Formula Ford pre season builds up momentum

•JTR & Jamun EcoBoost cars in action at Silverstone•First outings for drivers from Ecuador, Mexico & USA

Seven of the teams preparing to contest the Dunlop MSA Formula Ford Championship of Great Britain gathered at Silverstone National Circuit yesterday as pre-season preparations build momentum, just five weeks from the opening races of the year.

Headed by reigning driver and team champions Jamun and fellow front-runners JTR, both with their brand new Mygale EcoBoost cars, the day’s running at the Northamptonshire track was hampered initially by thick fog blanketing the circuit. As soon as conditions were suitably clear, Rotherham 18-year-old Jake Cook, a familiar face to followers of Formula Ford over the last couple of years and one of the undoubted title contenders for 2012, led off the first significant testing of Jamun’s EcoBoost.

“I like the new car, it’s good fun and, driver-wise, it’s not too different to the Duratec,” said Cook. “The turbo obviously gives you something else to think about and we’ll probably be left-foot braking now. Overall, though, it’s not too different to get used to.

“I want to win as many races as possible this year. We’ve had a couple of hard years so I’m just glad to be back out racing and hopefully in with a chance of the championship. We’ve got pretty much a test a week until the start of the season and we’ve obviously got no data for the new car, so the testing is going to be more important than ever.”

JTR’s brand new chassis was in the hands of 16-year-old Ecuadorian Julio Moreno who, while in the UK, lives in Oxford and is making his first step into single-seater action. Having raced Rotax karts for five years, Moreno has enjoyed good success in South America with two national titles to his name in his home country.

“I’m really looking forward to this year; it will be my first in cars and we’re with a great team so I can’t wait,” said the young rookie. “We have a deal to do the British championship, the EuroCup and the Festival, too. Single-seaters is my dream so we’re hoping for a great year with Nick [Tandy] and JTR. I really like the car and I can’t wait for the championship to start.”

Matt Rao, returning to contest the main championship class in Formula Ford this year with Fluid Motorsport after finishing second in the Scholarship division in 2011, also sampled an EcoBoost as he prepares for his first full year of car-racing action.

With very limited motorsport experience, just one season of karting and little more than half a season of Formula Ford last year, the 17-year-old from Toulouse, France, has set his sights on a strong campaign with the help of renowned driver coach Malcolm Smith.

“Last year was more of a stepping stone of getting used to cars from karts,” said Rao. “I like the new car, it’s more of a serious racing car than the previous one and as soon as Fluid’s is ready we’ll be back out for more testing before the season. I came to motorsport quite late but I understand what it takes - you have to have the talent and the funding. My aim is to be in F1, either as a driver or an engineer, so I’ve also applied to study motorsport engineering.”

The fourth EcoBoost-engined Mygale in action today was fielded by Race Car Consultants and driven by Somerset 20-year-old Ryan Cullen, the single-seater novice running under the guidance of David Ellesley.

Five of the previous generation Duratec-engined cars were also on track, with championship newcomer AlexDrabble taking the wheel of Fluid’s Van Diemen LA11. The 19-year-old from Stockbridge, Hampshire, is new to contemporary car racing having mainly competed in historics, with his father, Simon, in a Merlyn Mk VI.

“Winning the Rookie Cup is the goal for the year,” said Drabble. “We’re taking things as they come, though: we need to build up gradually and try to get the best results we can as more and more experience comes. We’ve got testing every week now until the first race; I’m trying to get more at one with the car every time we are out and I really am loving it.”

Enigma Motorsport ran cars for 21-year-old Australian novice Olly Rae and 23-year-old Briton Fred Martin-Dye, the latter seeking a return to motorsport having spent the last four years focused on a mechanical engineering degree at Bath University. Formerly one of the UK’s premier and most highly-touted young kart racers, with a string of successes at home and abroad, Martin-Dye’s appearance today marked only his third in a Formula Ford.

Mexican-born 16-year-old Fabian Welter tested the Rendezvous Racing Mygale-Duratec ahead of a planned part-season in Formula Ford. Racing karts since the age of five, the Swiss-based teenager contested his first year of car racing in 2011 in Mexican Formula Vee, where he finished second overall and top rookie.

American driver/owner Charles Anti, originally from Pittsburgh and now living in Lichfield, Staffordshire, tested his newly acquired ’09 Mygale, which was raced by Luke Williams last year. Very much a privateer entry, the 25-year-old is debuting in Formula Ford by running the car himself with the assistance of university friends with engineering degrees.

Although he hasn’t raced for four years due to his educational commitments, Anti does have strong racing experience from America. Winning the Skip Barber regionals in 2005, he went on to compete in the Skip Barber Star Mazda Pro Series.

“Formula Ford in the UK is one of the most competitive series in the world, probably the most cost-effective, and they were the two things we were looking for,” he said. “So I sold my Star Mazda and just managed to buy the Ford in the nick of time. It’s going to be a really interesting year for us, we’ll do the best we can - the aim is to not embarrass ourselves.”

Rounds one, two and three of the 2012 Dunlop MSA Formula Ford Championship of Great Britain will take place at Oulton Park in Cheshire between 7 and 9 April.