Formula Scout has gone through the Formula Ford Festival entry list to find out who’s likely to shine this weekend, and some of the stories behind the drivers and teams taking part at Brands Hatch
It’s been a dramatic 12 months for Formula Ford 1600 in the United Kingdom, and the entry list for the 52nd edition of the FFord Festival reflects that.
The demise of the Scottish championship has reduced the number of entries coming from north of the border, and the Northern Irish championship recently has also had a greater dependence on drivers and teams that would usually be competing in the UK-wide BRSCC National FF1600 championship.
Even the future of that series is in question as there have been plans for it and United FFord to stop rivalling each other in 2024 and for only one big series in Britain to exist, and there was a dramatic conclusion to the National FF1600 title fight that has led to Oldfield Motorsport’s Lucas Romanek being absent from the grid this weekend.
Other likely contenders that will not be driving are 2003 and 2017 winner Joey Foster, but he will still be involved so look out for him, two-time podium finisher Matt Cowley, National FF1600 frontrunner and 2022 Team USA scholar Elliott Budzinski and KMR Sport regulars Michael Eastwell and Tom Mills.
The key detail this weekend though is the 3:45pm start time for the Festival final. Last year it began at 5:05pm and Max Esterson was declared winnner after just two laps of racing, as forecast rain and reducing visibility led to the race being red flagged and then there was no time to restart due to it already having gotten dark outside. Single-seaters, of course, do not have headlights.
Over half of this year’s 54-car field will make it to the final as there are 30 slots on the grid, and there will be drivers young and old aiming to emulate the likes of Roberto Moreno, Eddie Irvine, Jan Magnussen, Mark Webber, Jenson Button and many more. Here’s a rundown of every single one of them:
#21 Jack Sullivan USA Ray GR18
2023: 3rd in F1600 Championship Series, NC in CCRC FF1600
As is tradition, there are Team USA scholars in Ammonite’s line-up and both have already got a taste of racing in the UK by joining a round of the Castle Combe FF1600 championship.
Sullivan brought home two fourth places from that cameo, and it followed up on a campaign in the USA’s national F1600 championship (with F1600 being the Honda-powered equivalent to FF1600 in North America) where he won five races, took one pole and four fastest laps.
#22 Ayrton Houk USA Ray GR18
2023: 2nd in F1600 Championship Series, NC in CCRC FF1600
Houk finished sixth in his two CCRC FF1600 races, and back home the Team USA scholar won three races en route to being runner-up in the national F1600 championship. He also took two poles and three fastest laps. The Team USA livery is hard to miss, and Houk has a multi-colour helmet while Sullivan is using a plain black one.
#42 Hugh Esterson USA Ray R18
2023: 48th in F1600 Championship Series
The older brother of reigning Festival winner Max (who is busy racing in GB3 this weekend), came fifth in the F1600 Championship Series in 2021 as a rookie and third last year with three wins, but in 2023 only did one round. He did at least pick up a strong result from his single weekend of F1600 action.
#52 Nolan Allaer USA Ray GR20
2023: SCCA National Runoff winner – FContinental, SCCA National Runoff winner – Formula F, currently 4th in United FFord, 6th in BRSCC National FF1600
Nolan Allaer has been the Formula Continental winner at the SCCA National Runoffs for two years in a row, and also won the Formula F final this year. Last week he joined the Team USA scholars on a trip to the Haas Formula 1 team’s Banbury headquarters, since he has been based in the UK for his racing this year.
He came sixth in BRSCC National FF1600 with four podiums, and is fourth in the United FFord standings with one round to go having picked up a few podiums.
#5 Niall Murray IRELAND Van Diemen RF99
2023: 1 round in United FFord FFord Festival form: 2016 winner, 2013 Kent class winner
One of the victory favourites, Murray is arguably the biggest name competing this year with no ex-F1 racers on the grid. He competed in United FFord’s round on Brands Hatch’s Indy layout in September to warm up for the Festival and although that didn’t quit go to plan he claims he’s set his fastest ever lap around the track in the Festival’s pre-event test.
