A MAIDEN WIN FOR MEDINA
The story of John Loebell’s first FF1600 racer, which won on its debut. By Stephen Lickorish
For any new car to win its first ever race is a very impressive achievement. But it is even more impressive when that race just so happens to be one of the heats for an extremely competitive Walter Hayes Trophy.
Wayne Boyd’s victory in heat three of last year’s Walter Hayes in the brand new Medina JL16 could well prove to be a significant moment in Formula Ford 1600. Boyd, who won the event in 2014, started from second on the grid but benefited from polesitter Niall Murray’s gear linkage breaking to take the win by a tenth of a second.
For the car’s designer and Medina founder John Loebell, it was an unexpected win.
“I said at the time I just wanted to go home after winning that first race!” he recalls. “I didn’t expect a great deal. We knew the car was competitive but I didn’t expect it to win its first race, so that was a really brilliant result.”
Loebell is well known for running the Van Diemen FF1600 spares business – which he will continue to do – and has converted a number of Duratec cars to Kent-specification, with chassis running under the JL-K moniker. But this was the first time he had built a whole car from scratch.
“We have always done the conversion cars but they have dried up,” he says. “We’ve probably done 30 conversions over the years, we usually do those over the winter, but we couldn’t find any more cars.
“It [building his own car] was something we had always wanted to do and the time was right to just do it last year.”
And that’s exactly what Loebell did. Free from the restrictions that converting an existing car posed, Loebell was able to start from a clean slate. He used all his years of experience of working with Formula Fords – dating back to the early 1990s – to produce his own design.
Work started last February and Loebell built a development car that began testing over the summer. He highlights the suspension and weight distribution as two areas he focused on.
“We’ve got different suspension geometry – we couldn’t change the pick-up points on the conversion cars,” Loebell says. “We’ve also made a lot of changes to improve the weight distribution.
“They have all got to run within the regulations and everyone has their own different parts, like I’ve got a different bell housing.”
Another distinct feature of the car is the nose. “We have had a few options over time and we have come up with the pointy nose [as the best],” Loebell adds. “It’s quite flat and aerodynamic with low sidepods.
“You have to just keep trying, but we haven’t got massive amounts of funding for things that don’t work. You can’t change it too much – you’ve got to stick with what you know.
“It’s tough, there’s a lot of things you take for granted. You’ve got to look at every single component and make sure it all gels together.
“I just designed it myself – we haven’t got massive budgets to go into big developments. I just designed it from the seat of my pants.”
Boyd, in the middle of his first full season of racing for several years with United Autosports in the European Le Mans Series, had his first run in the car in August at Silverstone – which was his only test in the car before the Walter Hayes. He was instantly impressed.
“We did a day in August at Silverstone but the temperature was very, very different to the Walter Hayes,” he says. “I was straight on the pace. At the start we were really happy and we were still happy at the Walter Hayes.”
Boyd has no doubt the car has the potential to become one of the very best in the category.
“I think with a little bit more development it’s going to be very impressive,” he reckons. “If you have the right package with the right driver and John, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be able to clean up in the UK series.
“The thing I noticed with it was there’s better traction than the cars I’ve raced with John before. It felt a little bit more stable through highspeed corners. At the Walter Hayes Trophy it set the second fastest lap of the meeting and that was its first run. There’s no reason why it couldn’t be winning championships this year.”
After winning his Walter Hayes heat, Boyd then finished second in the semi-final before ending the final in seventh after a spin.
Loebell now has three more cars in build and plans to run at least one in the National series.
“It’s not a mass-market product so if I can build three or four a year that would be great,” says Loebell.
“It’s a quality car and a quality build. In Formula Ford now we are just pushing the limit all the time with the engines and the chassis. It was brilliant to come out and win its first race and it was on the front row for its first heat and that’s on merit, on outright pace. We were quicker than all the other guys bar one and the guy we didn’t beat was Murray, who won the Festival, Martin Donnelly and National title.
“It’s exciting – I’ve always wanted to do it. We had won the Festival with Wayne and won the Walter Hayes and other championships over the years but we hadn’t built our own car.”
Now he has and it might just prove to be a very successful one. ■
Boyd was seventh in WHT final in new carPhotos: Jakob Ebrey, Rachel Bourne, Steve Jones
Boyd (l) triumphed in heat three to give Medina car a win in first race
The car was the first built entirely by Loebell
Loebell has more chassis currently in build