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Dwindling grids and controversy blight the 2000s – Motorsports

The new decade began with another future Formula 1 driver winning the Festival. Anthony Davidson hadn’t won the British championship but he’d certainly made his mark – and would win the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award to cap off a fine year.

Davidson secured pole position for the final by winning the dramatic second semi-final. After several early incidents and a red flag, the Haywood Racing Mygale driver led the works Van Diemen of 2000 champion James Courtney, while German title winner Marc Benz spun out of third, ending what had been an impressive Festival debut. Richard Goransson briefly took the place before being overcome by Festival veteran Michael Vergers and then going off. Up ahead of the mayhem, Davidson held on to book his place in the final.

Earlier, Robert Dahlgren’s Van Diemen had scythed by polesitter Mark Taylor’s Mackie Motorsport Mygale at the start of the first, damp semi-final. The Van Diemen pulled clear to take a comfortable victory, but the drying track meant semi-final two was always likely to be faster, thus restricting Dahlgren to second on the grid for the race that really mattered.

A dry track for the final appeared to favour Van Diemen, but Davidson held the lead from the start. Almost immediately Dahlgren starting pressuring Davidson but a lock-up at Paddock allowed Courtney to snatch second. Taylor remained close in the four-car lead battle, with Vergers holding on to fifth.

Around half-distance, Courtney launched an attack on Davidson at Paddock, but it was the Australian who ran wide and Dahlgren retook second. While the places behind changed several times, Davidson held firm before facing another test when collisions further back brought out the red flags. That set up a five-lap dash and, after the restart, Courtney and Taylor clashed in a multi-car incident, leaving Dahlgren pressuring Davidson.

Overall podium: Anthony Davidson, 1st position, Danica Patrick, 2nd position, Robin Rudholm, 3rd position

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

“With Dahlgren constantly tapping on the rear of Davidson, something was bound to happen,” reported Autosport. “The Swede braved it out round the outside of Paddock in a stunning do-or-die move, but this time ended the day six feet into the gravel.”

All that meant future American racing star Danica Patrick made it a Hayword Mygale 1-2 behind the future World Endurance champion, while Robin Rudholm completed the top three. “Hollywood does not write them any better than this,” reckoned Autosport.

The Haywood Mygale team took its third win in four years in 2001, though there was nothing dry about the 30th Festival final. South African Alan van der Merwe climbed into contention after a mediocre qualifying performance to win by nearly three seconds.

South African Alan van der Merwe climbed into contention after a mediocre qualifying performance to win by nearly three seconds

Van Diemen had the edge early in the weekend, Patrick Long, Goransson and Rudholm all winning their heats, but things started to go wrong in the semi-finals.

Two stoppages reduced the first semi-final to an eight-lap thrash. Future Porsche GT racer Long won, but only after a controversial clash on the final lap that took out 2001 champion Dahlgren, for which he was disqualified. That removed two of the quick Van Diemens.

Goransson overtook Benelux champion and polesitter Stefan de Groot at Paddock on the first lap of semi-final two and stayed ahead. A fine move through Surtees and McLaren got van der Merwe ahead of de Groot, giving him a slot on the second row for the final.

Overall Festival winner Alan van der Merwe is presented with the Neil Shanahan trophy on the podium

Overall Festival winner Alan van der Merwe is presented with the Neil Shanahan trophy on the podium

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Goransson made a poor start from pole in the final, allowing the Mygale of Ronnie Bremer, who had inherited victory in the first semi-final after Long’s exclusion, into the lead. It also allowed van der Merwe to attack into Paddock. “It was always going to be tight, and Goransson left the Haywood car previous little room, but van der Merwe stuck to his guns, and it paid off,” said Autosport. “It was a stunning opening move.”

Van der Merwe didn’t leave it long to attack his Mygale team-mate, diving down the inside at Graham Hill Bend on lap two to take the lead. “The move was either going to end the Festival for me or win it,” said van der Merwe. “He didn’t leave me much room but Ronnie is a fair driver.”

As van der Merwe edged away to secure victory, a battle developed for third. Adam Carroll, up from seventh, put more and more pressure on fellow Van Diemen driver Goransson. He made his move at Druids, Goransson turned in and contact was made that broke the Swede’s bottom wishbone. Both continued, with Carroll ahead, but it was another 1-2 for the Haywood Mygales.

