Home Features Podcast: The young Festival drivers coming from across the globe

Podcast: The young Festival drivers coming from across the globe

by Ida Wood

Photos: Ida Wood

Formula Scout spoke to the winners of the revamped Team Canada Scholarship, the new Team Brazil Scholarship and Driver to Europe scheme at FFord Festival testing to find out about their paths to the event

Previously Team Canada has contacted a driver it deemed worthy of the scholarship and sent them to the Formula Ford Festival, but this year it has sent two drivers and they were chosen from a shootout event.

“It was held at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park driver development track. A track which none of us had been on, and cars which none of us had ever driven. So it was a very cool experience, and I enjoyed every minute of it,” said Jake Cowden, one of the winners.

“Yeah the format for this year’s Team Canada Scholarship process was different than the way it was in previous years. Before they would contact a single driver who they thought deserved a chance to race in Europe. But because of the hard work behind the scenes of the entire scholarship team, they found the sponsors and funding to not only send two drivers, but host a shootout to actually select two drivers based on merit, on their performances,” added Kevin Foster, Cowden’s fellow winner and his team-mate at Graham Brunton Racing this weekend.

Cowden arrived in the England on Monday, saying “it was abut a 7hr flight from Toronto, Canada, so it wasn’t too bad”, while Foster said “I like always having a rest day so I came a day earlier, before the team, especially when Im flying out from Calgary, Alberta which is on the west coast of Canada. So for me it’s a little bit longer flight, eight hours.”

This year Cowden won the Ontario-based Toyo Tires F1600 championship in Canada, a championship with very similar cars to FF1600 but with most powered by Honda engines rather than derivatives of a Ford Kent engine as in FF1600, and he will resume his on-track battle with title rival William Ferguson as he is racing in the Festival at Brands Hatch as a Team USA scholar with Ammonite Motorsport.

Photo: Grand Prix Trois Rivieres

“I didn’t expect there would be such a difference between our F1600 cars in Ontario and the cars over here,” Cowden revealed.

“The biggest difference for me is the tyre, the steering inputs are so light compared to what we have to put in at home, it’s just a huge difference and I’m getting used to it still.”

Foster came “from the world of karting, so this year was quite an interesting year”.

“Tto sum it up, I was crowned the Canadian Rotax champion in Senior MAX. And because of that and my affiliation with Area 27 [kart track] and all of the sponsors there, they were able to send me over to to France for the FEED Racing France shoutout, to which I won a season in French F4 next year. Never have actually driven a FFord, so for me it’s a new page.

“A different car, different tyres, and obviously a different track. But it allows me to come in with an open and just take everything in from what the team is saying. So far it’s been going relatively well.

“Honestly, it feels vert similar to a kart. In the way that it’s very light, and you only need a really nimimal amount of inputs when you’re making it through the corner. Coming from the Pirelli slicks on the F4, that was a lot heavier, and the brake pressure – we’re braking at 100bar in the F4 car. Whereas this is basically modulating with your toes. So it’s a much more finer car that requires more fidelity in the way that you drive it.”

The Festival will be the biggest event Foster has raced at, and he’s looking to step up into Formula Regional Europe once his French F4 season concludes next year. Cowden meanwhile has already experienced racing on grand prix support bills, having contested Formula Tour 1600 this year and starring in the races in Montreal and at the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres.

Those are incredible events, is the best way to sum it up,” Cowden called. “The spectators in Quebec are excited to be there for all the racing, rather than one specific category. They’re there for the racing. It’s an incredible environment. Both tracks are amazing, I love them. It was an amazing experience.”

Pre-event testing for the Festival has been blighted by rain, but the dry running the two scholars have had has proven useful.

“We were luckily enough actually to get on track yestrday [Wednesday] when it was still dry, and it was a fast learning session, number one,” said Foster.

“But by the second and third session, we were not terribly far off all the other drivers here, so we’ve done relatively well. The team are actually singing our praises a bit too much, but it just means that we think we can fight when it comes to the final on Sunday.”

