BRSCC FF1600: Owen Leads the Chase to Indy
 April 10, 2016| 
  • Feeder Series
Cliff Dempsey Racing teammates James Raven and Chase Owen share the honors at Oulton Park

LITTLE BUDWORTH, England – “It’s like a line-up from the Final of the Formula Ford Festival or Walter Hayes Trophy!” So said one sage about the entry for the opening two rounds of the BRSCC’s Avon Tires National Formula Ford 1600 Championship which took place at Oulton Park on April 9.

The reason that the series has taken such a huge step forward is because whoever wins the title qualifies for the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout and will have the opportunity to compete for a US$200,000 scholarship to contest the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda (subject to age restrictions).

Back to the present however, and at the end of qualifying on Saturday morning the top 11 drivers were within a second of each other. Such a closely matched field makes the performance of 2013 Festival winner Niall Murray all the more impressive. He set a best time that was three-tenths faster than anyone else could manage in his Van Diemen RF99. The newer JL013K from the same marque belonging to circuit specialist Doug Crosbie lined up on the outside of the front row.

These two had quite an explosive start to the first race when they made contact at Old Hall. Murray spun to the back of the 26 runners leaving Crosbie to inherit the lead. He wasn’t ahead for long, however, as at the beginning of the second tour James Raven (Ray GR15/16) demoted him. Raven, who won the 2014 Festival, eased away to take the win as Crosbie concentrated on defending his position from Raven’s teammate at Cliff Dempsey Racing, Chase Owen, who was driving a year older Ray. The Texan was racing at Oulton for the first time. This battle went all the way to the final lap and was resolved at the Island Hairpin in favor of Owen.

Jonny McMullan tagged on to the back of the fight for the runner-up position in the newly built Oldfield Motorsport Van Diemen DP08.

Murray had an amazing recovery drive to take sixth despite at one point wiping out the tire bundle that delimits the middle element of the Hislops chicane. This occurred when the Irishman made an heroic attempt to take fifth from the third Cliff Dempsey Racing driver, Cavan Corcoran (Ray GR08). The incident caused him to lose both his nose cone and a couple of places – the latter he regained before the checkered flag came out.

The finishing order determined the grid for the second encounter by which time rain had arrived. Appropriately, as their cars run in the Mazda Road to Indy livery, Raven and Owen made it an all Cliff Dempsey Racing front row. The former was unable to make it two wins out of two as he made a slow start which put him down to fourth. His situation became worse a few laps later when he was edged onto the grass approaching Old Hall as he tried to regain a place in the top three. Eventually, the Englishman finished seventh.

Out front, Owen sped away to victory and the early championship lead as Crosbie went into defensive mode once more as he successfully defended the runner-up position from McMullan.

Murray gained a couple of places during the course of the 20-minute race to take fourth just ahead of Chris Middlehurst’s Mygale GR15K. A broken spark plug meant Middlehurst was unable to complete as many laps as he wished during qualifying which put him out of position on the grid for Race One. Having retired in the late stages of that event he was classified sixth in Round Two after starting 20th.

A familiar face in the paddock was Ralph Firman. The legendary former head of Van Diemen has decided to become a Formula Ford chassis builder once more at the age of 72. Having sold his old company some time ago his new car was called the RFR RFFF16 (which proved to be quite a tongue twister for the circuit commentators!). The team only just managed to get the chassis ready in time to compete at Oulton Park and teething troubles prevented driver Luke Williams from completing more than a couple of racing laps.

Rounds Three and Four will take place at Silverstone, home of the British Formula One Grand Prix, on April 23.

Photos courtesy of Rachel Bourne/Bourne Photographic
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