Formula Open is a happening thing

The brainchild of Ken Smith and John Tomlin, Formula Open NZ (FONZ) aims to hopefully see the return of decent crowd sizes for historic club racing events. The championship, operated separately from Formula Libre, is a sole ‘wings and slicks class’ for some of New Zealand’s historic and modern open-wheelers that no longer have any set series to race in.

Currently, the series has just completed its third round in a four-round championship at Hampton Downs last weekend. FONZ has also competed at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo and the BMW festival run on the International GT circuit configuration at Hampton Downs. Whilst field sizes in FONZ’s inaugural season is relatively small, all the drivers and race organisers are satisfied with how Formula Open has launched.

The current grid is composed of some high speed, ground effect Swift DB4 Formula Pacific’s, FT40 and FT50 TRS cars, a Formula Renault, and the more historic Formula Supervee’s and Formula Suzuki’s’. All drivers are happy to be able to race their special machinery against some iconic cars and names of New Zealand single-seaters, and unanimously agree that the series is dictated more out of enjoyment than being a fully serious campaign.

Ken Smith is campaigning the ex Marcus Armstrong FT50 Toyota Racing Series car Photo: Matt Smith

The most recent addition of FONZ at the Tasman Revival round at Hampton Downs witnessed some incredibly close racing up the front of the field between James Watson’s fuel-injected Swift DB4, Sam McNeil’s FT40 and Ken Smith operating Marcus Armstrong’s 2018 NZ Motor Cup winning TRS FT50.

The class’ first season currently only races in the North Island but is set in accordance with South Island series to promote drivers from down south to participate in what is a supposed national series. However, the possibility of FONZ racing in the South Island in the next few seasons are extremely likely, and race organisers would like to extend a large appreciation to the few drivers from the South Island who made the tireless commitment to a small series away from home at their expense.

Series coordinator John Tomlin (JT) told Talk Motorsport on the eve of the most recent round at Hampton Downs that he is confident that the second rendition of FONZ will bring about a myriad of more open-wheelers to race. Tim O’Connor of Challenge Racing has recently purchased nine FT40 chassis for public lease at affordable prices. Meanwhile, Ken Smith is near on completed restoring his 1990 New Zealand Grand Prix winning Swift Cosworth Formula Atlantic in what he aims to compete in next season.

JT also highlighted how the FONZ field all appreciate close, enjoyable racing compared to mere processions. People of the general public are much more content to pay $40 to watch some brilliant, action-packed racing than pay a quarter of the price to see a few cars cruise around a circuit for eight laps. The roaring thunder played in perfect harmony with the incredible speeds of Formula Open machinery is the perfect recipe for gradually increasing crowd sizes of local historical race meetings.

Formula Open aims to be on par with the calendar of the NZ Formula 5000 and Tranzam Challenge in the foreseeable future in what would hopefully reignite interest amongst the public. Whether there is revenue to be generated or not, Formula Open is most certainly satisfied to be a central role in helping solve the dying game of New Zealand club motorsport.

Formula Open NZ will hold its fourth and final round at Pukekohe Park on the 22nd -23rd of February.

Zane Shackleton

Currently studying a Bachelor of Communications at AUT in Auckland, Zane Shackleton has always expressed an outgoing passion towards anything motorsport. Zane enjoys volunteering with The Motorsport Club as a flag marshall and continually learning about the rich history of New Zealand motor racing. An avid Formula One and open-wheeler fan, Zane combines his journalism studies alongside a casual day-job at Hampton Downs

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