#16 Chris Middlehurst ENGLAND Van Diemen LA10
2023: 7th in BRSCC National FF1600, currently 13th in United FFord, currently 17th in NI FF1600 FFF: 3rd in 2016
Midlehurst came sixth in last year’s Festival, and will be wanting to end a lengthy wait for a return to the podium. Like Murray, he has immense experience and speed, and what would many consider an advantage by driving for Team Dolan, and this year he has won in National FF1600 and United FFord at Donington Park.
#32 Isaac Canto da Silva USA Van Diemen LA10
2023: no racing
The American turned 16, the minimum age for FF1600 in the UK, at the start of October so only has karting experience. To debut at the Festival will be a big challenge when the big entry list means the track is almost always busy and spatial awareness matters as much as pace.
He’s done a testing programme with Team Dolan, and will race for the team in the Walter Hayes Trophy and in a series in 2024.
#88 Morgan Quinn IRELAND Van Diemen RF99
2023: 5th in BRSCC National FF1600, currently 5th in NI FF1600 FFF: 9th in 2020
This is Quinn’s fifth year with Dolan, and after winning the United FFord title and coming 10th in the Festival in 2022 he has been a winner in Northern Irish FF1600 and a consistent National FF1600 frontrunner. A busy year in the Van Diemen means he should be quick to get up to speed this weekend.
#99 Jordan Kelly IRELAND Van Diemen RF06
2023: BRSCC National FF1600 champion, currently 2nd in NI FF1600 FFF: Last Chance Race in 2022
Kelly was one of the surprises of 2023 as he grew in confidence and ended up becoming National FF1600 champion. His end-of-season form was particularly strong, so if that momentum continues then he is sure to beat his 2022 Festival result.
#126 Jason Smyth IRELAND Ray GR14
2023: currently 4th in NI FF1600, 1 round in United FFord
The son of 2010 FFord Kent Festival winner Neville Smyth has primarily raced in Northern Irish FF1600 this year, with three podiums so far, and to add to his fairly limited experience joined United FFord at Brands Hatch where he got two ninth places.
#12 Drew Cameron ENGLAND Van Diemen RF99
2023: unknown FFF: LCR in 2022
Cameron was a karter in the early 1990s, then in the 2000s embarked on a sportscar career before spending five years in FF2000.
He made his FF1600 debut in a Champion of Brands race in September 2022 but only lasted three corners before rolling his car. Undeterred, he then did the Festival, making it as far as the Last Chance Race.
His father’s best friend designed the Vector TF94 that swept the FFord scene in 1994, and Cameron spent most of his FFord career being run by FF1600 stalwart Colin Gigner, who started off with Gerrit van Kouwen in 1984 and then later ran Vectors before moving into FF2000, until he sadly died last year.
Cameron and B-M have been planning all year for their appearance at the Festival this weekend.
#15 Dave McArthur ENGLAND Medina Sport BH19
2023: 15th in BRSCC National FF1600 FFF: LCR in 2016
The team co-founder usually races further north than Kent, but still knows Brands Hatch well from many years in FF1600.
#45 Rory Smith ENGLAND/AUSTRALIA Medina Sport JL18
2023: Currently 6th in United FFord Festival form: 2020 winner
Of the 28 drivers that raced in the recent United FFord round at Brands Hatch, only one of them left with victory and that was Smith. He won both races that weekend, which makes him one of the favourites to win the Festival. Which he has done before, back in 2020.
#50 Jonny McMullan NORTHERN IRELAND Medina Sport BH23
2023: NC in National FF1600 FFF: 10th in 2015, 2nd in 2014 – Kent
Driving the newest Medina chassis possible, 2015 National FF1600 champion (and Northern Irish champion) McMullan stopped his racing career after 2016 but retured at the 2021 WHT and has raced for B-M Racing this year. A dark horse based on his Festival form many years ago.
#89 Jamie Sharp ENGLAND Medina Sport JL17
2023: 10th in National FF1600 FFF: 2021 winner
Another past winner and therefore one of the favourites for 2023, Sharp also took a win and a second place when National FF1600 visited Brands Hatch in August. That makes his odds of victory this weekend even higher.
Last year he was disqualified from the Festival final for accelerating down a busy pitlane after the race was stopped.