Grids were beginning to dwindle in the Zetec era in 2002 and 54 cars started the Festival heats. Westley Barber had won the championship and arrived at Brands Hatch as favourite. He duly led the way in the heats and his semi-final but the finale – as often happens at the Festival – proved dramatic and controversial.

Barber made a fine start from pole to lead the final, chased by the Jamun Racing Mygale of Ben Clucas, who had broken Van Diemen’s stranglehold of the weekend by winning the second (slower) semi-final. Barber put two wheels on the grass at McLaren on lap five, giving Clucas the chance to dive up the inside at Clearways. The cars touched and Barber’s hopes ended with a hefty impact with the tyre wall. Barber claimed he had slowed for yellows but Clucas saw things differently.

Either way, the incident allowed Barber’s works Van Diemen team-mate Jan Heylen to jump into the lead. The Belgian driver had won his heat and finished second to Barber in the first semi-final, and now led Clucas, with the order behind also being shuffled by the key clash.

Alan van der Merwe, Haywood Racing, Mygale SJ2001

Alan van der Merwe, Haywood Racing, Mygale SJ2001

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

With Barber’s car and several others littering the track the safety car was called before red flags flew, setting up a 14-lap fight to the flag. Christian England, running third on the road in his JLR Van Diemen, was also informed of a 10s penalty for a jumped start.

England leaped onto Heylen’s tail from the off and virtually pushed him around the final lap, but he could find no way by. Heylen crossed the line 0.129s ahead to take a surprise success, with England’s penalty dropping him to seventh and handing second to Goransson. Mygale had experienced a tough 2002, but Benelux champion Jaap van Lagen finished third in his MP Motorsport-run SJ02.

A King of Kents event once again supported the Festival, victory going to Dave Fricker’s Reynard 89FF, more than 14s clear of the Mondiale M84S of Jonathan McGall.

Joey Foster had been a rising star of the main season, taking three wins to finish second in the standings to Tom Kimber-Smith, and delivered at Brands Hatch

A driver who would become well-known in Kent Formula Ford circles took the Zetec Festival honours in 2003. Joey Foster had been a rising star of the main season, taking three wins to finish second in the standings to Tom Kimber-Smith, and delivered at Brands Hatch.

Having won his heat and semi-final (ahead of Kimber-Smith and future Audi ace Oliver Jarvis), Foster used a short first gear to convert pole into the lead of the final. Clucas (Jamun Mygale) started second but was muscled down to third by Marko Asmer’s JLR Van Diemen on the opening tour. Foster’s defensive driving kept the frontrunners bunched together both sides of a safety car period. Aside from Clucas falling back, apparently lacking straightline speed, the order at the front remained largely unchanged as Foster held his nerve.

“Foster’s Continental Racing Van Diemen was possibly not the fastest machine out there in the final, but he wielded it with enormous confidence and savvy, holding the baying pack – which launched fruitless attempts to unseat him – behind for 25 laps,” summarised Autosport. “The simple fact was that Foster’s inch-perfect line around the Brands Indy circuit made his defence impossible to breach.”

Ben Clucas, Jamun Racing Services, Mygale SJ01, leads Richard Gorranson, Duckhams Racing, Van Diemen RF01

Ben Clucas, Jamun Racing Services, Mygale SJ01, leads Richard Gorranson, Duckhams Racing, Van Diemen RF01

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Asmer took second and Kimber-Smith held off Valle Makela and Jarvis to complete the podium, with the top seven covered by less than 3s at the chequered flag.

The King of Kents final had to be started four times – and the clerk of the course gave a lecture about driving standards on the grid – but Matt Gilmore rose above the drama to win in his Van Diemen RF92.

Foster also won at the Festival in 2004 but this time it was in the Kent race, driving the Reynard 89FF he would also use to win the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone. He triumphed at Brands by holding off a determined Peter Dempsey, who would contribute to an even more incredible final two years later.
The Zetec engine was still the powerplant in the main championship, which was won by Van Diemen driver Makela, but he fell foul of the same Festival curse that often seemed to strike title winners, as Dan Clarke took victory.

Makela started the Festival final on pole having won the faster semi-final. That was despite the Finn having to overcome heat winner Sebastian Hohenthal and Charlie Kimball, who then crashed out after contact from Juho Annala, removing one of the frontrunners.

