MOTOR SPORT FLASHBACK
THIS MONTH, MICHAEL REMINDS US HOW THE REMARKABLY CONSISTENT ENTRY-LEVEL FORMULA FORD PLAYED SUCH A BIG PART IN THE RACING CAREERS OF SO MANY YOUNG KIWI RACING DRIVERS
The start of something
In July 1967, the Ford Motor Company was riding the crest of a very large wave — the Mustang had been a great success on both road and track, and, everywhere you looked in motor racing, the blue oval was to the fore. In late May, a Ford-powered car had won the Indianapolis for the third year in a row, and, in mid June, Ford again defeated Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In between these two feats, the Ford-badged Cosworth DFV had won on debut in the Netherlands. Cortinas were invariably the thing to have in rallying, while the Falcon Sprint was still winning in the British Touring Car Championship.
And, if all that wasn’t enough, Ford gave its name to a new category of racing at the bottom end of the ladder. Openwheeler categories have a limited life — Formula 5000 was invented in America in 1968, and, by the end of 1976, it had been ditched; the much-loved Formula Junior category arrived in 1958 and forked off into Formulas 2 and 3 at the end of 1963; and, while Formula 1 (F1) has been around since 1947, it has taken many and varied turns over these past seven decades.
Formula Ford, however, has stayed remarkably consistent since the first-ever race on July 2, 1967, at Brands Hatch in south-east England in the county of Kent — appropriately, Ford’s code name for the engine chosen for this new entry level of motor sport.
The success of the category lay in its simplicity — combine a mildly tuned production engine with a space-frame chassis, mini-f1-lookalike body and road tyres, and you had a category that, all of a sudden, introduced open-wheeler racing to a whole new group of potential participants.
Formula Ford has played a major part in producing top racing drivers since Emerson Fittipaldi went from Formula Ford to F1 Grand Prix winner in the space of what seemed at the time to be a matter of months. He heads the following impressive list of world champions, Indycar champions, and Indy 500 winners, who all cut their teeth in Formula Ford — names like world champions James Hunt, Jody Scheckter, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, Mika Häkkinen, and Jenson Button — and then there’s our own Scott Dixon, three-time Indy Racing League (IRL) champion and winner of the 2008 Indianapolis 500.
Countless New Zealand drivers used Formula Ford to advance their careers, including Craig Baird, Dave Mcmillan, Steve Millen, David Oxton, Greg Murphy, Brett Riley, Mike Thackwell, Shane Van Gisbergen, Fabian Coulthard, Jonny Reid, Mitch Evans, and Richie
Stanaway. And then there’s Grant Campbell, aka ‘Mr Formula Ford’ in New Zealand — one of only five double champions and still at it in his early 60s!
Six months prior to being crowned world champion, Denny Hulme tested a Lotus Formula Ford prototype. It was, in fact, the only time he ever drove a Lotus, and he stated that he’d “enjoyed it greatly”, but when Stirling Moss tested one in the rain at Brands Hatch and expressed his genuine enthusiasm, the category looked to have everything going for it.
In August 1967, Graham Hill (already a world champion and Indy 500 winner) tested a ‘Ford’ and a Formula Vee for The Sunday Times, and described the latter as a “fun car”, but considered the Formula Ford as a “serious stepping stone to faster machinery for the youngster determined to break into motor racing”.
Half a century later, Formula Ford keeps on keeping on. Our latest tier-one champion, Liam Lawson, is even impressing the Australians in their Formula 4 championship, and his mentor, Kenny Smith, believes the Pukekohe 15-year-old is every bit as talented as Scott Dixon was at the same age.
The quest for a triple crown
In mentioning Scott Dixon, we must be thankful that he survived that horror crash in the Indianapolis 500 well enough to race again the next weekend. I don’t recall seeing a bigger accident from which the driver walked away. Prior to the race, I had stated in an interview on Radio Sport that my ideal result would be for Scotty to win from Fernando Alonso in the closest finish in the 101st version of ‘the 500’. The Spaniard acquitted himself so well that his former Mclaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton raised the question of what level of depth is there in Indycar if a ‘rookie’ can go, qualify on the second row, and lead for a number of laps. There were various responses, but the best I heard about was from Tony Kanaan, an Indycar champion and former Indy 500 winner. He is quoted as saying, “What can I say? The guy [Hamilton] competed in a twocar World Championship last year and was second, so I don’t think he can say much.
“It was a pleasure to have Fernando here. He is humble, not like some of his colleagues who were making comments this month.” Alonso did not return a papaya-coloured ‘Mclaren-entered’ car to victory lane — he was certainly in contention, but his Honda let go on lap 180 of 200. He leaves unfinished business, and it remains to be seen where he takes his talents next year.
So, Graham Hill remains the only man to have won the Indy 500, Le Mans, and the World Championship — which is what I thought this ‘triple crown’ was until I read ‘the Monaco Grand Prix’, not the world
title — either way, the Englishman is still the answer.
Mclaren — the movie
The Roger Donaldson–directed documentary Mclaren had its New Zealand premiere on the last Tuesday of May. It seems some people got a bit confused and expected it to be the dramatized movie that was promoted at our first A1 Grand Prix race at Taupo in January 2007. Right from when Donaldson first approached me in early 2015, this was always intended to be a doco. By necessity, it is a different sort of documentary to Senna, given the dearth of footage back in Bruce’s day, but how extraordinary is it that it was kicked off when it was?
