THE MINOR LEAGUES: FF 2000
by Larry Roberts
April 11, 1997
As the years go by, race cars of all kinds get more expensive and the competition gets tougher. Racing is big-time entertainment now, and there's always an ongoing search for the stars of tomorrow.
Open-wheel racing is particularly hard to break into, but like baseball, it has its "minor leagues" and one of them is the United States Formula Ford 2000 Championship series.
Formula Ford 2000 is the evolutionary product of a class that was started several decades ago in Britain to bring relatively inexpensive single-seater racing to amateur drivers. The "formula" was to install an English Ford Cortina 1.6 liter engine in a lightweight open-wheeled car and restrict the engine tuning to an extractor exhaust manifold. All other engine parts had to be stock. It was soon imported to the U.S. and found a home in the Sports Car Club of America amateur ranks.
In this country, Formula Vee experienced a similar evolution, starting at about the same time with amateur single-seaters that were restricted to stock 1300 cc Volkswagen air-cooled engines and running gear. It was relatively cheap to get involved, (even more so than Formula Ford) and is still a popular venue for SCCA club racers.
In the '70s, Formula Vee developed into Formula Super Vee, a car that was more up-scale, more professional and much faster. Super Vee carried a water-cooled Volkswagen Rabbit engine that was hopped-up to produce considerably more horsepower than its more plebeian air-cooled little brother. Super Vee as a professional class was underwritten by Volkswagen of America, and soon developed into a series that was one of the lower steps to take a young driver into the big leagues of Indy car driving and other environs of racing's stardom. Al Unser, Jr. began his climb to the winner's podium at Indianapolis in professional Formula Super Vee racing, as did Arie Luyendyk. Michael and Jeff Andretti both spent considerable time driving Super Vees along with Davy Jones, Ludwig Heinwrath,Jr, Geoff Brabham, and a host of others.
But with the changing fortunes of Volkswagen in this country came a parallel change in the fortunes of professional Formula Super Vee. By 1990 VoA had become a minor player in the American new car market and in an economy move, closed down its Super Vee motorsports program. With its loss came a gap in the lower steps of the drive to the big time. SCCA Formula Atlantic was a progressive step up from Formula Super Vee and has developed a big-time venue of its own with a twin-cam, four-valve, 250 horsepower engine that powers a very sophisticated chassis.
To fill the gap, SCCA fell back on Formula Ford. Upgraded with a 2.0 liter, 150 horsepower, single-cam Ford Pinto/Mercury Capri-type engine that has to remain fairly stock, the 1100-pound FF 2000 car can hit 150 MPH, enough to keep the competition keen, but keep the costs low at the same time.
About the same time that Formula Super Vee died, the United States Auto Club (the sanctioning body for the Indy 500) felt the need to train up-and-coming drivers in rear-engined oval track driving. In years gone by, Indy drivers had come from the ranks of USAC midget and sprint car drivers, but those cars are now just too different from the sophisticated Indy cars to make for a smooth transition. A USAC Formula Ford 2000 circuit was a natural development.
In 1995 Formula Motorsports pulled the two groups together to compete in the dual-sanctioned U.S. FF 2000 National Championship series that runs support races at NASCAR, IRL and CART oval track and road races. By running in front of the big teams, beginners have a chance to "show their stuff" to potential employers.
Does professional FF 2000 get the same results as did Formula Super Vee of seven years ago? Not yet - for without the financial support of a sponsor like Volkswagen, it's an uphill battle and Ford has been reluctant to come through with significant sponsorship. Only time will prove the worth of the U.S. FF 2000 Championship.