A national dilemma

| Photographer Credit: Terry Marshall/Euan Cameron Photography

There is a key difference in the running of the three Formula Ford (1600) series within New Zealand that we need to consider in moving forward to achieve combined grids in the 2020/21 season. Currently we have the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship (NZFF), the South Island Formula 1600 Championship and the North Island Formula Ford Series. All exist for different reasons and have totally different structure.

Both the South and North Island series are controlled from the bottom up (by their members). The NZFF championship is not run by MotorSport NZ, but by the Formula Ford N.Z. Inc. club that is authorized by MSNZ to do so. This is a top down format.

This dynamic is important to realise in finding a workable solution going forward into the next season.

MSNZ own, and now run (through the FFNZ), the national series. The South Island Formula Ford (SIFF) Club is there for its members and essentially acts under their instruction.

If we go back into the 50-year history of New Zealand Formula Ford, the national championship has run separately for well over forty years. It is not until recent years (2012), that the SIFF Club started to run the championship alongside their very successful and growing series. They did so successfully through until last season when the MSNZ decided to run the national series themselves, setting up the Formula Ford New Zealand Club. They took control and brought back the ‘top down’ management style.

Compare this photo of the start of a South Island F1600 race with the main picture showing the start of the NZFF race. Same meeting at Teretonga Park, separate races

The Speed Works meeting at Teretonga at the end of January 2020 was a result of this decision which saw two separate grids for the SIFF and NZFF championships at the same meeting. The SIFF fielded 26-cars while nine took to the NZFF race grids.

It was not a good look for the category and probably confusing for most spectators. It was evident that people voted with their feet. We even had NZFF competitors joining the SIFF Club so that they could also compete in their races. (Unfortunately we had the situation with officials trying to stop national competitors competing in the SIFF races until some common sense prevailed.)

It emphasises the problem that the category faces in the future if it continues down the same path. Young drivers come and go. Those nine NZFF competitors may not be there next season and a new wave of young drivers may or may not come through.

The importance of numbers on the grid need to be considered and the fact that most grids are made up of ‘club’ members who have a love and passion for the category. This is a must for young drivers coming through Formula Ford who will have their careers and racecraft enhanced by the being involved in a thriving category.

Hard work and dedication over many years by loyal SIFF members, combined with a passion for the category has seen more cars come out of their garages and onto the southern circuits. It has even attracted drivers from the North Island. Meanwhile, the leadership of the national championship was waiving (pre 2012), and we saw a dramatic decline in those choosing to compete for a national title. Hence the SIFF offered MSNZ to take the national championship under their wing.

For the 2019/20 season, MSNZ have reverted to the format of the class as it has been for the vast majority of its existence prior to SIFF Club involvement and the SIFF Club too are now independently running their own series as they have done for almost as long.

It is fair to say that generally SIFF Club competitors and organisers are relieved to be freed from the spiralling costs, regulatory uncertainty and continual difficulties of being involved with the MSNZ championship.

Are combined grids even a realistic possibility again? At so many levels, the dynamics of achieving a combined grid now are very different to when SIFF first went down that path seven years ago. Let’s face it, the two championships exist for different reasons.

Compounding this is that the NZFF runs under the Schedule Ch regulations, while the SIFF Club run under Schedule Z. A key sticking point is that to run under Schedule CH, it would require the SIFF Club members facing an extra $200 with each entry fee (per round). Multiply that by 25 cars per round and seven rounds per season and you get a figure of $35k coming out of Club members’ pockets.

SIFF proposals involving a combined grid for the present season were flatly rejected but if there is now a desire to go down that path some thinking outside the square would be needed to find a workable solution. It may have to be initiated by someone other than the SIFF Club itself.

Previous models and structures may no longer be a suitable template for a combined national and regional championship grid.

An understanding of the ‘bottom-up’ and top-down’ dynamics within the NZ Formula Ford category is an important step in moving forward. We can have combined grids for the 2020/21 season but there is still some negotiating to be undertaken.

Benjamin Carrell

Benjamin Carrell is a freelance motorsport writer and currently edits talkmotorsport.co.nz. He writes for a number of Kiwi drivers and motorsport clubs. That's when he's not working in his horticultural day-job or training for the next road or mtb cycle race!


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