Tuesday 24th February, 2004 - VIP Petfoods bf racing had an action-packed start to the season, winning two out of three races at the first round of the 2004 Ford Racing Australian Formula Ford Championship. After securing a front row starting ...
Tuesday 24th February, 2004 - VIP Petfoods bf racing had an action-packed start to the season, winning two out of three races at the first round of the 2004 Ford Racing Australian Formula Ford Championship. After securing a front row starting position for the first race on Saturday, driver Brett Francis' pace was just as blistering as the heat at Wakefield Park where temperatures reached over 40°C. Francis steamed away from the grid to dominate the race, eventually finishing over four and a half seconds up the road from his nearest rival.
On Sunday the VIP Petfoods RF02 Van Diemen started the second race of the weekend from Pole Position, and Francis once again led from start to finishing, but had a much tighter duel with Sonic Motorsport's Bryce Washington. Washington finished less than 0.2 seconds behind Francis, who drove defensively over the last couple of laps as conditions changed and light rain fell on the Goulburn circuit.
The last Formula Ford race of the weekend would prove the most dramatic, especially for Francis. With another light sprinkling of rain just as the race was about to start, the Queenslander was judged to be moving before the race started. It obviously didn't help, as Washington got the jump into turn one and his Sonic team- mate James Small pulled alongside. Contact between Francis and Small would cause chaos at the second corner, before Francis spun on his own at the slippery Turn 3, having to rejoin at the rear of the field.
As the field gathered behind the Safety Car to clear the first corner carnage, Small rammed the VIP Petfoods car from behind, severely damaging the right rear suspension. Luckily Francis was able to continue, although any chance of a points finish was denied when he was given a drive-through penalty for his movement on the starting grid. Setting fastest lap of the race by 1.5 seconds was no consolation, although he still managed to finish the weekend second overall. The race was won by Spectrum's Tim Macrow, giving Larner Engines all three victories for the opening round of the championship.
A steward's enquiry is yet to be heard regarding the incident during the Safety Car period, and also about the contact at the start of the race.
Francis sums up his first round results:
"So much happened that I didn't expect this weekend - I don't know where to start!"
"I thought I would struggle a lot more at this circuit than I did, and to come away with two wins is really pleasing. Who knows what might have happened in the third race if I didn't get the drive through, but I'm still second overall in the points, and more importantly we have shown the VIP Petfoods bf racing car has some serious pace."
"The first race was relatively easy. When everyone behind me started dicing, I was able to get my head down, do some decent laps and get a gap. Then I just cruised along to keep the tyres and engine fresh."
"Race two was a different matter all together. Bryce was there the whole way, and he drove really well. I had to be really careful when the rain came down, as this circuit gets very slippery in the damp, and Bryce had a couple of good looks at passing me. Thankfully I was a bit quicker through the fast right-hander at the back of the circuit (turn nine) to be able to keep him behind. And the Larner Engine was very strong up the hill, so it didn't give Bryce much of a chance."
"The last race turned everything from a dream to a nightmare! I always try and take up the preload on the diff at the start to avoid breaking driveshafts or the gearbox, but I was obviously moving just slightly which was enough for them to judge it as a drive through. Even though they said I obviously didn't gain an advantage, rules are rules, so that's the way it goes and I'll be more careful next time."
"But even after that awful start, James (Small) gave me a big squeeze going into the second corner and touched me which caused him to collect his team-mate David (Reynolds). Thankfully my car wasn't damaged and I chased Bryce up the hill. But then I made a stupid mistake. I went into turn three too quick and lost it. Simple as that. By the time I got going again I was pretty well at the rear and the Safety Car had come out, but I was hoping to be able to make some progress once we went green again."
"Just as I was catching the field up, I felt a huge hit from behind. At first I thought the back end of the car had fallen off! But then in the mirrors I saw James had given me a huge punt. Not sure exactly what he was thinking, but we'll find out after the stewards enquiry. To say that I'm annoyed is an understatement he's done about $2000 worth of damage to the car. And then there's the fact that he's nailing people not only on the track, but while the safety car is out! It's pretty frightening for all the competitors and marshals really."
"Then when it finally went green I got the drive through penalty. I was told after the first race that I had to slow down and give some more action, because I was carrying the onboard camera this weekend. Well, they certainly got their wish in this last race!"
The VIP Petfoods bf racing team will next compete at the 2004 Australian Grand Prix Formula Ford events at Albert Park, Melbourne on 4 7 March. The next round of the 2004 Ford Racing Australian Formula Ford Championship is at Eastern Creek with the V8Supercar series on 3 4 April.