On Friday they will be joined by another team-mate, IndyCar race-winner Roberto Moreno.

“Hopefully we can learn something from him,” Cowden beamed. “He has so much experience and experience of racing. He seems like a great guy, and I’m excited to learn from him.”

Foster added: “He’s a Festival winner, so to have kind of name coming through our tent and be part of our team is amazing. And an opportunity that we will relish and learn all sorts of different types of techniques, and maybe little tricks that Roberto knows that we don’t.”

In addition to Team USA and Team Canada’s long-established scholarships, there is also a new sheme from Brazil that has sent its first winner Wallace Martins to race with Swift Cooper.

“It’s really good, it’s a dream for me,” the teenager said. “This is my first time racing in other countries. In Brazil I race in Formula Vee, and in Formula Delta. This car has the halo. FFord is very different.”

Martins is wide-eyed from the calibre of competition in FF1600 in the UK, and that’s just from testing, and he says he “needs to be more fast” as “it’s very difficult” so far over two days of dry and wet conditions.

“The team are helping me a lot. I am learning a lot with them, and they put the car [livery] in the flag of Brazil. For me, it’s [great to see].”

Martins actually found the dry running on Wednesday “more hard”, saying “I am more easy with rain, I like it”.

“I hope I go well. I want to learn a lot here, because here is very different to how I learn it in Brazil. It’s very difficult, I stay here, the scholarship has helped a lot for me. And in the end I only want to play, and to learn [and to have fun].”

Martins, a champion in FVee and a race-winner in FDelta Brasil, says his end dream is to race in F1 or IndyCar.

One of the first schemes bringing drivers from abroad to the Festival was ‘Driver to Europe’, which was in the name of the Australian FFord championship from 1971 to 1992 and gave several future Australian Supercars stars a chance to show their skills in Britain.

The latest driver benefiting from the scheme is James Penrose. He was Class B champion in New Zealand and South Island FFord in 2019, then moved up to the top class for 2020 was immediately competitive. Last year he won the South Island crown, national title and the NZ FFord Festival which ran immediately after the shortened season concluded at Ruapuna.

These results earned Penrose his Festival opportunity in the UK, and a shot at the Walter Hayes Trophy FF1600 event too, but he had to be patient.

“Unfortunately the year that we were supposed to come over, last year, our borders got shut so we wouldn’t have been able to get back in the country,” he explained.

“Now we’re here, and we get to complete the trip, and the guys at Border Reivers have been incredibly accomodating. I’m really loving the circuit so far.”

“A lot of guys that have made a name for themselves [through Driver to Europe], in motorsport or in the motorsport scene in general. They’ve all come through here and had a decent crack at it.

“I guess when I get home the goal is to try raise enough funding to compete in the Toyota Racing Series in 2023. I won the Castrol [scholarship] for the NZ Grand Prix. So that will be a nice thing to do as well.”

Penrose was actually the first driver signed up for the 2022 New Zealand GP courtesy of the support of fuel supplier Castrol, but the sole event of the 2022 TRS season was then cancelled and as the 2023 grand prix date is yet to be chosen, it’s unclear if his prize drive will remain.

“In the South Island we’ve got four tracks. They’ve all been around a long time, they’re all tight, technical and twisty. in the North island we’ve got some really nice facilities,” said Penrose as he explained NZ FFord’s appeal

“Unfortunately Pukehoke is probably the coolest track I would have thought for racing, it’s just one of the fastest and most confident tracks in NZ. It’s a shame that one had to close [for motorsport] as of this year. That’s one really great drafting circuit for FFord.”

Penrose “would love to be challenging for one of those top spots” this weekend, “but we’ve got a lot of work to put on between now and then, and myself really, to get myself up to speed. We’ll just keep taking it session by session, and see how quick we can end up going.

Listen to the full podcast here, and on Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Castbox, Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Or read on below for some of the key discussion points from the title decider.