Old Formula 1 drivers and current Indycar Series champions don’t usually turn out to watch – let alone actually compete in – ‘clubbie’ race meetings held at bleak British circuits in the grip of autumnal chills and drowning rain. But the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch is a special case, especially this year, when anticipation was heightened on Halloween as the greatest knockout competition in motorsport celebrated its 50th running.
All sorts of familiar faces turned up, showing just how much the Festival still means, even now, when its former status as the most illustrious prize for ambitious young racers is a dim and distant memory. The event, won in the past by Johnny Herbert, Mark Webber and Jenson Button, is relatively low-key these days, but the anniversary lured back former winners Jan Magnussen and Roberto Moreno into Formula Ford cockpits for spirited nostalgic throwbacks, while fellow F1 old boys Bruno Giacomelli and Jonathan Palmer (who now owns Brands) looked on.
Incongruously, still active six-time Indycar champion Scott Dixon was also back at Brands in support of the Team USA Scholarship runners – and even ex-Ferrari F1 ace Eddie Irvine was spotted in the Paddock Hill grandstand. You would be hard-pressed to convince the former title contender to visit a modern grand prix, but the 1987 Festival winner has fond memories of his days racing works Van Diemens on British racing’s nursery slopes. Irvine was back in his element.
Blast from the past