Last week we explored the relevance of Formula 1600 to the motorsport ladder within New Zealand and what the category teaches, particularly up and coming young drivers. But what about the engine options? Is the current Ford Kent 1600 engine the best alternative…? What of the other options for the future? We continue our discussion with South Island Formula Ford Club chairperson Derek Wilson.
Where is the future for engines? Do we maintain the status quo or look to other options?
“I think we are going to stay with the status quo for the immediate future. I think there may be environmental concerns that will impact on all motor racing and it would be naive of us to think that there would not be an impact on us.
“We have looked at options in the past but now have progressed to a stage where the componentry for our engines seems to be available in the after-market form everywhere.
“Now, that can’t necessarily be said for a lot of the alternatives such as the Duratec or Honda motors, so it may be a good thing that we didn’t previously go down either of those paths.
“For example, this year we can buy new blocks made by a Ford employed bussiness in the US, so supply is no longer an issue.
“We currently use after-market heads, crankshafts, conrods and pistons. There is very little of the original parts from the 1973 Ford Cortina (engine) that now require to keep on racing. That is a very good situation for the category to keep on racing.
“Conversely, I’m not sure if there is much after-market stuff at all available for any of the alternatives to the engines used elsewhere.
“The Kent engine is making a come-back around the world. The Kent series in the UK and Australia are both very strong.
“I don’t actually see it being advantageous to go down another path. We might have five years ago but for various reasons we didn’t choose to. We are a small country and our pool of cars is very small.
“If we were too change engines then it would be difficult. It could devastate our grid size. For many it may be beyond their means and the cars may stay in the sheds and just be used for club racing.
“The Honda is one option we agonised over a bit more. They aren’t superior but had the advantages that a more modern motor brings. However, the availability of after-market parts is a problem. The Kent has (now) evolved into a long-term option because of the availability of parts.”
Where to from here?
“The lesson we have learnt from the past is that you cannot assume that the grids will always be there. You have to work to keep them there. The class needs a number of aspects to keep it in that place.
“It needs a defined set of rules that are transparently obvious to everybody. They have to be absolutely enforced.
“There has to be an increased management of rules implementation in races.
“There has to be an environment where people are seen not to have a massive advantage and that gets back to rule enforcement with an impartial system.
“I see the field size being supported by the class structure that we have and that is massively important for the immediate future – Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3. It is a package.
“What we have learned this year is that if you can put fields together they will breed good fields because it appeals to people who are looking for the next step. If they can see good competition, decent field sizes and they know that their investment in their cars is not wasted – and that is an advantage that our category has over others is that the value of the cars is preserved to a large extent due to the enduring nature of the category which has been around for nearly 50 years. People are confident in this.
“We have a good package but we need to make sure that the environment that we offer people encourages them to come. Rule stability and fairness and doing nothing to disadvantage the current pool of cars is very important.
“We hear that there are another two more new cars coming, supposed to be Spectrums. There may be another Ray come into the country so we may see three new ones.
“It is the new cars that help the category as it refreshes the top end.”
The health of the Formula 1600 category would likely be given an A after a very good competition season over the 2018/19 summer. There is room for continuous improvement and as Derek reminded me that cannot take anything for granted.
We will add another part to this series on the NZ F1600 scene and next week talk to some of this season’s drivers’ and get their opinion on the category.