#7 Felix Fisher ENGLAND Ray GR05
2023: CCRC FF1600 champion FFF: 16th in 2018
After almost a decade in Castle Combe’s FF1600 championship, Fisher finally claimed the title last year. Then he did it again in 2023 with six race wins. Mastering that high-speed track is not a guarantee of Brands Hatch success, but a personal best result in the final will probably be on the cards.
#28 Tom Hawkins ENGLAND Ray GR11
2023: 5th in CCRC FF1600, United FFord FFF: 23rd in 2019 & ’20
One of many family units that compete at Combe, Hawkins had a consistent 2023 season and will be looking for a personal best result this weekend.
#91 Bob Hawkins ENGLAND Ray GR08
2023: 12th in CCRC FF1600 FFF: 2020 semi-finalist
The father of Tom used to be a regular at Brands and Combe, but an ankle-breaking accident at Graham Hill Bend soon ended his regular Champion of Brands appearances. He returned to action in 2020 after a break of 33 years, and has been getting faster ever since.
#122 Vincent Jay ENGLAND Ray GR20
2023: 13th in CCRC FF1600, United FFord FFF: 24th in 2017
#69 Alan Slater ENGLAND Nike Mk4
FFF: Progression race in 2021 & ’22
#71 Sam Street ENGLAND Swift SC92F
2023: 8th in CCRC FF1600 FFF: Last Chance Race in 2021
Following last year’s Festival, Street switched from Aston Martin to F1 rival Williams… as an aerodynamics design engineer.
It was his strongest season in the cockpit too, and just a few years ago you could still pick up astonishing results with a 1992 car. But the new chassis that has come on the market since then means sticking with older cars makes it far harder to win, particularly in 2023. Street has been consistent in the Castle Combe championship this year, arguably achieving the maximum his machinery can allow.
#112 Luke Cooper ENGLAND Swift SC20
2023: 2nd in CCRC FF1600 FFF: 7th in 2019, 3rd in 2012 Kent class
Having lost out to Fisher in a title fight for the second year in a row, one of the primary objectives for (the very friendly) Cooper this weekend would be to finish above his rival. He won four races at Castle Combe this season and only finished four points short of matching Fisher.
Graham Brunton Racing
#8 Alex Berg CANADA Ray GR14
2023: Currently 4th in US F4
An unusual example (but there’s always one or two every year) of a driver switching from winged single-seaters to race in FF1600. Berg is doing the Festival as he won the Team Canada Scholarship, which could not find a racing school to host an on-track shootout this year so the drivers were chosen purely via what would have usually been the supporting material for their pitches to be scholars: video blogs, essays and content detailing how they had approached their season of racing.
Berg has been racing for Doran-Kroll Competition in United States Formula 4, with one win and three other podiums currently putting him fourth in the standings (after coming fifth last year). He is in mathematical contention to be championship runner-up, but will be missing the final round to race in the WHT in the UK.
If you recognise the name, it’s because his dad is former F1 driver and Mexican Formula 2 champion Allen Berg.
#64 Logan Pacza CANADA Ray GR15
2023: Toyo Tires F1600 champion
Pacza has spent this year dominating in Ontario’s Toyo Tires F1600 series, becoming champion despite missing the last round. He topped qualifying at all five rounds he contested, and won 12 out of 15 races. He finished second in two others, with only one start in the series not leading to a podium.
#9 Porter Aiken USA Van Diemen JL12
2023: F1600 Championship Series champion
There will be a bit of pressure on Aiken since he is coming over to the UK having comfortably won the F1600 Championship Series, and he is also effectively filling the second Oldfield seat that Romanek previously held and used to win many races.
Aiken’s title-winning campaign featured seven wins, a pole and five fastest laps, and he was crowned champion by 94 points.
#89 Brandon McCaughan NORTHERN IRELAND Van Diemen JL13
2023: 3rd in BRSCC National FF1600, United FFord FFF: 5th in 2022
McCaughan started the National FF1600 season with pole, but Romanek beat him to the first win of the year. He bounced back in race two, but only took one further win as his team-mate and Kelly pulled away in the standings. He’s still young and still improving, so should be considered one of the contenders for Festival victory.
