At last, an announcement from MotorSport NZ on their way forward for the national Formula Ford championship (see Major refresh for NZ Formula Ford Championship) . Coming off the back of the most successful Formula Ford season for many years, the governing body have taken a major step in ‘refreshing’ the championship. Many are crying ‘foul’, few appear to be applauding the change.
Unfortunately the process the MotorSport NZ (MSNZ) has undertaken could be described as less than ideal. What the Formula Ford category has gone through in the last 12 months has led to conjecture, derision and unnecessary division. We are left with what could be described as a dogs breakfast. Something very unappealing. Let’s be very clear. This opinion column is not about the people involved but about the processes that have been taken in order to arrive at this point.
So what is wrong? Or should the question be what was wrong with Formula Ford in New Zealand to bring about the current change?
And that’s the difficult one to answer. The process of change taking place at the moment has lacked good consultancy, vision, communication and buy-in by stakeholders. There appears to be an agenda held by the MSNZ board which is very unclear.
A key aspect of the ‘refresh’ is a new championship organiser. While no names have been put forward, we are told that a newly affiliated Formula Ford Racing NZ club are a group of racers keen to take the category into the future. (While keen is a great adjective, experienced would be a better one!).
We are not told why there is a change in organiser, particularly after coming off such a successful 2018/19 season. We are told that the changes have been made to create a more cost-effective, competitive class providing drivers with a level playing field. “We are keen to reignite the class as a key pathway for young drivers as they progress up the motor racing career ladder.” (I think re-ignition took place a couple of years ago.)
A number of years ago, the South Island Formula Ford Club set about the reinvigorating of their SI F1600 Championship. Numbers on the grid started growing. A lot of hard work was put in by committee members and club supporters to not only increase the participation on the track but also to develop an attractive culture off the track, in the pits.
With the decline in the national championship, the SIFF Club became the organisers of the NZ Formula Ford Championship almost by default (MSNZ still own the championship rights). Hence the national champs has gained momentum on the back of a successful South Island category and organising club.
So why the major refresh?
This is what we don’t know. What we do know is in August 2018 a proposal was put to the MSNZ board where the NZ Formula 1600 championship would be contested only by Spectrum controlled chassis cars. All other cars would become Class 2 cars. It would be driver skill that determined the title.
The proposal was flawed from the start (see Formula 1600 proposal has key flaws). Talkmotorsport at the time commented: “The original proposal put to the NZ Motorsport board in August this year is not factually based, lacks consultation and appears to have an agenda which doesn’t take into account what is currently happening in the category and hence is flawed in its approach. This must be taken into consideration by the MSNZ board in deciding any future changes to the category. Any proposal or proposition for future development must stand the test of scrutiny. It must stand up to argument and robust debate in order to test it’s validity, otherwise it will not stand the test of time. “
On the 9 November 2018, MSNZ released the following statement:
The MotorSport NZ Board has approved the concept of a new Formula Ford car, with a control chassis and engine, which will run initially in the MSNZ Formula 1600 Championship in compliance with Schedule F.
A proposal has been approved in principle by MotorSport NZ for the new controlled cars to run as Class 1 in the NZ Formula Ford Championship. The proposal makes provision for all current F1600 compliant cars to be included, potentially as a class 2 but still eligible for overall honours.
MotorSport NZ holds the promotion rights to its championship categories. At this stage there has been no formal discussion regarding who will organise and promote the NZ Formula Ford Championship from 2019/20 onwards. This will be dealt with through our usual tender process.
So we have a proposal put to the board in August 2018. A press release is issued by MSNZ 9 November 2018. At this stage there appeared to be little consultation taking place with key stakeholders and too much time for assumptions and conjecture to take hold. The agenda appeared to be taking the category to a one-make chassis.
By January 2019, MSNZ and the SIFF agreed on the way forward with regard to technical proposals (see Status quo for Formula 1600).
It appeared that the original proposal for a one-make Spectrum chassis competing for the national title was no longer on the table. It’s proponents had taken flight; the proposal was not standing up to scrutiny.
In March 2019, the SIFF Club was asked by MSNZ to put forward a proposal to run the national championship. They were advised that there was another proposal on the table, but no direction was given regarding how MSNZ wanted the championship to take place. It is reported that both proposals sat with MSNZ and its board for seven weeks with no decision being made going forward.
In the end the decision was made in favour of the other party, not the current SIFF Club who had been the organisers for several seasons.
However, within ten days the favoured party withdrew their proposal, which appeared to force MSNZ into negotiating with the SIFF Club to continue running the championship.
For various reasons this was not successful and now another new organisation will take on the mantle of running the 2019/20 NZ Formula Ford Championship. (Note: the FFRNZ did not put forward a proposal under the MSNZ ‘tender’ process.)
Going forward we have a proposed six-round national championship for Class 1 and Class 2 cars (only). (Class 1 for cars built from Jan 2000 to the present, and Class 2 for cars built up to December 1999 that comply with Schedule A regulations. Note: this can include current Class 3 cars but no mention of a separate Class 3 title).
The championship will get underway at the Supercars Pukekohe round 13-15 September 2019 (in eight weeks). One South Island round will take place at the Speed Works round at Teretonga Park, Invercargill in January. (Note: At this stage spectators will be treated to separate races for the national and South Island Championships. However, logic says that all parties will agree before then to run both championships on the same dance card!)
So what of it? Step back and see how the process has taken place and ask the question, has this process been a positive one for the category? Could a different process achieved the same outcome?
Take a close look at the photo above taken at the end of round four of the 2018/19 South Island Formula 1600 Championship which doubled as the second round of the NZ Formula 1600 Championship. This is a great example of why the 2018/19 Formula 1600 season was so successful.
Behind the podium of Zac Stichbury, Josh Bethune (winner of the Wigram Cup) and Spike Kohlbecker, is a gathering of drivers, teams, family and supporters. There were 28 cars entered for that round held at the Mike Pero Motorsport Park in Christchurch. Other rounds had grids in the mid-twenties. That picture is one of success. Top young drivers on the podium with a large contingent of people behind them and everyone smiling and satisfied.
We are now in danger of losing the momentum of that success. Ultimately the Board of MSNZ must take responsibility going forward. It must review the process that has taken the category to where it is today.
What we do know is that the passion for the category is very much alive and well in NZ. We must support the FFRNZ in their inaugural season of running the national championship. It is a key part of the NZ career pathway for young drivers’.
If the FFRNZ stumble in their attempt to run this season’s championship, they could be excused for being given ‘a dog’!