Clarke had beaten Kimball in his heat and led semi-final two from start to finish. He then made a good start in the final to challenge Makela into Paddock, only to lose momentum on the exit and allow Makela’s Nexa Racing team-mate Hohenthal into second. The Swede appeared to have better pace either side of a safety car period, even losing some of his nosecone in his attempts to find a way by. He then tried again at Druids, the two made contact and Hohenthal took the lead – but only for a few moments before Clarke swept past both delayed Nexa Van Diemens in his JLR example.

As Clarke dived by Hohenthal into Graham Hill Bend, the brief leader lost enough momentum for Makela to repass. So all the Nexa twins had managed to do was allow Clarke past them… “I could see that the two of them had a few things to sort out,” said Clarke. “I didn’t want to get involved.”

Westley Barber, Duckhams Racing, Van Diemen RF02, leads Jan Heylen, Duckhams Racing, Van Diemen RF02

Westley Barber, Duckhams Racing, Van Diemen RF02, leads Jan Heylen, Duckhams Racing, Van Diemen RF02

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

The intra-team Nexa battle continued, with Hohenthal particularly enraged, allowing Clarke to edge clear. With five laps to go Hohenthal nudged Makela aside at Clearways to take second, only for third Nexa driver Yuya Sakamoto to pass both! The final move in the saga came when Makela attacked at Graham Hill Bend and spun. He eventually finished 15th, with Hohenthal third, as Clarke won by 2.6s from a happy Sakamoto.

By 2005 – and with Ford’s new Duratec engine on its way – support for the Zetec category had plummeted. Championship fields could barely scrape into double figures. Duncan Tappy was arguably the find of the season but a few issues early on and consistent scoring from his Jamun Mygale team-mate Charlie Donnelly had denied him the crown. Tappy put that right at the Festival.

Both Tappy and Donnelly won their heats but, while Tappy also comfortably took his semi-final, Donnelly lost out to Dennis Retera’s Geva Mygale in his contest. Donnelly led semi-final one almost throughout, until a great run from Retera out of Clearways allowed him to snatch the lead into Paddock on the final lap.

As the Zetec category struggled, the club Kent scene remained strong

That gave Retera pole for the final but he got too much wheelspin and handed the lead to Tappy, who had won the last nine championship races. As Donnelly pressured Retera, Tappy started to edge away. Donnelly took second at Paddock on lap six but he was unable to make any inroads into Tappy’s lead.

A late clash between Christian Ebbesvik and Linton Stuteley brought out the safety car and cost Tappy his 8s lead. But the Briton kept calm for the one-lap dash to the flag to lead a Mygale 1-2-3, with Joe D’Agostino’s JLR entry being the top Van Diemen in fourth.

As the Zetec category struggled, the club Kent scene remained strong. Gavin Wills repeated his 1994 success, this time in a Van Diemen RF00, helped by the early retirement of Peter Dempsey, who had been the star of the Kent season.

Race winner Joey Foster, Van Diemen RF03

Race winner Joey Foster, Van Diemen RF03

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

And thanks to his incredible 2005 campaign, Dempsey was one of the pre-season favourites as the new Duratec Formula Ford era began. The lighter engine, which was also the same 1600cc as the Kent, immediately gave the category a boost. A field of 25 cars started the season opener at Oulton Park, which Dempsey’s Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray won by 0.034s from the Jamun Mygale of Nathan Freke. Dempsey won the first four rounds but his championship challenge faded and the usually level-headed Freke won the title comfortably, from Nick Tandy and Dempsey. All would play their part in one of the most dramatic races in Festival history.

Tandy had switched from the works Ray team to the JTR squad run by his brother Joe during the season and won both his heat and his semi-final, having held off a challenge from James Nash’s Van Diemen. Freke, who also won his heat, had to defend from team-mate Jay Bridger and Dempsey early on in his semi-final, but pulled away once into his stride to take pole for the final.

Conditions were bad for the 25-lap final and it didn’t take long for things to kick off. Freke ran Tandy out wide at Druids on lap two, forcing the Ray into a spin and allowing Dempsey into the lead. Freke briefly fell to third before repassing Nash. He then overtook Dempsey at Clearways on lap five, Dempsey retaliated at Paddock, ran wide and handed the lead back to the Mygale.

