New Zealand’s latest Formula Ford champion, Pukekohe teenager Billy Frazer, and fellow 2019/20 series place getters Callum Crawley from Feilding and James Penrose from Rangiora, all have bright futures in motorsport says the President of the group now responsible for running the ITM New Zealand Formula Ford championship, Rick Michels.
Michels, who operates a successful motorsport preparation and maintenance business, Evolution Motorsport, in Invercargill, and whose own son, Jordan, won the 2018/19 New Zealand Formula Ford championship title, says that Frazer did an impressive job – in trying conditions thanks to the late-season disruptions caused by the COVID-19 Lock-down – to win the 2019/20 New Zealand title. Like Callum Crawley who finished second overall and James Penrose, third, he believes the world of motorsport is now very much their oyster.
“All three won races. That’s the first and arguably most important thing in their favour. All three were also really consistent – with both Billy and Callum on the podium 10 times, and James up there eight.”
“The big difference – and what in the end saw the advantage eventually swing Billy Frazer’s way – was the fact that on eight of those 10 times he made the podium it was to stand on the top step.”
With the 50th anniversary NZ Championship title series just two seasons away now (the 2020/21 will be the 49th, and the 2021/22 one the 50th), the annual New Zealand Formula Ford championship is one of the oldest and most storied in the world.
In the 48 years since Kiwi racing great David Oxton won the inaugural NZ title in 1972 virtually every contemporary Kiwi driver who has gone on to conspicuous success on the world stage has ‘served their apprenticeship,’ as Michels puts it, in one or more of the simple, effective tubular spaceframe,1600cc Ford-engined single-seater racing cars.
Five-time IndyCar series champion and recent runner-up in this year’s Indianapolis 500 race, Scott Dixon, spent two years in the category here (winning the Class II title in 1996 and the overall title in 1997) and is arguably the best known graduate. However since then the NZ title has been won by the likes of Virgin Australia Supercars championship winner Shayne Van Gisbergen and fellow series drivers Fabian Coulthard and Andre Heimgartner, as well as current Red Bull-contracted single-seater ‘star-on-the-rise’ Liam Lawson.
Plenty of others – the likes of NZ’s most recent F1 driver, Brendon Hartley, and his fellow Le Mans 24 Hour race winner, Earl Bamber – have also used the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship as a valuable stepping stone – usually between karts and the first junior wings-and-slicks categories like New Zealand’s Castrol-backed Toyota Racing Series, or one of the V8 Supercar ‘tin-top’ classes across the Tasman.
“There’s just so much you can learn – even in a single season – in a Formula Ford which translates directly up the ladder” says Michels.
“Some of it is obvious, like lines, race craft, car control, tactics, and things like that, but these days working with an engineer on how to use the masses of data you can now access in real-time to help set he car up better, is also a vital skill a driver has to have…..and one of the best places to learn that is in a Formula Ford.”
The strong family ties that now run two, three and sometimes even four generations deep here in New Zealand mean there are usually some familiar names on the grid, as well.
The 2019/20 ITM NZ Formula Ford championship was no different thanks to the efforts of Ronan Murphy, the eldest son of four-time Bathurst winner, Greg Murphy and wife Monique, along with Zac Stichbury, son of two-time former NZ Formula Ford champion, the late Ashley, and Anna Stichbury.
Stichbury ended up fourth in the 2019/20 series points standings with six podiums and a pole position, with Murphy sixth.
With the new management committee now in place and working hard on the 2020/21 ITM New Zealand Formula Ford Championship, Michels says that he – like everyone else in New Zealand’s close-knit motor racing community – is looking forward to putting the disruption caused by the COVID-19 Coronavirus behind him, and focusing on the positives of the category for the future.
“ For a while there I think there was too much emphasis on change-for-change’s-sake and people started to lose focus on what Formula Ford has always done best – and that is provide a fair and cost-effective platform for drivers to develop and showcase their skills.
“To that end I would like to reiterate my sincere congratulations to Billy Frazer, his family-based team and his engineer Phil Barrett of Career Racing, for winning the 2019/20 ITM NZ Formula Ford Championship title.
“At the same time I’d like to acknowledge the stellar job done by Callum Crawley and his engineers Michael Borland and Glen Higgins, and James Penrose, his father Tom and brother Matt, in taking the fight to Billy all season long.”