Auto Haeckel Motorsport
#14 Gerhard Hauschulte GERMANY Van Diemen RF87
2023: 3rd in FFord Racing – FF1600 FFF: Progression race in 2022
Hauschulte has been driving this car on home soil in 2023 and done even more strongly than he did in 2022 in terms of championship position. Admittedly there were only four FF1600 racers in a series that alo catered for FF2000 and Formula Opel cars. Having done the Festival last year, he also knows Brands Hatch already.
#17 Klaus-Dieter Haeckel GERMANY Van Diemen RF88
2023: FFord Racing champion – FF1600 FFF: 2017 finalist, 14th in 2012 Kent class
The team boss won the FFord Racing title in FF1600 by taking six wins from six starts in a Van Diemen RF91, but will use an older car this weekend. Why? It makes it more fun to beat drivers in newer cars.
#23 Andy Charsley ENGLAND Reynard 89FF
FFF: 10th in 1988
Charsley is now in his mid 50s and has decades of racing, and FF1600, experience. He came 10th in the 1988 FFord Festival, which was won by Vincenzo Sospiri, was 14th in 1993 and 1999, then 13th in 2015. He also raced in British GT in 1998.
#43 Callum Grant ENGLAND Van Diemen RF80
2023: Historic FFord chamion, 11th in Classic FFord, NC in Super Classic FF1600
The Historic FF1600 championship races on Brands Hatch’s Grand Prix rather than Indy layout, and Grant won both races in that round this year. In total he won nine races as he romped to the title, so will want to uphold Historic honours this weekend.
#5 Adam Fathers ENGLAND Ray GR16
2023: United FFord FFF: LCR in 2021 & ’22
Motorsport Car Preparations
#3 Jordan Dempsey IRELAND Van Diemen RF00
2023: currently 10th in NI FF1600, NC in BRSCC National FF1600 FFF: 3rd in 2022
Dempsey has been a contender for Festival victory in the past with big teams (in FF1600 terms), and this year he’s aiming for success with his dad’s Motorsport Car Preparations team.
They usually prepare and run racing cars in Ireland, hence Dempsey has spent 2023 racing – and winning – in Northern Irish FF1600 rather than defending his National FF1600 crown. MCP build FFord engines for a few teams in the latter series, and have great success in doing that.
Dempsey himself is a massively proven talent, with multiple top-five finishes in the Festival, a Chinese F4 title to his name and seventh place in the Formula Regional Asian Championship in 2019.
#25 Charlie Mann ENGLAND Ray GR20
2023: 14th in BRSCC National FF1600, 22nd in CCRC FF1600, United FFord
#26 Murray Shepherd ENGLAND Medina BH20
2023: 11th in Spa 6 Hours – GTS10 class
Shepherd raced in National FF1600 in 2022, but usually races a variety of different older machinery. He is basically a privateer, as the Sherpherd Racing team prepare cars for his own racing exploits, which he describes as “mostly Mustangs, AC and other historics as well as this FFord.”
The team is managed by Neil Mills, and Rob Navin will be on the tools at Brands Hatch. Look out for Shepherd’s name in 2024, as he may have an opportunity to race in Japan’s Super GT series.
Joey Foster Racing
#27 Samuel Harrison ENGLAND Firman 2021
2023: 52nd in FJunior FFF: 13th in 2020
“I approached Don Hardman after a previous deal fell through and he didn’t have a car available so he asked Joey if we may be able to use his. I believe it’s a 2021 chassis. I’m really looking forward to the weekend and a big thanks to Joey for the car.”
That was Harrison’s explanation for how this surprise deal came about, which means he’s driving a car that can definitely win the Festival. It’s not quite clear how involved Hardman or Foster will be, but Formula Scout will provide updates as soon as we spot them in the paddock!
#40 Dan Rene Larsen NORWAY Van Diemen RF95
2023: 5th in B-Zero Racing FFF: LCR in 2019
Larsen finished seventh in the FFord Sweden Junior in 1994, was racing in the Norwegian Touring Car Championship 21 years ago and is still busy in B-Zero Racing – a sort of Scandinavian equivalent to Britain’s Citroen C1 Racing Club series – and his son Birk August is already racing and winning in Formula Basic.
