“Formula 4 is the right thing to do for young drivers, especially those that are coming right from karting. It’s at a budget level that they can afford, maybe even less than what they are spending on karts,” says SCCA Pro Racing president Derrick Walker on the U.S. debut of the open-wheel formula that’s already proving a cost-effective and popular entry-level series around the globe.
Walker, of course, is a veteran of American open-wheel racing. He took the helm of SCCA Pro Racing as its president in the autumn of 2015, just after the announcement that the FIA’s Formula 4 platform would be introduced into the U.S. in 2016. Since then, he’s been tasked with getting the series off the ground for its American debut.
The F4 United States Championship certified by FIA, powered by Honda, as it’s officially known, is the same platform that the FIA launched in 2014 to offer young racecar drivers around the world the opportunity to take their first step from karting into open-wheel car racing. Presently, there are 11 individual championships throughout Europe, Asia, Central America, the Middle East and Oceana, in addition to the new U.S. Championship.
Cost for a brand new F4 car is $51,600, including the engine lease. Fill it with fuel and you’re ready to go racing.
When you add the operating cost of Pirelli tires, spares, travel and other costs over a five-weekend, 15-race season, most teams estimate a budget of around $150,000 if the driver doesn’t own the car, testing not included. By any standard, that is a veritable racing bargain.
The car itself is developed by Crawford Composites in North Carolina, making it the first FIA-homologated open-wheel racer to be designed and built in the U.S. The powerplant from Honda is based on the new Civic Type-R engine manufactured in Ohio, and is detuned to meet the FIA-mandated output of 160hp. All aspects of the engine work are supervised by Honda Performance Development, Honda’s North American racing technical center based in Santa Clarita, Calif. Shifting is accomplished via a paddle-actuated, 6-speed sequential gearbox, and a sealed ECU keeps a lid on parity and compliance. Tires from Pirelli have been developed specifically for the F4 platform with a trickle-down link from tires used in F1, GP2 and GP3 programs.
“This has been an exciting project for us, and takes me back to my own roots in racing,” says Max Crawford of Crawford Composites. “The parameters from the FIA for the car are very strict, meaning we had to design the car within the boxes they set. But despite the limitations, we had to be creative and style a car that people would want to drive and also make sure that it worked with respect to airflow, cooling and suspension geometry.
“It was a big help to have the Pirelli tires that are used across the board, as it gave us solid foundation from which to tune the car. And, having worked with Honda and this engine previously, we were able to compress the design time and contain the costs. I’m very pleased to say that the tests have exceeded expectations, and we’ve been able to go faster every time out.”
The championship is owned, run by and promoted exclusively through SCCA Pro Racing in close working collaboration with the FIA. In line with F4’s global format, races are 30 minutes in duration, with three to a meeting, but some concessions are made to more typical domestic practices and venue infrastructure.
The aim is to maximize as much as possible actual track time, with the minimum being three hours per race meeting. Prize money for individual events and the overall season also help defray the cost of competing in the series, with race winners earning $1,000 and the champion taking home $25,000 in 2016. For the 2018 season, the overall champ will be rewarded with a $100,000 prize.
“Above and beyond the track time, we are also offering on- and off-track coaching to really prepare drivers for the path ahead,” adds Walker. “So look at the benefits, the low cost and amount of track time, and there’s a tremendous value that we hope will eventually attract fields of 30 or more cars – and when you have that many cars you have real competition that’s going to push the best to the top.”
The F4 United States Championship intends to work closely with the WKA and SKUSA on a path to ease karters into open-wheel racing, with the attraction of collecting points toward an FIA Super License, as well as a variety of lucrative payouts and incentives. By 2017, the series will also crown a global champion through an international competition. But despite those juicy carrots being dangled, all the parties involved acknowledge that the series is here to serve more than those that aspire to win an F1 World Championship.
“We want to provide opportunities for everyone who wants to race, whether you are connected with an established team, or looking to find an affordable way to reach the next level,” says Marc Sours, Senior Manager at Honda Performance Development. “Racing is intrinsic to our brand; it’s part of our culture, and if we can get more people participating in motorsport at any level, it’s good for Honda, and it’s good for racing as a whole. F4 appeals to us as company, because the whole platform is specifically geared to lower the barrier to entry.”
When the SCCA was founded over 70 years ago, part of the mission was to promote and encourage participation in motorsport. The F4 United States Championship Certified by the FIA, powered by Honda, unequivocally fits that mandate. From here, drivers can choose a domestic or international path up the racing ladder. Without F4, many might have never even gotten the chance. Some will likely go far, maybe even to the top.
To learn more about the 2016 F4 United States Championship certified by FIA, powered by Honda, including how to get started and a team finder, go to F4USChampionship.com.