FOR­MULA VEE HITS THE 50 MARK

LAND­MARK FOR SIN­GLE-SEATER SE­RIES

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Stephen Lick­o­r­ish

It seems 1967 was a good year if you wanted to start a sin­gle-seater se­ries in the UK. Chances are, you will have heard that 2017 marks the 50th birth­day of For­mula Ford. But that leg­endary cat­e­gory is not alone in cel­e­brat­ing its golden an­niver­sary this year. For­mula Vee also turns 50 this season and is still go­ing strong.

It has stayed ex­cep­tion­ally close to its roots too. The orig­i­nal con­cept of mar­ry­ing a rel­a­tively sim­ple sin­gle-seater chas­sis with com­po­nents from a Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle has stood the test of time, de­spite very nearly dis­ap­pear­ing in the late 1970s when still in its early years ( see side­bar).

Last year the 750 Mo­tor Club-run cat­e­gory av­er­aged 27 cars per meet­ing. Not bad for any se­ries, let alone one that rarely hits the head­lines – cer­tainly not for con­tro­ver­sial rule changes at least. But, just why does it con­tinue to prove pop­u­lar?

“I think prob­a­bly first and fore­most – it’s much like For­mula Ford 1600 – it’s low cost,” says the club’s com­pe­ti­tion man­ager Giles Groom­bridge. “As sin­gle-seater rac­ing has evolved cars have moved on from tubu­lar chas­sis, there’s more aero­dy­nam­ics, slick tyres and the costs of own­ing and run­ning those cars have in­creased ex­po­nen­tially. The pro­duc­tion-based me­chan­i­cal parts main­tains its af­ford­abil­ity.

“Se­condly, the rule sta­bil­ity. There haven’t been any sort of seis­mic changes to the reg­u­la­tions so cars made 10 or 15 years ago are still quite com­pet­i­tive. Those two things are key.

“The rac­ing is also ex­tremely close and that keeps peo­ple in it. The rel­a­tive sim­plic­ity of the cars and lack of aero­dy­nam­ics cre­ates very good, close, ex­cit­ing rac­ing. Any­one who has tried to watch an F3 race tends to see the pro­ces­sional na­ture of rac­ing with high-down­force cars. Then you watch a For­mula Vee or For­mula Ford race and it’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent.”

One driver who knows all about that is Paul Smith. The four-time Vee cham­pion (win­ning the ti­tle in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016) orig­i­nally made his debut in the cat­e­gory way back in 1997. He has com­peted in it on and off ever since and agrees that value for money is part of the at­trac­tion.

“It is some­thing nor­mal peo­ple can have an op­por­tu­nity to go and do the rac­ing,” he says. “Our first car we bought was £3500/4000 and we were able to race in the top 10 with that. It’s a good op­por­tu­nity for re­ally close rac­ing. One year there were 10 driv­ers that could win races and fight for the cham­pi­onship and the races are won by less than a sec­ond. Pound for pound it’s very com­pet­i­tive and rel­a­tively cheap com­pared to most mo­tor­sports.

“There’s al­ways rac­ing through­out the field and there’s a lot of dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties on the grid so you will al­ways be rac­ing some­one. There are driver awards for things like most over­takes and driver of the day so there’s good in­cen­tives to keep on com­ing back to go rac­ing. I’ve had some ab­so­lutely amaz­ing races, even last year.

“We won all the rounds bar one and that makes it sound like we walked away with it, but they were al­ways su­per close. I won the last race by one hun­dredth of a sec­ond – we had to look at a pho­to­graph – and then there was just a tenth be­tween us and third place so it was lit­er­ally a dead heat. I had some re­ally hard races and that makes it great.”

Smith is in one of the dis­tinct groups of Vee rac­ers that have com­peted in the se­ries for many years – although for 2017 he will move on to the RGB Cham­pi­onship (“I will be sad to leave but I can’t be do­ing it for the rest of my life!” he says). But at the other end of the spec­trum are the driv­ers who use For­mula Vee as a step­ping stone out of karts as an af­ford­able way to make the tran­si­tion to car rac­ing.

