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The Complete Beginner’s Guide To Formula Ford

Formula Ford has been the traditional first step out of karting for many years now. The recent rise of FIA Formula 4 has sent Formula Ford slightly under the radar. However, it still remains one of the best single seater series out there.

The advantages of Formula Ford are that it is much more cost effective than Formula 4, and there is still a lot of attention on the series. The cars are very similar; however, Formula Ford is still a little bit more old-school.

Many Formula 1 drivers have made their way through Formula Ford in the past, which shows just how effective it has been as a junior single seater series. If you are looking for the next step in your motorsport career after karting, this is an ideal option.

The Path To Formula 1

We have seen hundreds of successful professional racing drivers over many different categories of motorsport using Formula Ford as their first step out of karts. Formula Ford UK specifically has seen drivers like Ayrton Senna, Daniel Ricciardo, and Jenson Button.

Formula Ford is a great place for these young drivers because the cars are easy to get used to, especially coming from a karting background.However, the competition is extremely tough. This means that only the best drivers on the grid are able to win championships. It’s a great achievement to add to your racing CV.

Many top tier racing teams, both from Formula 1 and other categories of racing keep a close eye on Formula Ford championships to scout for new talent. Drivers sometimes make the jump from Formula Ford straight into a racing team if they are good enough.

This makes Formula Ford an even more attractive option for younger drivers. It’s is why Formula Ford, specifically the UK series is able to attract so many competitors each season. It also features as a support race for bigger racing series such as the BTCC, and so also attracts a lot of spectators.

The Cars

Formula Ford cars are essentially smaller versions of a Formula 1 car. They are open wheel race cars which also feature an open cockpit and have yet to be updated with a halo. Unlike most modern race cars, the Formula Ford cars are mostly built from steel rather than carbon fibre. This makes the cars much heavier, but it also keeps the costs down.

Despite steel being the heavier material for building the body of the car, the total weight of a Formula Ford car is still extremely light at only 410 kilograms. This makes them extremely nimble and fast in cornering (much like a go kart).

Most Formula Ford cars have a 1.6 litre Ford Ecoboost engine. However, some US versions might feature Honda engines, and the series is named USF2000 rather than Formula Ford. These engines, despite being quite small can generate around 140 horsepower. The light weight of the car means that the power to weight ratio is quite high.

The car features a 6-speed sequential gearbox, which is either a paddle shift or a stick shift depending on the model of the car and how old it is. It’s a proper race car gearbox so the gear changes are quick and smooth. The clutch however is extremely sensitive, and if you are a young driver just coming out of karting it can take some time to get used to.

The cars used in Formula Ford are all equal, and therefore it lays out an even playing field for the entire grid. It’s a fantastic playground to learn how to drive single seater cars. They handle similarly to karts, but they are simply much faster.

Exposure

Unless you raced in a hugely popular karting championship like the Under 18 World Championships of the US Super Nationals, you will find that there is a huge gap in the levels of exposure. Firstly, there will be actual spectators at the races and not just friends and families of the drivers.

Formula Ford offers great wheel to wheel racing and as such it often attracts tons of motorsports enthusiasts. On top of that, they often also feature as support races for bigger series like touring cars which attract an even bigger crowd. The Formula Ford UK series specifically travels with the BTCC calendar which brings in thousands of spectators to each race meeting.

This is all great because you have a lot more people watching your racing and more a chance to get noticed and build a fan base. It’s also a great way to attract some sponsors to help you out with your budget for the Formula Ford.

However, it also adds some pressure. You have a lot of eyes on your racing, and if the series is streamed onto TV then it’s an even bigger audience. Formula Ford is also a popular place for scouting. Many large racing teams will look to Formula Ford championships to identify the next big talent.

Many Formula Ford series offer prizes to the champions and runners up of their series. These prizes can sometimes be monetary (although it’s not that common). Mostly they offer test drives in bigger series such as Formula 4, Formula Renault or touring cars. They can also sometimes even offer a fully sponsored race seat for the following year.

It makes winning a lot more rewarding, but it’s also more punishing if you have a bad race or a crash. You can’t hide away from it like you can in karting. It’s important then to always be at your top level of performance and try to minimise mistakes.

Sponsors

The added levels of exposure give you opportunity to find sponsorship for your Formula Ford series. There’s a lot more that you will be able to offer to sponsors, including using the race car at events or at the sponsors premises to draw attention.

In addition, Formula Ford races are hosted at large, prestigious racetracks and that means you can make use of VIP hospitality and pit lane passes. These can be extremely useful features to sell to sponsors who have VIP clients.

With the series being streamed onto televisions and media coverage of the events, it means that sponsors can market to a huge audience and you can get extra social media content from your race weekends for you and your sponsors to use.

All in all, Formula Ford becomes a very attractive opportunity for sponsors, and it can be easier to sell this series to potential sponsors compared to karting. This is great because at this level of motorsport with the costs involved, sponsorship becomes essential.

Competition

The level of competition takes a step up from karting to Formula Ford. You might have won a number of championships in karting, but it doesn’t mean that you’re going to do well in Formula Ford.

The same goes the other way around, you might have been decent in karting but have not yet win a championship, but in Formula Ford you might start winning. It’s a strange concept, but it is simply down to the fact that karts are not cars. The driving dynamics are so different that perhaps what made you quick in a kart is actually slowing you down in cars.

In a sense, you need to start fresh when you step up into Formula Ford cars, it’s a whole new learning curve and something completely different. Your first season should be all about learning from your competitors.

Your competitors will all differ in terms of age and experience levels. You might race against drivers who have numerous years of Formula Ford experience or some who are just moving up out of karts. Some will have won championships in karting or even in other racing series that feature cars.