#60 James Buckton ENGLAND Elden Mk8
2023: 71st in FJunior FFF: Semi-final in 2013 – Kent class
Mk8 Motorsport is the team belonging to Buckton’s father, who will retire following the Festival meaning it is the team’s last event.
Buckton’s only racing this year was a single weekend in a historic Formula Junior car, but he has been racing FF1600 on and off since 2010. He stopped racing full-time in 2017 due to work commitments, did the 2013 Festival in a similar car to the one he’s racing now and came third in the Historic final, and won the Classic FFord championship in the 2010s too. Always good to see an Elden make its way onto the grid.
#87 Jeremy Fairbairn USA Ray GR10
2023: currently 8th in GB4, currently 9th in United FFord, NC in BRSCC National FF1600 FFF: 9th in 2022
Fairbairn has been racing part-time in various series this year. The factory Ray driver made the podium from his two rounds in National FF1600, won the opening race of the season in the Formula 4-spec GB4 series and got multiple podiums in United FFord too. He needs continuity, as a young driver with a lot of potential.
Simon Hadfield Motorsport
#101 Henry Chart ENGLAND Van Diemen RF81
FFF: 15th in 2017
Chart was a MotorSport Vision Formula 3 Cup regular back in the day but has primarily been racing FFords since 2016 and is a two-time finalist in the Festival.
#133 Richard Higgins ENGLAND Van Diemen RF91
2023: currently 6th in Super Classic FF1600 – A FFF: LCR in 2021
Not with his usual Riadro Motorsport crew, Higgins is instead racing for Beastworx this weekend. Set up by his CCRC FF1600 title-winning brother Adam, the company prepare cars for track days and racing. The Festival has tended to be a bit of a weak spot for Richard, but he could get a strong result and is looking forward to the event.
#188 Guy Sheppard ENGLAND Mygale SJ97
Don Hardman Racing
#13 Stuart Kestenbaum ENGLAND Van Diemen RF81
2023: currently 2nd in Super Classic FF1600 – C, 14th in Classic FFord FFF: 17th in 2020
#2 Rick Morris ENGLAND Royale RP29
2023: 4th in Classic FFord FFF: 2nd in 1981 & ’82
#11 Ben Miloudi ENGLAND Van Diemen RF01
2023: United FFord FFF: 23rd in 2022
#20 Jonathan Nash ENGLAND Van Diemen RF80
2023: 21st in Classic FFord
#29 Montoye Baker ENGLAND Hawke DL19
In case you’re wondering, Montoye is actually named after ex-F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya.
Rick Morris ⬇️
— Formula Scout 1600 (@ff1600website) October 29, 2021
#33 Donal Downey IRELAND Ray GR20
2023: Currently 12th in NI FF1600, 13th in BRSCC National FF1600
#35 Sigbjorn Maehlum NORWAY Ray GR17
2023: 6th in FBasic, 13th in B-ZERO Racing
Maehlum came sixth this year in FBasic, which is Norway’s FFord series, with one podium result.
#47 Ben Hadfield ENGLAND Van Diemen RF79
2023: 26th in Classic FFord FFF: Progression race in 2022
#48 Tim Fitzgerald ENGLAND Van Diemen RF89
2023: NC in Super Classic FF1600
#55 Henry Sandblom SWEDEN Van Diemen RF89
2023: 2nd in Historic FFord Sweden
It’s going to be a big job for Sandblom who is travelling down from Sweden with his mother and girlfriend, is doing all his car preparation by himself and has never raced at Brands Hatch before. But he is at least a veteran of Sweden’s FFord scene.
#61 Gaius Ghinn ENGLAND Van Diemen RF91
2023: currently 5th in United FFord, NC in Super Classic FF1600 FFF: 6th in 2012 – Kent
#93 Drew Stewart NORTHERN IRELAND Van Diemen RF00
2023: NC in National FF1600 FFF: LCR in 2021 & ’22
#189 Tom Nippers WALES Van Diemen RF01
2023: 11th in National FF1600, 15th in CCRC FF1600, United FFord FFF: 21st in 2022