Steam rising from dented kettles; the lingering scent of crisping bacon; frosted dew crusting neatly trimmed grass, and long Autumn shadows marking the run up Hailwood Hill. There’s always beauty and bustle in the Brands Hatch paddock but once a year, as October wanes, its heart beats faster as the Formula Ford Festival, together with the craic of Irish motor sport, takes over all 250 acres of this iconic corner of Kent.
My first Festival was back in 1992. The winner that year was a young and fearless Jan Magnussen. I watched in wonder as the previously unknown teenager scythed past all before him. Daring and determined, he braked late and hard, easing his Duckhams-liveried Van Diemen around the gripless outside-line of Paddock Hill bend. It was a move I would also often try, but seldom with the same success.
I was hooked: The Festival had long been a showcase for rising talent and set against the contrast of the ever more technically-reliant slicks and wings machinery of Formula One and Formula Three, it was clear that this wasn’t just great racing, it was pure competition.
Mark Webber, the Van der Ende brothers, Jenson Button, Anthony Davidson, Scott Malvern and Joey Foster were just a few of those I saw claim the winners’ garland, whilst Michael Vergers, Dan Wheldon, James Courtney and Adam Carroll numbered those I cheered but only to the lower podium steps.
It’s winner takes-all. There’s no glory or solid points scores for coming second or third. And whilst Formula Ford might no longer feature on the acknowledged career ladder taken by budgeted young drivers in their attempt to progress towards F1, it’s a testament to the remarkable racing these cars still produce that a growing number of a new generation are still learning their trade the old way – getting their hands dirty in the awning as they prepare and set-up the cars, and learn to manage race-craft that relies solely on the working of tyres and suspension.
Formula Ford has never been about household names, but it could still be about making them.
Here are some of our favourite images from the weekend.
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Images: Steve Hindle (The Black Stuff).