You are going to face a lot of tough competition, as most of the time drivers in Formula Ford are looking for a career in motorsport and want to get their name out there in order for them to noticed. This makes the level of competition rather cutthroat and brutal.

The best way to overcome this is to look back on your past experience in karting and learn from how you beat your competition. You can also look at the current Formula Ford field and analyse each rival driver and identify their strengths and weaknesses. Try to compare and see where you can improve your own driving.

The level of competition will depend on which series you race in. If you are aiming for Formula Ford UK, you can expect to go up against some of the best up and coming drivers who are almost certainly going to be future F1 stars. If it’s a smaller series, then the level of competition might be slightly lower. At the end of the day the best drivers bottleneck into the most prestigious championships.

Costs

These cars come with quite a price tag when they are new, they can be up to $20,000 each. However, if you look around at second hand offers you will get a better price for them. They can be anywhere between $3000 and $15,000 depending on the made, model and the condition of the car itself.

If you are going to buy a car, it’s important to remember that it’s not a go kart. The mechanics of the car are completely different. Even if you have experience working on your kart by yourself, the Formula Ford car is a whole new level when it comes to the mechanics of it. This is why you will most likely need to hire a mechanic to help you out or at least to teach you how everything on the car works.

The other option, which is most common, is to hire a car from a team. This is the more popular option for various reasons which we will also discuss at a later point. The team will give you a rate, which can either be per race or rental for the entire season. The advantage here is that rental of a Formula Ford car will most likely include your own mechanic as well.

Which is great because the mechanic who will work on your car has experience in Formula Ford and knows the car really well. They could also give you some advice on set ups based on their past experience with drivers.

The price tag for renting a Formula Ford car varies a lot from team to team. So, it’s always a good idea to get in touch with a whole bunch of different teams and ask them how much it will cost to rent one of their cars.

Membership Fee$120
Engine Deposit$1200
Engine Hire$2300
License Fee$205
Tires x 5 sets$3200
Testing Tires x 4 sets$2500
Entry Fees$2000
Mechanic Fee$7500
Fuel & Lubricants$1500
Brake Pads$700
Transport & Accommodation$2400
Team Clothing & Painting Car Livery$1000
Crash Damage & Wear$5000
Total Cost for Season$28,125

If you started your career going for karting specific racing gear such as the helmet and race suit, you will have to upgrade. The reason for this is that there is a difference between the protection level needed from karting to Formula Ford. The speed difference between the two means that you need better safety gear in Formula Ford.

The gear becomes more expensive too. For example, a karting helmet might have cost you $450, but if you want to make the switch up to cars you will need a stronger helmet which will cost you around $750.

The same goes for your race suit, gloves and boots. All of these will have to be upgraded to FIA spec gear rather than CIK spec which is for karting. This could end up costing you around $1000 in total depending on where you are shopping and if you are buying second hand.

Unlike with karting, Formula Ford comes with quite a few extra costs that most people tend to overlook. I’m not talking about fuel and tires, as we have learnt about those costs from karting experience.

Most Formula Ford series are traveling championships. This means that every round of the season is held at a different racetrack. This might sound exciting and all but think about the transportation and the storage of the car when you are traveling. This is another reason why hiring a car is the more attractive option. Transport and storage are the race team’s problem. You just have to show up on the day and drive your car.

Most teams will already include this in their pricing when you ask about hiring the car. However, you still need to consider the fact that you need to pay for your own travel and accommodation to those races. These of course also vary on how far you need to travel and where you can find accommodation. It’s always best to stick close to your team though as they will know which places have the best accommodation close to the racetracks.

Formula Ford features a lot of close wheel to wheel racing. Because of this factor damage on the cars are highly likely and very common. You will need to take into account that any damage on the car will need to be repaired. This can be something as small as replacing a front wing, or even replacing a suspension on a heavy impact.

The cars also go through quite a lot of wear and tear as they are being driven on the limit most of the time. This means that big elements like engines and gearboxes might need to be overhauled or even replaced, which can be a pretty big expense. On top of that, you will most likely need a mechanic to help you replace those, so if you are not part of a team you will need to hire one.

Most racing teams take on a damage insurance fee when you sign up with them. This is more of a deposit in most cases, so if there is no damage done to the car you will get your money back. Although damage on these cars are inevitable at some point, so don’t bet on getting all of your insurance deposit back.

Brake pads are one of the most wear prone parts of these cars. Most of the time a Formula Ford car will work through two sets of brake pads in a season. If you hard particularly hard on the brakes, you might need an extra set as well. Brake pads vary in price in different areas but expect to pay around $700 for two sets.

Depending on the series you are racing in and the reputation it has, entry fees can actually cost you quite a bit of money as well. Normally the entry fees for a whole season of racing adds up to around $2000.

Advice To Newcomers

It’s important to make sure that you have the budget required for the entire season. It’s no use only participating in half a season. If you do not have the full budget, consider staying in karting for another year, or looking at a less expensive racing series.

Your initial performance is not indicative of your potential. If you start off the season at the bottom end of the grid don’t be discouraged. Not every driver will get into a car and perform right from the start. Just make sure you are doing everything you can to learn about the car and improve yourself.

Focus on getting to grips with the car as quickly as possible and do as much preseason testing as your budget can allow. If you can get used to the car before the season starts, you can be competitive right from the first round of the season.

Final Thoughts

Formula Ford is a fantastic beginner series. A karting background is extremely helpful, but it’s not essential. You can jump straight into Formula Ford cars and still be good at it. It’s an expensive series, so make sure you try and get some sponsors on board to help you out.

Formula Ford is normally very close and competitive, so make sure that you are always focused on improving yourself and becoming a better racing driver. You’ll find that there will be a lot more attention on you and you might even start to build yourself a fan base.