The impact of inflation in the UK can be felt in all forms of life, from the supermarket to the race track. Club racing is a costly place to have a hobby or a business, and grid sizes this year have reflected that
Millions usually has to be spent on a driver’s career to take them from the entry level to Formula 1, and therefore access to money is a larger determining factor than talent when it comes to participation and then success.
Motorsport is seen as being in a healthier state when migration up the single-seater ladder – including into F1 – is led by talent rather than money, but that is the global picture. The health of domestic motorsport, filled with racing clubs and their members in addition to a lot of road-going machines, has to be looked at differently.
The racing budgets of those in club-level competition is considerably smaller than those racing ‘for a career’, so fluctuations in price – particularly on spare parts – are more greatly felt. Circuits that don’t host international motorsport tend not to be in the vicinity of multiple hotels, so multi-day events can often mean committing to sleeping in a car or van on-site, and there are few paid roles that could act as a primary source of income.
The mantra of ‘being your own mechanic’ is strong in club racing, that is if you don’t bring your mate along to help run the car for you.
In some areas of club racing, namely single-seaters, the privateers tend to be outnumbered by those who are racing for multi-car teams.
This is certainly the case in the BRSCC’s National Formula Ford 1600 championship, which is significant in being a genuine part of the road to F1 and IndyCar while also being the highest profile home of single-seater action for hobbying amateur racers in the UK. The series needs its youngsters to go on to big things so some of the next karting graduates are attracted to the category over Formula 4, while also continually being a fun and affordable place to race long-term for those who have an FF1600 car in their garage.
Drivers have described him as a "good boy" and "very cute".
📸: Team Dolan pic.twitter.com/IP5p41VoSo
— Formula Scout 1600 (@ff1600website) April 22, 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic had its impact on international entries and grid sizes in general, but since 2023 began the focus has returned to all the other influences on series popularity.
At the National FF1600 season opener at Oulton Park, which with 13 cars was six down on 2022’s opening round on Silverstone’s International layout, Formula Scout spoke to the series’ biggest players about their line-ups for the season and whether they were expecting grids to grow.
One notable absentee was 2021 South African F1600 champion Andrew Rackstraw, who was supposed to drive for Kevin Mills Racing but had to pull out the week before due to getting pneumonia and missing so much university off the back of it that he had to retake exams.
Without his signature, and that of Esports star and FF1600 part-timer Lucas Blakeley at Oulton Park, KMR was not expecting to be on the grid this season. Its focus for 2023 is GB4, with its presence there prioritised in the four instances that the calendars clash, but the hope is that Blakeley will be available to contest the Brands Hatch and Silverstone rounds.
Oldfield Motorsport is fielding points leader Lucas Romanek and Brandon McCaughan full-time in National FF1600, and aims to have a third car on track this season, while also entering Romanek into all United FFord rounds too.
Team Dolan has Chris Middlehurst, Morgan Quinn and Jordan Kelly doing full National campaigns, with school commitments preventing Nathan Yu joining them at Oulton Park but completing a four-car line-up since then. He is racing in one of Dolan’s own cars, while the other drivers possess their vehicles.
Middlehurst’s failure to do the full season in 2022 has made him extra committed to do all rounds in 2023, and he also wants to become champion for his team boss Bernard Dolan after Jordan Dempsey took the title to KMR last year.
Dolan himself reckons grid sizes in National FF1600 will increase later this year, but incorrectly anticipated Oulton Park to have the smallest grid of the season as round two at Snetterton only had 11 racers. His team has relocated to Lincolnshire, having previously been based near Snetterton where a year ago an overnight fire led to all of their equipment being lost.
Middlehurst’s Van Diemen chassis was one of those to be largely destroyed in the fire but, having sourced parts from a second chassis that he bought, he has been able to rebuild and race it this year. Because the parts are bespoke, he says buying them all separately can be both more costly and time consuming, something that can also be an issue when needing to make mid-season repairs.