Sadly, three people who feature so prominently in it — Bruce’s widow, Patty; Chris Amon; and Phil Kerr — all passed away before it was finished, so, too, Tyler Alexander, one of the first mechanics, while old footage of interviews with Eoin Young was used, as he passed away at about the time plans were percolating. The reviews have mostly been very favourable, with words like ‘inspiring’ and ‘emotional’ regularly used.
I’ve even heard suggestions that it will serve as an educational tool for future generations of Kiwis — as Dan Gurney says, “Bruce had the ability to think big — and yet remain so utterly modest and laid-back about his extraordinary achievements.”
Farewell, Mr Lola
The founder of the Lola Car Company, Eric Broadley, died in May 2017 aged 88. A trained architect and quantity surveyor, he started competing in his self-built car in 1956, and, after impressing against such rivals as Lotus and Arthur Mallock’s U2, enquiries came from aspiring champions for their own ‘Broadley Special’. There are two theories as to how the name of his company came about. The most widely believed is that it was in recognition of a popular song at the time, Whatever Lola Wants, but the other, possibly more intriguing possibility is that Broadley had already detected Colin Chapman as his prime opposition, and wanted a name that would come before Lotus in alphabetical lists. Either way, the first production Lolas rolled out in 1958 — a year after the formation of Arthur Mallock’s outfit and the first Crossle. And although Chapman was a couple of months younger than Broadley, Lotus had already been on the scene for a few years.
Prior to the arrival of Formula Junior into the UK in late 1959, small-capacity sports cars were an established proving ground for young talent, and the best of
them all in 1958 was the Lola MKI, and more orders flowed in. There were two such Lolas that resided in New Zealand in the day, and these were driven, at various times, by such as Barry Cottle (a two-time NZ Sports Car champion with a 1.2 LolaClimax), Ivy Stephenson, Johnny Riley, Irvine ‘Red’ Dawson, Doug Lawrence, and David Oxton.
Broadley’s next car was already out of date the day it first raced — this being a Formula Junior car of great beauty (perhaps next to the Maserati brothers’ OSCA, the best-looking ever front-engined junior) — and any readers who attended the first Grand Prix at Pukekohe in 1963 may remember one of these front-engined Lolas being superbly conducted by John Histed.
Lola produced a rear-engined junior and was also commissioned to build an F1 car for 1962. It was in a version of that car that John Surtees won the 1963 New Zealand Grand Prix, and it wasn’t the last time a Lola triumphed here. A turning point for Lola was its beautiful MKVI sports car — it was powered by a 289 Ford V8, and became the catalyst for Ford’s seminal GT40 and the best Lola to date — the T70.
At a time when F1 cars had naturally aspirated 1500cc motors, big-engined sports cars were hugely popular. Bruce Mclaren had noticed this, and, invariably, the cars early Mclarens had to beat were Lola T70s. John Surtees won the first CanAm for Lola in 1966 before the advent of ‘the Bruce and Denny Show’. This year was also a good one for Lola in North America — before the first-ever Can-am race, Graham Hill had won the Indianapolis 500 in a Lola, and more wins at the Brickyard followed. When Formula A was invented in 1968, Lola produced the T140 and followed it with the T142, T190/192, and T300 before rolling out the T330 in late 1972. By 1974, the T332 was the class of the field, and it remains so in historic Formula 5000 racing.
Although Formula Ford started in 1967, Lola didn’t get involved until the early ’ 70s — initially, with a short-wheelbase little device, but then came the T340/342, which went as good as it looked. The T440/540/640 models followed, and all had their share of success. Lolas were the cars to have when Formula 5000 gave way to the ‘re-hashed Can-am’ series in 1977 — and, in 1978, a Lola became the first car to win the Indy 500 with the turbocharged version of the Cosworth DFV.
Over the years, F1 was an area Lola steered clear of — unless it was commissioned by a client. This happened at irregular intervals, but, in the late 1990s, after success in Formula 3000, and, given the ongoing demand for its Indy cars, Broadley decided it was time to tackle the big time. Sadly, it was underfunded; poorly executed; and, in short, a bad decision.
The contribution Lola made to motor racing was enormous — it started before the likes of Brabham and March — and outlived them all. Building racing cars is a precarious business. The person who owns the company that makes the world’s fifth-best clothes dryer probably has a very nice life — buys a new car when they want, belongs to the best golf club, and lives in a nice house; the person who owns the company that makes the fifth-best Formula car is probably waiting for the receivers to turn up at any moment.
Building production racing cars is not for the faint-hearted — some cars are fantastic for a short period, then fade without a trace (like the briefly dominant Formula 3 Group Racing Development [GRD] cars of 1972), while some — like Van Diemen — ruled Formula Ford but never made the breakthrough to Formula 3. Lola lasted a long time, and that was almost entirely down to Eric Broadley — his cars won the Indy 500 more than once, won in CanAm, Formula 5000, and everything down to Formula Ford. His like will not be seen again. Rest in peace, Mr Lola.
The Historic Formula Ford groups are strong in both the North and South Islands — there isn’t a better bang for your buck in classic motor racing
New Zealand’s ‘Mr Formula Ford’ behind the Swift in which he won his second title and in front of a painting of his 1978/’79 title-winning Titan MKIX
Reigning New Zealand Formula Ford champion Liam Lawson and his mentor Kenny Smith (photo: Michael Clark)
Graham Hill in the 1966 Indy 500–winning Lola
Mclaren premiere: with Bruce’s first mechanic Wally Willmott and film producer Roger Donaldson (photo: Charlotte Clark)
Kiwi Chris Atkinson wasn’t dreaming — he really was about to share this MKI Lola at Goodwood with owner Robin Longdon in 2010