But Freke’s chances of victory were about to end. After a touch from Dempsey into Graham Hill Bend, Freke spun into the barriers on the exit. Dempsey continued before going off for good at Paddock, ending his Duratec Festival just as he had in the Kent equivalent the year before.

Nash had already been delayed by a clash with Dempsey, so Richard Tannahill’s Kevin Mills Racing Van Diemen now moved to the front, having started on row three. He led Bridger at the restart following the clean-up operation, but the real threat was future Le Mans winner and wet-weather ace Tandy.

Despite falling to 19th early on and having at least three spins, Tandy had risen to sixth before the safety car’s appearance, routinely lapping two seconds faster than the rest. His incredible drive had brought him back into contention but his final mistake was the crucial one. After spinning again behind the safety car, Tandy overtook the cars that had gone by while he gathered things up, when the field was still under caution.

Tandy’s charge continued at the restart and, with four laps to go, he got a great run out of Clearways, forcing Tannahill to defend into Paddock. Tandy then sliced down the inside into Druids to take the lead. He crossed the line more than 3s clear, but was then handed a 10s penalty for his safety car misdemeanour, dropping him to fifth. Tannahill was thus declared the winner from Bridger and Neil Doran, none of whom had won a single championship round all season!

Joey Foster, Continental Racing, Van Diemen RF03, leads Tom Kimber-Smith, Team JLR, Van Diemen RF03, and Tom Gaymor, ComTec Racing, Van Diemen RF03

Joey Foster, Continental Racing, Van Diemen RF03, leads Tom Kimber-Smith, Team JLR, Van Diemen RF03, and Tom Gaymor, ComTec Racing, Van Diemen RF03

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Zetec runners got their own final, which was won by French champion Benoit Perret (Mygale), while Kent honours went to Noel Dunne’s Van Diemen.

Tandy was a key player in another controversial final the following year. Having spent most of the 2007 championship harassing – and sometimes clashing with – the faster Jamun Mygale of title-winner Callum MacLeod, Tandy once again set himself up as a prime contender by winning his heat and semi-final. A slow-starting MacLeod was second to Tandy in heat one before winning his semi-final and it was clear they were the class of a field that also included future BTCC race winner Nash and 2019-20 World Endurance GTE Pro champion Marco Sorensen.

Tandy led the final from pole but was soon joined by MacLeod as they raced clear of the pack. The first bout of contact came out of Clearways on lap two as MacLeod tried to get ahead, but the battle was soon neutralised by safety car. The race had barely got going before another safety car was required and the crucial moment came on lap 12 as they prepared for the restart.

MacLeod was initially awarded victory but he was then handed a 2s penalty after Tandy argued that his rival’s actions under the safety car had been against the regulations

MacLeod and Tandy were jockeying for position when the Ray struck the back of the Mygale, before MacLeod raced clear. There was no time for Tandy to respond because three cars went off on lap 14, forcing the contest to be declared after 13 laps, only six of which had been at racing speed.

MacLeod was initially awarded victory but he was then handed a 2s penalty after Tandy argued that his rival’s actions under the safety car had been against the regulations. The debate continued well after nightfall but MacLeod’s penalty – technically for not staying within five car lengths of the safety car – stood and Tandy got the win he’d lost the year before.

“It had been an unsatisfactory final,” concluded Autosport. “Tandy and MacLeod both deserved the victory, but the shortened race and off-track bickering took the shine off an unusually dry event that had attracted a decent 38-car entry.”

Duncan Tappy, Mygale SJ04

Duncan Tappy, Mygale SJ04

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

The Kent final was also controversial. Rising star Wayne Boyd patiently waited behind early leader Dempsey (yes, him again!). Going onto lap 20 Boyd timed his move brilliantly and dived down the inside into Paddock Hill Bend, but his lead only lasted a few hundred yards. Dempsey tried to respond at Druids but only succeeding in launching his Ray across Boyd’s Van Diemen, taking both out and ending the race prematurely. Peter’s older brother Keith inherited the spoils.

A year later Boyd became the first driver since Jenson Button in 1998 to win both the British championship and Festival in the same season. Boyd had won 13 of 25 championship rounds in his Jamun Mygale, but hadn’t scored a victory since a trip to Spa in June. He put that right at the 2008 Festival, running away from the pack in the final after finishing third in his heat and then winning semi-final two.