The most no­table driver to have done this in re­cent years is Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship racewin­ner Ash Sut­ton. The new Subaru re­cruit grad­u­ated from kart­ing into For­mula Vee for the 2010 season and was im­me­di­ately one of the con­tenders.

“It was the ideal class to learn the tracks that I would be rac­ing in the TOCA cat­e­gories at a low cost so it was a good step­ping stone into car rac­ing,” he re­calls. “It keeps you un­der the radar and pre­pares you for where you want to go – so when I made the jump into For­mula Ford I didn’t spend the year learn­ing. It’s a good way of do­ing it.

“Ev­ery­one was wel­com­ing and it is a bit more like gen­tle­man rac­ing and a bit more laid back. Ev­ery­one was nice and friendly, so you could have a BBQ at night but at the same time you still had the boys who wanted to win races and cham­pi­onships, like Martin Farmer. The rac­ing was very good and very com­pet­i­tive, as it was open-wheel you in­ter­lock wheels a bit but the slip­stream keeps the rac­ing close. I can re­mem­ber at Snet­ter­ton we were four-wide on the back straight – you can’t do that in many se­ries! “It was a year to re­mem­ber and was the best way to come into car rac­ing. It’s ideal be­cause there is no pres­sure and you can just crack on and learn at your own rate. I fin­ished fourth but we were lead­ing the cham­pi­onship un­til I had an en­gine fail­ure at Cad­well Park, which was a dou­ble-header and that cost us a chance at the ti­tle. We were look­ing strong and it was a real shame as I could’ve won a cham­pi­onship ev­ery year [ he’d won schol­ar­ship class in Fford, Re­nault UK Clio Cup ti­tle and Jack Sears Tro­phy in BTCC].”

Sut­ton is not alone in tak­ing that slightly un­con­ven­tional route, Mike Epps – his JST ri­val last year – also com­peted in For­mula Vee. While last season teenager Harry Webb was among the young­sters tak­ing part, ahead of a po­ten­tial switch to Bri­tish F4 this term.

Not only is it some of the driv­ers that have long as­so­ci­a­tions with For­mula Vee, some of the car­mak­ers do too. Smith’s ti­tles were all se­cured at the wheel of an AHS Dom­i­na­tor, which along­side the GAC has been the class of the field for many years.

GAC co-founder Alan Wood­ward agrees that value for money is a key in­gre­di­ent in the cat­e­gory’s con­tin­ued pop­u­lar­ity.

“A few years ago the Vee Cen­tre worked out how much it costs for fuel, tow­ing car fuel, overnight stay­ing, tyres, an en­gine re­build and en­try fees and it worked out at about £7000,” he says. “That is cheap. Lots of the parts are avail­able at cheap prices be­cause it’s a Bee­tle – the sus­pen­sion is taken from a Bee­tle and you put on your shock ab­sorbers. And they don’t mess with the rules – that keeps the price where it is.”

He adds that the peo­ple also make it a good se­ries to be in­volved with. “If you need a clutch you can go round the pad­dock and some­one will find you one,” Wood­ward says. “Even those com­pet­ing against each other at the front will lend a part so they can get out and so they can beat them!”

Now un­der new own­er­ship, out­fits like GAC con­tinue to sup­port the se­ries, and with Wood­ward cur­rently work­ing on seven en­gine re­builds, the de­mand con­tin­ues to be there.

“Con­sid­er­ing it nearly dis­ap­peared at the end of the ’70s it’s out­stand­ing that it has lasted for 50 years and gets stronger,” says Groom­bridge. “We’ve seen so many sin­gle-seater con­cepts come and go and fail and dis­ap­pear, which just goes to show that the con­cept was so right that it would stand the test of time.”

And there’s no sign of that chang­ing at aany ppoint soon.

Vee reg­u­larly at­tracts big grids

tak­ing the ti­tle four times Paul Smith’s AHS has been the class of the field in re­cent sea­sons,

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