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Archive for August, 2009

Once upon a time, Formula Ford was a training ground for the future stars of Formula One, CART, and other top-level racing series. It was one of the first rungs on the “development ladder” (though I don’t think that phrase was used back then). At least in the U.S., it has been years since this was the case. Formula Ford is now strictly an amateur class within the SCCA, and the only upward mobility that it really creates is for drivers who move on to winged formula car classes, sports racers, etc.

Amidst the debate about whether the SCCA should allow the Honda Fit engine into the Formula Ford class, there has been some hand-wringing about how, over the last couple of decades, the class has lost its former stature as a training ground for professional racers. I wasn’t around for the “good old days,” but I’m fairly certain that they won’t return for this class, whether or not we have a new engine approved. Even if Honda is actively supporting the class, I don’t think it will change who is racing Formula Fords very much.
It’s not surprising to me that the SCCA’s Formula Ford class doesn’t attract aspiring professional drivers anymore. Unlike, for instance, the F2000 series or the Skip Barber National series, Formula Ford doesn’t race in conjunction with televised professional racing series. SCCA national weekends don’t offer the same kind of exposure. And there aren’t many opportunities for arrive & drive arrangements, which is important to aspiring drivers with cash but no desire to invest in cars and equipment for a particular class. The relatively dated equipment in the class isn’t attractive to aspiring professional drivers either.

For amateur racers, I think that this is all good news. The presence of semi-professional teams in the class would drive up costs for drivers who want to run up front. And having driven in and watched Skip Barber racing series races, I’m not sure I’d want to attract young drivers with fat wallets and no qualms about wrecking equipment–the people I’ve raced against in Formula Ford tend to have more respect for their fellow drivers.
The question, then, is if we want to attract more drivers to Formula Ford, who should we be trying to attract? That’s a subject for another day…

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Since Honda first proposed its Fit 1.5L engine for the SCCA Formula Ford class, the volume of discussion that it has spawned in the Formula Ford community is staggering.  I, for one, think that anything that gets racers in this class so worked up is a good thing.  Not everyone supports the proposal, but for the most part the discussion has been very constructive.  I’ve added my two cents to the Apexspeed conversation in a couple of places here.

One aspect of the conversation that I haven’t understood has been the suggestion that Honda will somehow force rules changes if their engines aren’t running at the front immediately.  The theory–according to some comments that I’ve read–is that Honda would lobby the SCCA until their engine is dominant and the existing Ford Kent engine is rendered obsolete.  Seriously?  The people making this argument obviously haven’t watched much American Le Mans Series racing recently, and their memories of the engine wars in the IRL are short-lived.  Honda, just like most manufacturers that are serious about racing, thrives on competition.  When it became clear that Audi and Peugeot weren’t going to run in the ALMS, it wasn’t long before Honda/Acura re-evaluated their program.  And they weren’t thrilled about losing competition when Toyota and GM pulled out of the IRL.  It’s unfortunate that they might leave the ALMS, but it makes sense, what are you proving if you don’t have any competition?

I think that the same rationale applies at the amateur level.  True, Honda won’t exactly be competing against Ford as such if its engine is approved, but does anyone really think that Honda would be as interested in this series if its engine was the only one allowed?  Or the only one running at the front?  These guys are racers, my gut tells me they would rather have someone to race against.  If they want to build a successful grassroots racing program (which seems to be their goal), the way to do it is by supporting racers with parts and technical assistance, not by steamrolling into an existing class and pushing everyone else out.  So far, they don’t seem to be taking the latter approach.

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I just added a hardware and fasteners page to my directory of suppliers, check it out here.  This is an area that’s of particular interest to me, since the Swift DB-1 that I’m rebuilding hasn’t had much of its hardware replaced in years.  Aside from a couple of rod ends and spherical bearings that were in such bad shape when I bought the car that I replaced them right away, now that the car is disassembled I’m looking at a pile of bolts, nuts, rod ends, and other fasteners that should all probably be tossed on the scrap heap.  There are lots of differing opinions out there about how long you should run, say, the suspension arm bolts before replacing them.  My guess is that what was on my car is long past anyone’s definition of  useful life.

So part of my project of rebuilding the DB-1 will be to replace just about every nut, bolt, screw, and body panel fastener there is on the car.  I’ll keep my eye out for new sources for these parts, since AN hardware does not come cheap.  Suggestions are always welcome, the new page that I’ve added is a work in process!