B-M Racing’s presence was restricted in the first National rounds, but for round three at Donington Park this weekend has announced two high-profile drivers: 2015 champion Jonny McMullan (in a brand new car) and 2021 FFord Festival winner Jamie Sharp. McMullan will do further rounds and the Festival in October, while Sharp’s category return is only confirmed for one event. The team plans to have Drew Cameron (also in a new car after rolling one last year), long-time driver Tom McArthur and one other driver join the pair this weekend.
While it may dip to as low as having just one car on the grid later in 2023, there is also scope for B-M to run as many as seven for the Silverstone season finale, with an expectation of fielding four cars at the Brands Hatch-based Festival and then six at the Silverstone-based Walter Hayes Trophy in November.
Andy Brickles, the B-M Racing team manager, told Formula Scout that this year there is increased appeal for racing in United FFord as it can be contested in an ‘arrive-and-drive’ capacity with one-day events and is promoted by the WHT’s organiser James Beckett. Although National FF1600 events tend to include two days of racing and often track time on Friday too, this year the one-day format is in use for four of the seven rounds.
Ammonite Motorsport has Nolan Allaer, Elliott Budzinski and Brindley Kinch doing the full National season, with Allaer also going for United FFord honours throughout the year. All three are young talents looking to make a name for themselves.
The biggest impact on grid sizes this year has not been drivers moving on and a lack of karting graduates coming in, but the UK-wide issue of inflation.
Entry fees have gone up in UK motorsport, and the technical costs have risen too. Dolan revealed that an engine rebuild now can cost up to twice as much as it did previously, which is a difference of one or two thousand pounds. It makes those who do have cars, and often get other teams to run them while they sit in the driving seat, more reluctant to race now and save their car – and their money – for the Festival and WHT.
Focusing exclusively on the end-of-year events is a strategy that is sensible as it is flawed, as it may be money well saved by not racing before then but it’s useful to have recent experience of wheel-to-wheel action against a variety of drivers before taking most of them on at once in the Festival and WHT’s hectic heats and knockout races where every position matters.
What is happening outside of England?
Although National FF1600 visits Northern Ireland (Kirkistown) and Scotland (Knockhill), with a trip to Anglesey in Wales coming at the expense of the former, fans of the category in those two countries have not had it good in 2023.
Scottish FFord only lasted two rounds last year, both incorporated into National FF1600 events, and the lack of interest meant the organising Scottish Motor Racing Club had already determined by October that no 2023 season would occur.
The regular entrants were not told outright at the time, with public confirmation only coming this March. Graham Brunton Racing, a team that was always loyal to the series, is now focused entirely on GB4. It has not been announced if Scottish FFord’s David Leslie Trophy race at Knockhill will be incorporated into the National FF1600 round or not.
While the rate of inflation in Northern Ireland is considerably lower than in Britain, that has not helped maintain grid sizes in their national championship.
Only eight drivers contested round one, and a sorry four appeared for round two last month. Two weeks later United FFord suffered just as badly at Snetterton, starting the day with six racers but ending it with four.
Northern Irish FF1600 is a single-circuit championship, as is the Castle Combe Racing Club series. Grid sizes are stromg there, with many local racers but also local engineering businesses with lengthy customer relationships that has made the racing scene there so sustainable.
UK FF1600 grid sizes in 2023
|March 25||Northern Irish FF1600||Kirkistown||8|
|April 2||United FFord||Donington Park||16|
|April 10||CCRC FFord||Castle Combe||21|
|April 15||United FFord||Silverstone||20|
|April 22||BRSCC National FF1600||Oulton Park||13|
|May 1||CCRC FFord||Castle Combe||16|
|May 27||Northern Irish FF1600||Kirkistown||4|
|May 27/28||BRSCC National FF1600||Snetterton||11|
|June 10||United FFord||Snetterton||6|
|June 10||CCRC FFord||Castle Combe||22|