Wednesday
Jul292009

Formula Honda replacing Formula Ford? Not so fast

Peter M. De Lorenzo is a national columnist who founded Autoextremist.com, a highly-regarded website devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry. He is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.The rumblings began before last weekend’s 40th Anniversary celebration of Formula Ford in the U.S. at Road America, in Elkhart Lake, WI, that Honda was about to jump into the grassroots road racing business in a big way, and those rumblings were confirmed when Honda unveiled a new racing package for Formula Ford competitors based on its 1.5-liter overhead cam engine used in the Fit. The premise was simple: replace the long-in-the-tooth Ford “Kent” engine with a contemporary engine package featuring modern technology, excellent power, greater durability and dramatically better overall operational efficiency. And then fully fund the enterprise with up-to-the-minute service and parts support.

Formula Ford has been the favored beginner class in road racing since its inception in England in 1967. By the time the simple, single-seat racing class made its debut in the states in 1969 Formula Ford was well on its way to becoming the training ground for some of the world’s greatest road racers. The fact that the class has survived all of these years despite Ford’s basic neglect of the endeavor is a testament to the countless number of people directly involved in building, racing and servicing the cars and the rabid enthusiasm for them that thrives to this day.

That Ford has taken this class of racing for granted despite the fact that its name is inexorably linked to it has provided an opportunity for Honda to not only get involved, the door has been left wide open for Honda to basically walk in and take over the foundation of the sport of road racing itself. Honda is busily going about getting its “Formula Ford” package - said to cost in the neighborhood of $12,000 - approved by the SCCA in time for the 2010 season, and this development could have wide-ranging implications for the future of the sport here and anywhere where the FF class competes.

It will be interesting to see how long it will take before Formula Ford is replaced here and around the world with Formula Honda, or is that notion wildly premature?

Racers are notorious for wanting the newest, latest and by implication fastest stuff. That Honda is basically talking about providing a “turnkey” package to instantly update Formula Fords in the U.S. will be an undeniable lure for a countless number of Formula Ford racers. But as everything else in this business, things are never that cut and dry. First of all, there will be a lot of racers out there who will spurn the incursion by Honda into a class that Ford power has been the cornerstone of since the beginning.

And that’s where Ford comes in.

Based on a conversation I had late last week with Brian Wolfe - the leader of Ford Racing - don’t expect Ford to sit back and let this happen without a considerable fight. Expect to see a brand-new Formula Ford engine package based on the most advanced Ford 4-cylinder engine technology to appear in the not-too-distant future. And I expect that Ford’s engine package will be every bit as compelling as the new Honda entry, if not more so.

It seems that Honda’s blatant incursion into Ford’s historical territory has lit a fire under the Dearborn crew, which for Formula Ford racers might just prove to be a very good thing.

This, as they say, could get very interesting…

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