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I just got the September issue of SportsCar, which turns out to be their “Who Will Win?” issue both for the Runoffs and for the Solo Nationals.  Of course, I turned to the Runoffs predictions right away, and I’m sure I’m not spoiling much by repeating who was listed:

  1. Tim Kautz
  2. Jeremy Treadway
  3. Tony Coello

Coincidentally, these were the top three finishers at the June Sprints (and the article admitted as much).  No disrespect to Kautz, Treadway, or Coello, but is that really much of a way to predict the Runoffs?  SportsCar didn’t have the benefit of the results of the Formula Ford 40th, but Treadway’s win there makes him a good candidate for the win–he has the best average finish for the two races.  But what about the top finishers from last year’s Runoffs?  Yes, it was at a different track, but that’s not the end of the story…

The real problem here is that coverage of Formula Ford in SportsCar is dismal.  I can’t remember the last time the magazine devoted any significant space to articles about the class or its top drivers.  The same could probably be said for other open-wheel classes too–the magazine’s coverage of club racing has a heavy tilt towards tin-tops.  And with the demise of print magazines devoted to formula car racing, it’s not going to get any better.  Maybe I should start pitching SportsCar as soon as it arrives and spend more time on the eFormulaCarNews site.

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As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’m in the middle of a frame-up rebuild of the Swift DB-1 that I bought last year.  I disassembled the car over the last couple of months, and the frame is being repaired right now at GMT Racing.  There are a bunch of other things that I need to have done before I start reassembling the car–the fuel cell needs to be checked, the suspension parts all need to be checked and re-plated, and (more ominously) some hideous-looking damage on the underside of the bellhousing/oil tank casting needs to be repaired.  That’s a subject for another post, because replacements are apparently impossible to come by, so I hope it’s not beyond repair!

One upgrade that I’ve been thinking about since I bought the car is to move the pedals farther back in the car.  This is how the pedal box looks from above:

DB-1 pedal box

Unlike cars built in the last 15 years or so, the driver’s feet are ALL the way at the front of the car–the only protection besides the very front of the frame is the aluminum crush box (not pictured).  Here’s another view:

DB-1 frame

Not only is that less than ideal from a foot-safety standpoint, it’s not the greatest driving position for me.  Even with the pedals attached in the rear mounting holes, I still have to stretch to depress the clutch all the way, and flooring the gas pedal isn’t as comfortable as I’d like either.  I don’t consider myself short–I’m 5’10”–but I’d be happier if they were a little closer.  So I think I’m going to move them back just to the other side of the frame rail that runs horizontally right behind where the pedals are in the picture.  That’s going to require a new bracket for the pedals to mount to, something that I’ll have to have made, since I have no welder and no equipment to bend sheet metal myself.

I’m interested in seeing modifications that others have done to pedals in the DB-1, I can’t imagine that I’m the only person who has considered this upgrade.  Suggestions, anyone?

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Last month’s 40th Anniversary of Formula Ford weekend at Road America was the largest gathering of Formula Fords in years, much larger than any recent SCCA Runoffs.  Among the entries were a number of cars that had not been raced in years and were taken out of storage and prepared just for the 40th.  It’s great to see cars that have been off the track back in action, but the question is: what’s next for these cars?  Will they return to storage, or will they start showing up at regionals later this year?  (I say regionals because my impression is that most of the cars brought out of storage were of Club Ford vintage, but someone correct me if I’m wrong about that!)

The first question should probably be, why did these cars disappear from competition in the first place?  Some may not have been competitive, even among Club Fords, others may be owned by racers who are no longer active, but who haven’t wanted to part with their cars for sentimental reasons.  I don’t have high hopes that cars like that will make a regular return to competition.

But in other cases–and I hope that there are more than just a handful of these–the 40th Anniversary event may have been the excuse drivers needed to restore cars that were no longer raceable without extensive work.  It’s a shame that the organizers didn’t ask drivers to send in before and after pictures of their cars as they were being prepared for the 40th, I’ll bet there were some interesting stories there.  Once restored, there’s no reason why these cars wouldn’t make a regular return to racing.  Some cars that were prepared specifically for the 40th are now on the market; Jeremy Treadway’s Van Diemen RF81 is one example.

My hope, then, is that these various Van Diemens, Crossles, Tigas, Lolas, and other cars will make more than one appearance this year, and that would be great news for the health of the class.  Could the Formula Ford turnout at the AARC be higher than usual this year?

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Driver fitness

I once heard that Helio Castroneves’ fitness routine includes jumping rope while reading flash cards held up by his trainer–essentially, training to keep his mind and reaction time sharp during physical exertion.  I don’t have a trainer, and can’t claim a fitness routine anything nearly that creative, but I do think that fitness is important to a Formula Ford driver.  Most of us don’t have four hours a day to spend working out (I’m lucky if I can squeeze in 30 minutes on weekdays), but there’s no question that working out is still an important part of getting ready for race weekends.

As I find more information on various drivers’ fitness programs, I’ll post what seems interesting or useful.  Personally, the only thing I’ve been able to do consistently is cycling: 20 or 30 minutes on the exercise bike 2-3 times a week, and a 1-hour ride on the weekends when I have time to get on a real bicycle.  It’s a work in progress, I know that I should try to do more than that, but I never seem to have the time.  Maybe by putting that in writing I’ll force myself to do better?

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