Brands Hatch, England - 24th October, 1999
Australian Brett Francis competed at his first Formula Ford Festival and World Finals at Brands Hatch on the weekend, and acquitted himself admirably against tough opposition. The 1999 Kent Formula Ford Champion had a hectic weekend, competing in both the Zetec and 1600 categories of the international event, which attracts drivers from all over the world. Francis was also selected as a member of the Australian World Cup team, alongside Zetec regulars Marcos Ambrose and James Courtney.
The Sittingbourne-based Queenslander made a promising start to the weekend by qualifying mid-field for a strong heat against the likes of works Van Diemen driver Courtney and British Formula Ford Champion Nicolas Kiesa. Wet conditions gave Francis his first taste of grooved wet-weather tyres, and he adapted to them quickly by moving up to ninth place after the first lap of the heat. However a cut brake line led to total brake failure by the end of the second lap. It looked like he was about to make an early exit from the World Finals, but Francis managed to keep his head and amazingly only dropped four places, enough to qualify for the next semi-final round.
It would be a lowly grid-place for Francis in the 1997 Van Diemen chassis for the semi-finals, but another storming drive in atrocious conditions saw him make up ten places by the chequered flag. At times the young Aussie was lost in the spray of the leading cars, but he had done enough to qualify for the famous "Last Chance Race" and an opportunity to get through to the final.
The five lap Last Chance Race would require another spectacular drive to make the World Cup Final, and it looked like Francis might provide just that by jumping a place from the green light. However pushing hard on the second lap saw him slid two wheels in to the gravel at the daunting Paddock Hill Bend and lose two places. This was enough to put an end to his Zetec bid in the Festival, but it was a strong showing from the PA Motorsport squad against the world’s best Formula Ford teams.
Brett’s driving duties were not yet through, for the Festival weekend also includes races for many other Formula Ford categories, including the popular 1600 brigade. Having competed in the 1600 category all year in the PA Motorsport ’93 model Swift, Francis entered the race as favourite to take the title. However his run of seven straight wins at Brands Hatch was ended by former International Karting Champion, Anthony Davidson. The two were in a class of their own as they streamed away from the thirty-two car strong field, but Francis could not stay in touch with Davidson’s 1999 Ray chassis. Nonetheless, finishing the year as 1600 Runner-up at the Formula Ford Festival was an accomplished end to a successful year.
Brett commented on his first Formula Ford World Cup:
"This was an amazing event. To compete against these, the best Formula Ford drivers and teams from around the world, was a real buzz. Even though our machinery might be a little out-dated, I think we performed respectably and demonstrated that PA Motorsport has what it takes to move into the National Formula Ford Championship for next year. I know I made a few mistakes during the weekend which possibly cost me a place in the final, but I’m quite happy with my first Zetec Festival and am keen to keep competing in the category.
"Naturally I’m disappointed to be beaten in the 1600 after our Kent County year, but Anthony is a very quick driver and did a supreme job all week. He managed to adapt himself and his car to the conditions much better than I could. I was hoping for a dry race, it wasn’t to be, so I knew I would struggle. Still I can’t thank Peter and the team for giving me a great opportunity to compete at both categories, and I’m hoping to secure the backing to be with the team for next year."