Australia Formula Ford, be careful what you wish for …

Formula Ford has been the junior formula of choice in Australia and NZ for decades now and, out of the blue – well almost – there is a serious discussion going on at Motorsport Australia (MA) about the need or otherwise for an updated version of the formula.

What appears to have stimulated the discussion has been a proposal from Supercars team owner Roland Dane to create an all-new single-make junior category, based around a carbon-fibre enhanced tubular chassis, that would be produced by a new semi-automated factory that Dane is currently building.

The word SAFETY is the big sell, something guaranteed to attract the attention of many a motorsport governing body – latest I’ve heard is the use of FIA-approved nose, and side/rear intrusion parts (made in Oz – or from an overseas manufacturer?) grafted onto a halo-included tubular chassis. Whether this is of any overall benefit at all depends on who you talk to – but for sure, when you head down the FIA path, it becomes a whole new ball-game.

Ken Smith demonstrated the original Swift-based FT5000 car at Pukekohe late in 2017 – in the end it’s safety rating (F1 2008) was deemed too old by MA. (Note: anyone interested in a brilliant track car? The FT5000/S5000 prototype, as here, is for sale …).

I guess I’m in a position to offer some comment as it proved to be the source of most of the birth pangs of S5000. The original Swift-designed tub and crash/intrusion elements we’d originally used (the car that Kenny demonstrated at Pukekohe) were deemed by MA (then CAMS) to be ‘too old’ in safety design terms, requiring some upgrades to achieve a required level.

That process, including the extraordinary cost and complexity of required crash testing (many, many hundreds of thousands of dollars), would have brought the whole project to a halt. What saved us was only the timely availability of the all-new Onroak-Ligier tub, all FIA-approved, off-the-shelf, at reasonable cost, and able to take the original ‘FT5000’ engine/gearbox rear end. In the end, to be fair, it has guaranteed the longevity of the S5000 car.

In the current Formula Ford discussion, it has to be said, there seems to be a fair bit of political ‘electricity’ surrounding the whole thing. When MA introduced, and funded, Formula 4 in 2015, it removed Formula Ford’s national championship status and focus as a means of protecting its investment. It failed. In State and unofficial national series form, Formula Ford thrived, while F4 ….  In the meantime, Australia’s current Formula Ford manufacturer, Spectrum, carried on building and selling cars – to the US, UK and NZ, as well as locally.

An MA Working Group has been set up to look at it all.

The next round of the current Australian Formula Ford series has 24 entries. Most of the Formula Ford fraternity, and various other relevant motorsport commentators, can see little need for significant change – just significant extra cost – and has submitted a strong letter to that effect. Safety-wise, I don’t recall a serious injury for over a decade.

A couple of well-worn phrases come to mind: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” – personally, I can see a case to quietly update Formula Ford chassis regulations over time to incorporate a halo. That’s virtually inevitable. Anything else? “Be careful what you wish for ….”

Note: The FT5000/S5000 prototype is for sale

No stranger to writing and editing motorsport magazines, Chris is an expat Kiwi who developed what became the S5000 car, and now acts as ‘development manager’ for the S5000 series owners, ARG.

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