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Wet Formula Ford Festival provides a challenge for James Penrose

The weather ultimately decided the outcome of the 2022 British Racing & Sports Car Club (BRSCC) Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch in the UK when heavy rain intervened and Stewards called the final 20 lap race after four laps and declared a result, as per the rules. Kiwi James Penrose, who had made the final although through a difficult pathway, had a lot of confidence lining up on the grid only to leave wondering what may have been.

“It could have gone better,” commented Penrose. ““I think it’s a very tough event and it lived up to its reputation. Anyone who makes it through to the final is very good.”

The festival is a two-day event which sees drivers slowly eliminated through a series of heats, repechages, semi-finals, a last chance ‘Top-Six 8 lap race, all to decide the 30-grid spots for the 20-lap final to find the Formula Ford Festival winner.

Having finished fourth fastest in qualifying for his heat race on Saturday, Penrose was holding second when his race was red flagged, then failed to restart his car once the race got underway again.

“Was disappointing not to finish the heat race after a fuel pump failure,” commented Penrose. “After qualifying P4 in damp conditions, I got a good start in the race and made my way into the lead on lap 2. I was sitting second before the race was red flagged midway and unfortunately, I couldn’t take the restart as my car stopped on the way through turn 1.”

Penrose then started from 11th in the second Progression Race (repechage) and came home with a superb podium (third) guaranteeing a spot in the second semi-final.

This saw him start from 25th in his semi-final with the need to finish in the top 12 in order to make the final.

“Having moved up to 15th, I got stuck behind an experienced driver. The unfortunate thing about the Brands Hatch circuit is that if the guy in front of you knows what he is doing then it is difficult to pass.

“There was a dry line and I had to move offline to pass and found no grip. Then almost every corner there was a yellow flag, so there was limited opportunities.”

Having finished in 15th, Penrose would start sixth on the grid in the 8-lap Top-Six race to determine grids 25-30 for the final.

“There was some oil on the track and three of us that caught the oil went off, the other two both ended up in the gravel.

“I thought it was all over but they then restarted the race from our original grid positions. That saved me with a bit of luck.”

With several stoppages in the race, Penrose’s fifth position made certain his entry into the final as the race was red-flagged due to an incident.

Starting 29th on the grid for the 20-lap final turned into an anti-climax when heavy rain brought out the red flag after only four-laps were completed. Dark skies at the end of a long day and continuing weather saw the race called and a result issued, according to the rules, the first time in the Festival’s 51-year history.

“We were looking quite good for the final. With a wet set up it was a 50/50 call. Starting on grid 29 I managed to move up nine spots before the Safety Car came out after three laps.

“It was going to get a lot tougher from there but our pace was quite good for the race.

“It then got incredibly dark, incredibly quickly and the skies just bucketed down as a huge thunderstorm came through. Visibility was very poor and the conditions proved too difficult to proceed.

“I guess it was a challenging weekend which I have thoroughly enjoyed. My Border Reivers
were great to work with and fantastic support the whole weekend.

“Heading to the Walter Hayes Trophy weekend (5-6 November 2022), I feel very confident heading with about 130 cars involved. I’ve learnt the car, so all I have to do is learn a new track (Silverstone) and push on from there.”

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