Boyd was helped by Australian Formula Ford frontrunner and future Supercars racer Nick Percat, having a one-off appearance for JTR, holding up the pack as he suffered with a slow right-rear puncture. Chris Maliepaard (Getem Mygale) had looked set to be Boyd’s closest challenger, beating him in the heats and finishing second in their semi-final, but by the time he made it through Boyd was gone.

Wayne Boyd

Wayne Boyd

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Tandy, by now a British F3 driver, made a rare appearance and again provided action. One of several quick runners forced to start towards the back of the pack following contact, Tandy charged from 19th to fifth. Along the way he crossed swords with 16-year-old Danish talent Kevin Magnussen, the son of 1992 Festival winner Jan making the early steps in a career that would take him to F1. Magnussen finished seventh in his Fukamuni Racing Aquila as the top 10 contained cars from four different constructors.

The fifth constructor – Ray – had a poor Duratec Festival but came out on top of the Kent edition. Team USA Scholarship driver Josef Newgarden narrowly defeated Patrick McKenna after a fine battle and was soon making plans to join the British Formula Ford championship.

Along the way he crossed swords with 16-year-old Danish talent Kevin Magnussen, the son of 1992 Festival winner Jan making the early steps in a career that would take him to F1

The future two-time (and counting) IndyCar champion was indeed a major factor in the 2009 season. The JTR Mygale driver fought a tough battle with the Jamun-run example of James Cole all year, losing the title despite winning more races. But the American’s Festival was a disaster, finally ending when his engine went bang on lap one of the final.

Instead, other drivers took centre stage. On the same weekend that Button became the first Formula Ford Festival winner to win the F1 world championship, Chrissy Palmer defeated Liroy Stuart as the Jamun and JTR ‘number twos’ overshadowed their team leaders.

Kent Final, Peter Dempsey leads the field

Kent Final, Peter Dempsey leads the field

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

It didn’t look like things were going to go that way at first. Cole won heat one, while Benelux champion Melroy Heemskerk starred to win heat two in his Geva Racing Mygale – ahead of Palmer. Things went wrong for Heemskerk in semi-final two when he inadvertently hit the back of Stuart’s JTR Mygale at Druids and flew into retirement. The incident also allowed Rogier de Wit to win from Stuart, giving the Getem Racing Mygale driver pole for the final.

Palmer had overtaken Cole on his way to winning the other semi-final, but made a poor start. He could only watch as Stuart rocketed through from row two to take the lead. Cole also jumped Palmer and de Wit but left a gap at Clearways, which Palmer filled to retake second.

Palmer had driven for three different teams during the season but had shown flashes, particularly in the wet, and won five races. By contract, Stuart had struggled in Newgarden’s shadow and had scored just one podium finish.

Palmer showed patience as he waited for an opportunity, which came at half-distance when Stuart made a small mistake at Graham Hill Bend. It was enough for Palmer to power past on the exit. He duly reeled off the remaining laps to win by just over a second, while Cole completed the podium after pulling off a fine outside-of-Druids pass on Ben Barker’s Fluid Motorsport Van Diemen.

While Rory Butcher narrowly beat future Duratec champion and Festival winner Scott Malvern to take Kent spoils and pre-event favourite Neil Tofts won the separate Zetec event, Palmer’s story was a fitting one to demonstrate how Festival success can make a driver’s season.

“There’s no point coming second in the final,” said Palmer, summing up the attitude of many a driver through the decades. “The season hasn’t been what we wanted, but this makes up for everything.”

Liroy Stuart, Mygale SJ09 leads Chrissy Palmer, Mygale SJ08, James Cole, Mygale SJ09, Rogier De Wit, Mygale SJ07 and the field at the start of the race

Liroy Stuart, Mygale SJ09 leads Chrissy Palmer, Mygale SJ08, James Cole, Mygale SJ09, Rogier De Wit, Mygale SJ07 and the field at the start of the race

Photo by: Drew Gibson / Motorsport Images

– Motorsports

Dwindling grids and controversy blight the 2000s
https://www.autosport.com/national/news/formula-ford-festival-at-50-dwindling-grids-and-controversy-blight-the-2000s/6718533/?utm_source=RSS&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=RSS-ALL&utm_term=News&utm_content=uk Dwindling grids and controversy blight the 2000s

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