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Archive for the ‘Formula Ford news’ Category

Last month, the group that runs the F2000 Championship Series (a pro series for cars running under SCCA Formula Continental rules) announced a new series that will be run alongside F2000 next year: the F1600 Formula F Championship Series.  You can find the press release here.  The series will run five race weekends alongside the F2000 series–primarily in the Northeast–and the cars will use the same rules as SCCA Formula F.

This, of course, is great news for Formula F competitors.  Some drivers who actively compete in SCCA National races in the Northeast will undoubtedly join the series to test their skills against the types of aspiring young drivers that the F2000 series has attracted, and the F1600 series is likely to attract as well.  But even for Formula F racers who don’t compete in the series, I think it will still be a big plus for two reasons.  First, if F2000 is any indication, many F1600 teams will buy new cars, and those cars will make their way into the used Formula F market in a few years.  At the moment, it’s a rare event for a lightly used Piper or Citation Formula F to show up for sale, I think the series will change that–for proof, just look at all of the ex-F2000 Van Diemen chassis that are sold each off-season.

Second, and more importantly, the F1600 series combined with the SCCA’s approval of the Honda Fit engine may lead other chassis builders to enter the Formula F market.  That would be a welcome change from recent years, when it seemed hard for chassis builders to make a good business case for building Formula Fords for the U.S. market.  Carbir may be the first new entrant; I’ll post about that news separately.

With support for the series already announced by Honda Performance Development and Hoosier Tires, it should be off to a strong start next year.  I’ll post more as the first season gets closer.

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According to the buzz on Apexspeed.com, Ford Motorsports showed a mock-up of a replacement block for Kent engines at the Performance Racing Industry show last month.  The first time I heard that Ford might be making replacement blocks was earlier last year, when the SCCA was condsidering the Honda Fit engine proposal.  It’s good to see that Ford is continuing with the idea even though the Fit proposal was approved and the class is now officially known as Formula F.

I haven’t been able to find any details about the block on the Ford Motorsports website, but it’s supposedly going to be available this summer.  If so, that might change my engine plans significantly.  My engine’s block and crankshaft have a lot of time on them, and I’m concerned that the block may be cracked.  Yes, a hairline crack can be repaired, but if new blocks were available, I’d start fresh with a new block and crankshaft, and re-use most of the rest of the parts that are in my current engine.

At the moment, in order to cut the cost of rebuilding my Swift, I’m thinking about rebuilding the engine myself–it’s not a completely crazy idea, I’ve rebuilt engines before and spent some time working for a professional racing engine builder.  But I haven’t opened up an engine in over a decade and I’d have to buy a lot of the gauges and other specialized tools that are necessary for the job.  For the moment, I’m not making any decisions, but I’ll be watching the news from Ford Motorsport over the next few months as the time to start the rebuild gets closer.

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It has been difficult over the last couple of months to keep up with the news about engine suppliers in SCCA Formula Ford.  Whether Honda’s proposal to allow the Fit engine into the class was what caused Ford to wake up and start paying attention after years of silence–or whether Ford’s interest was triggered by other events–I think it’s good for the health of the class.  For instance, word is now floating around the Web that Jay Ivey, one of the most successful engine builders in the class, has convinced Ford to start casting new blocks for the Kent engine.  Jay has been responsible for most of the upgraded parts that are now common in SCCA-spec Kents, including the forged crankshaft, new pistons, etc., so it comes as no surprise that he’s involved.

Setting aside all of the debate about whether there is really a shortage of used blocks, it’s always more reassuring to race in a class where new engine blocks are available at a reasonable price.  And if the blocks are made available by Ford, it would be good news not just for Formula Ford, but also for the other classes (many of them vintage classes) that rely on the same basic bottom end as we do.  Stay tuned for more news on the subject, hopefully there will be official announcements from Ford Motorsports in the near future.

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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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First of all, let me say at the outset that I completely support Honda’s proposal to bring the Fit engine into Formula Ford to race alongside the existing Ford Kent engine.  Even if it doesn’t bring any new drivers into the class, I think that the much longer time between rebuilds and the lower rebuild costs generally will allow drivers already competing in FF to show up at more race weekends each year.  There are plenty of FF racers who only race five or six times a year, and at least in some cases the lower per-weekend cost should give them a chance to race more.  This alone will increase car count, especially at regionals.

From what I’ve read on Apexspeed.com, Honda is not pursuing a sealed engine approach, they would prefer for all of the engine builders currently involved in the class to be able to supply their engine.  This makes good sense, and sealed engines would be a mistake for another reason: they would prevent budget-conscious racers from buying low-mileage Fit engines from salvage yards and bolting them into their cars.  I have seen prices mentioned for a used Fit engine as low at $900, and for the racer willing to give up a couple of HP for a used engine, this will go a long way to reducing costs.  This option–bolting a used street engine into a FF chassis without doing major work to it–is one that simply doesn’t exist with the Kent.  I would probably buy a new engine from HPD along with the rest of the conversion kit, but for a spare engine, the used approach makes a lot of sense for someone on a budget like me.

Aside from the cost-saving benefits that the Honda proposal offers, it will also be good to have a manufacturer actively involved in the series.  FF may never be the training ground for aspiring F1 and IndyCar drivers that it once was, but with Honda involved, could we see an appearance by one of their factory drivers at the Runoffs? If their engine is approved, Honda would have an incentive to actively market their involvement in FF, and that can only help the class.

Lots more to come on this subject, stay tuned!

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