction to tube frames and slim tyres, Formula Ford Chassis design has reached high levels of technical sophistication, witness this inboard suspension layout in a late model. (T Walker pic)

A key figure in the later promotion of the category was Tony Houghton, a British immigrant who had manufactured the Macon Formula Ford in England in the late 1960s, and who built one or two more of them when he moved to Perth. Full of enthusiasm for the category, Tony raced at Wanneroo for the first time as "Tony Macon" in 1980 driving the Triden FF also driven by Peter Jordan. He then went on racing for the next several years as Tony Houghton, first in a Palliser, then a new Macon, a Van Diemen and a Sparton. His enthusiasm infected others, and by early 1981 there were five or six Formula Fords running. Initially they raced with the other single seaters in Formula Libre, but from the beginning of the 1981 season there were Formula-Ford-only races, and the category steadily grew from there, gaining its own WASCC Championship. The numbers of cars grew steadily from the five cars in the first ever race, to more than a dozen in the 1986 season opening race, to about 30 today. (The exact numbers are hard to pin down: there are always a few laid up in a shed for part of a season at least.)

For the record, the first all-Formula Ford race in WA was held on 29 March 1981, over 5 laps:




Fastest lap

Race time

Peter Jordan, Bowin P4
Vello Karm, Palliser
John Gilmour, Palliser
Frank Schulz, Dulon
Tony Houghton, Triden

From then on, the Formula Ford drivers had an all-Formula Ford race each meeting, often Race 2 on the card. They also raced with the other racing cars in the racing car races, and also in a mixed Formula Ford-Clubman Sports race. There was no formal Formula Ford championship as such for several years. However, the Club awarded a Gold Star for the category with effect from 1981. This was derived from points awarded each meeting for the results in the Formula Ford only race on the traditional scale of 9 6 4 3 2 1. It was the unofficial State Championship until the Championship itself was inaugurated for 1987.

Peter Jordan, Bowin
Mark Forrester, Bowin
Denis Steele, Palliser
Jeff Seaton, Van Diemen RF77
Steve Bottomley, Van Diemen
Steve Bottomley, Van Diemen
Incomplete data

The thin edge of the wedge - Trevor Gaynor brought the first Van Diemen (an RF77) to Western Australia, making his debut with the car in August 1981. This photo was taken at Sandown in February 1982. (Trevor Gaynor collection)

The WASCC Racing Car Championship, which was by the late 1980s essentially a Formula Libre series with a 1600 cc engine limit, was switched to Formula Ford with effect from the beginning of the 1988 season when Ross Zampatti, one of the sons of 1975 WA Racing Car Champion Bernie, won the first of his two Formula Ford / Racing Car Championships. CAMS looked upon Formula Ford (and Formula Vee for that matter) as a "training" category, and technically speaking there was no such thing as an Australian, or Western Australian Formula Ford Championship. In Western Australia, this minor impediment was easily overcome. The official title is the WA Racing Car Championship, which just happens to be run under the Formula Ford rules. However, everyone now calls it the Formula Ford Championship, and so will I.

One striking feature of the WA Championship is the total dominance of the British-built Van Diemen chassis. The first to appear was Trevor Gaynor's RF77 in 1981 (which Jeff Seaton later drove to his Gold Star win). There were two more Van Diemens for the 1985 season, and numbers steadily rose and by 1992 the first 7 places in the Formula Ford Championship were taken by Van Diemen cars.

WA Formula Ford State Champions

Ross Zampatti, Van Diemen
Ross Zampatti, Van Dieman
Sean Walker, Van Diemen
Michael Henderson, Van Diemen
Garry Gosatti, Van Diemen
Garry Gosatti, Van Diemen
Ray Stubber, Van Diemen
Ray Stubber, Van Diemen
Garth Tander, Van Diemen
Kerry Wade, Van Diemen
Christian Murchison, Van Diemen



= Simon Wheeler, Van Diemen
= Steve Baxter, Van Diemen
Steve Baxter, Van Diemen RF92
Daniel Elliot, Van Diemen RF94
Dean Fiore, Van Diemen RF94
Dean Fiore, Van Diemen RF94
Nathan Caratti, Van Diemen RF04
Mark Douglas, Van Diemen RF01
Michael Epple, Van Diemen RF90
Cade Bell, Van Diemen RF02
Jason Youd, Van Diemen RF92