The 1st of September 2019; a date that will forever live in the team’s history as a milestone of their racing career. It was to be the day on which Jordan Gronkowski clinched the 2019 Scottish Formula Ford Championship Title and in doing so achieved something that the team had never even dreamed of when they first starting karting, 20-years previous.
But behind that headline, the story of the weekend itself was not one the team will wish to dwell on as they endured what turned out to be their worst of the season so far – although in a year where they had scored maximum points in all of the opening nine rounds, the standard they measure themselves against is very high.
Things started to unravel during Saturday practice. Returning to the anti-clockwise layout of the Knockhill Racing Circuit for the second and final time in 2019, the team set about their planned run schedule, encouraged by their pace in the first session. In the day’s final run, they found even more pace to clock lap times over a full second clear of the other drivers. The satisfaction was to abruptly end as the session came to a close however, with Jordan’s pace dropping off significantly and upon returning to the paddock, the team found that the rear anti-roll bar had snapped. Jordan reported no off-track moment or aggressive use of the kerbs and the breakage was therefore attributed to the nature of the anti-clockwise layout and in particular the chicane, which is a common thought amongst formula ford drivers and teams.
With no replacement anti-roll bar available for Sunday, the team went into race day on the back foot, compromised heavily with car setup.
Qualifying was a very nervy affair, with Jordan lapping only a couple of tenths faster than their nearest rival. A red-flag halfway through allowed the team to make some adjustments in an attempt to regain some balance in the car but Jordan continued to struggle regardless. At the end of the session, the team hung on to claim pole position by just 0.234 from Matt Chisholm.
The car was a bit of a handful even after we got the chance to change the setup during the red flag and every lap was a bit of an adventure!
“That wasn’t ideal.’ Said Jordan afterwards. ‘The car was a bit of a handful even after we got the chance to change the setup during the red flag and every lap was a bit of an adventure! But ultimately we got the pole, which is the main thing. However, it’s really frustrating to have things so tight as yesterday we were looking much better until we picked up the damage.”
For the weekend’s races, the decision was taken by the club to combine the formula ford and the guest formula junior grids into a single race. This was in order to save on small-grid races due to poor attendance and to allow a compressed program for the day and allow everyone an earlier finish. The reality and severity of the situation became apparent after qualifying however, as the formula juniors were between 10 and 25 seconds per lap (almost 50%) slower than the formula fords. This would make for an extreme case of multi-class racing, with significant speed differentials between the cars during lapping. Added to this, the formula junior cars were all classic racing machines form the 50’s and 60s, with technology and handling characteristics far removed from the more modern formula ford cars.
Ultimately, this boiling pot of uncertainties, variables and setup compromises would be the undoing of the team’s 100% scoring record.
At the lights in race 1, Gronkowski made his best start of the year to lead comfortably into the hairpin from Chisholm and Logan Hannah. In the opening laps, Gronkowski proceeded to build a gap to the chasing pack, pulling clear by 1.9 seconds by the end of lap four. Things were settling into a rhythm, but lap five was the beginning of the end. Gronkowski’s pace suddenly dropped by 1.4 seconds on this and the next lap as he started encountering the formula juniors. The gap behind was wiped-out, but he maintained the lead and started to rebuild the cushion again on lap seven and eight, returning to his earlier pace before disaster struck on lap nine. Meeting a formula junior at McIntyre’s and having to all-but stop to follow him through the corner, the chasing pack was right on Gronkowski’s gearbox again. Seeing the junior move to the right up the hill to Duffus and sensing the opportunity to go past on the outside whilst carrying the full momentum down the critical main straight, Gronkowski made the move. However the junior, either unaware of the formula ford on his outside or unwilling to relent to being lapped, continued on his normal line out of the corner, squeezing Gronkowski firstly to the ends of the track and then beyond it and onto the grass as Gronkowski fought to retain control of his car at 100mph and avoid a collision.
The resulting loss of momentum allowed Chisholm and then Neil Broome passed as Gronkowski could do nothing but follow the lead pair after retaking to the track.
Despite a spirited attack in the final three laps, Gronkowski could do nothing about the lead pair and had to settle for third at the flag.
Whilst immediate post-race feelings were of frustration at the nature of the result, it was quickly acknowledged by all watching that the points from a third place finish were enough from Gronkowski to clinch the championship title. As Jordan greeted his team in post-race parc ferme, and particularly his father, Harry, the realization set-in and emotions took over as the team began to comprehend what they had just achieved.
Tears of joy abounded and Jordan took to the podium to collect his third place trophy as, for the first time ever, the Scottish Champion!
it wasn’t their fault, but they were absolutely crawling against us and I always seemed to meet them at an apex or somewhere you just had to slow down and follow them through
“It’s a very strange way to win it, like this.’ Said Jordan immediately after the race. ‘I mean on the cool-down lap and when I got out of the car I was quite upset and frustrated. The race was going so well early on and despite the handling issues we’ve got form the damage yesterday I was able to build a lead and starting to feel comfortable and then the anarchy started when the juniors appeared. As the first car on the scene, you tend to take all the pain when lapping, as once one car is through it wakes-up the lapped-car up to the fact there are likely others following and that seemed to be exactly what happened. We just seemed to meet these guys, who were obviously going as fast as they could so it wasn’t their fault, but they were absolutely crawling against us and I always seemed to meet them at an apex or somewhere you just had to slow down and follow them through. It was extremely frustrating for me. And then with the one where we lost the lead, I was sure he had to have seen me as I’d followed him through the slow corners beforehand but then when I was alongside he just kept coming over and over until I was on the grass. That was pretty scary and pretty dangerous to be honest from the guys who we were assured beforehand would be looking out for us and used to being lapped. It certainly didn’t feel like that at that moment!.”
it’s not about today or that race, it’s about the whole season
“But when I saw the team in parc ferme afterwards and they were cheering, I remembered about the bigger picture and then when I spoke to dad it kind of clicked that it’s not about today or that race, it’s about the whole season and in fact the past 20-years since we started karting. Once that realization hit me the emotions just came flooding out. What an amazing achievement for a father and son wo just started all this for a bit of fun!”
“I have so many people to thank for getting us to this position and helping us achieve what is beyond a dream for us. It’s been quite a journey to get here and it’ll definitely take a long time to sink in!”
“I'll be making a full statement of thanks in due course but for now, I am eternally grateful to our official sponsors and our My RaceSpace members, without whom we wouldn’t be on the grid this year. And of course my dad – I am nothing without him and I’m not a sole Scottish Champion, we are the Scottish Champions together!”
Following some careful consideration, the team released a statement shortly after race 1, explaining that they would be withdrawing from the weekend’s second race due to concerns over the suitability of the circuit to the cars and the presence of the formula juniors. Ultimately, the team decided to preserve the car for the final, clockwise round in October.