Francis Brands Hatch report

Double Kent Formula Ford Champion, Brett Francis, won the FF1600 race at the years most prestigious 'junior' formula event, the Formula Ford Festival, today at Brands Hatch. In a historic double, the young Australian also drove in the Festival...

Double Kent Formula Ford Champion, Brett Francis, won the FF1600 race at the years most prestigious 'junior' formula event, the Formula Ford Festival, today at Brands Hatch. In a historic double, the young Australian also drove in the Festival Final behind the wheel of PA Motorsport's year-old RF99 Van Diemen, finishing seventeenth in the world-class field. It was a fitting end to a year in which the Oasis-backed Queenslander dominated the FF1600 Championship, and furthered his ambition to compete in the National Formula Ford Championship during 2001.

Having been unbeaten at Brands Hatch during the entire season, Brett faced stiff competition from many regional champions aiming to knock the Maidstone-based charger from the top spot of the FF1600 ladder. And on a wet and slippery Indy Circuit, spectators enjoyed what many considered to be the race of the day, as the lead changed from lap to lap and even corner to corner! But in his customary cool and calm manner, Brett avoided the spinners, dealt with the desperate lunges, even recovered from a thump which sent the PA Motorsport Swift off the track, to take the win and the crown of FF1600 Festival winner. From the top step of the podium, the applauding Oasis and PA Motorsport crew received a thorough champagne drenching, before Brett was whisked away by scooter to take his place on the grid for the Festival Final.

With drivers from all over the world merging on Brands Hatch for one of the annual highlights of motorsport, it was a chance for Brett to demonstrate his ability in a truly international field. It was his first race in the PA Motorsport RF99 Van Diemen, and despite a massive accident during Thursday testing, acquitted himself extremely well by making his way steadily through to reach the final of the world's biggest Formula Ford event. Interest surrounded how Brett would compare against reigning Australian Formula Ford Champion Luke Youlden, his first time in a Zetec-engined Formula Ford, who was competing in a 2000-model Mygale. With both drivers in the first heat, it would be a straight-out duel between two of Australia's rising stars. At the end of a hectic qualifying session, Brett would start from 9th on the grid with Youlden just behind in 11th. Unfortunately for Youlden, the heat would be his first and last outing at the Festival, as he finished in fifteenth and would not qualify for the semi-finals. Brett, on the other hand, put in a storming drive to finish in seventh place and easily qualify for the next round.

Lining up on the seventh row for the semi-final, Brett needed to gain two places and finish in the top eleven to qualify directly for the final. He duly delivered the goods, but was definitely made to earn his position in the final, suffering firstly from vision problems through a visor covered with oil and debris. To compound matters the closely following and highly rated Swiss, Andre Scheidegger, was assaulting Brett's gearbox at every corner and even on the straights. Once again the Australian kept his head to ensure progression into the all important next round.

Brett would start the Formula Ford Festival Final on the eleventh row. It would require a miracle for the Maidstone-based racer to achieve his goal by finishing in the top ten. But as with many Festivals in the past the rate of attrition means that those who can survive to the end without incident usually find themselves high up the order. Unfortunately Brett's race didn't pass without incident, and a couple of mistakes early in the race saw him run across the gravel and drop down the order. Undeterred, he fought back with controlled aggression and eventually made the flag in seventeenth position. It was ultimately a strong performance in his first Festival Final, and already he has his mind thinking ahead to next year.

"Naturally I wanted to finish much higher than I did, but I think my lack of experience in these cars showed. I was getting more accustomed to the technique with each outing, and I think that next year, provided I can race in the Zetec category for the whole season, I'd make a better job of it. A lot of people said that doing both the FF1600 and Zetec categories at the same meeting was a mistake, and that I should have concentrated on just the Zetec. But driving the FF1600 is second-nature to me now, and so it's not a problem switching from one to the other. I don't think my Zetec performance would have been any better - it all boils down to time in the car. For 2001, the plan is to do the season in the Zetec, so I would hope that I could run towards the front in twelve months time."

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Series General
Drivers Luke Youlden