Meet The Father And Son Team Dedicated To Historic Formula Racing
Photography by Will Broadhead
December nights here in England have two constant. They are dark, and they are cold. Tonight is no exception, and whilst most are nestled in the warm sanctuary of our houses, no doubt still surrounded by Christmas decorations and detritus (and perhaps enjoying the festive season in its liquid form), out here in the garages and sheds of Britain there is a different breed of person; the privateer racer. The last checkered flag of the season may have waved a while ago, but the time, effort, and commitment that goes into maintaining a racing endeavor as a privateer doesn’t stop when the circuits go silent.
Two such men are Robert and Ian Pearson, a father-and-son team competing in the HSCC Historic Formula Ford 2000 championship. Bob has been racing for years and started his career in sidecars. He’s 71 years old now, but shows no signs of stopping any time soon. Ian is a mere pup in comparison at 38, but he’s been racing since he first jumped into a kart as a teenager. Not only that, he’s good. Very good. His trophy collection tells the story of his success and for the last few years his Van Diemen single-seater has been the one to beat.
Strange then, that at the end of the 2016 season these two made the decision to walk away from their trusted classic FF2000 cars to develop new machines from the ground up. Why? Well, quite simply, they wanted the challenge. That and the entry numbers for their class were dwindling, so much so that a proper championship hadn’t existed for a few years now. It was time for a new test. And by new machines, I mean new-to-them of course.
They planned to enter the Historic FF2000 championship, for cars of a pre-1981 vintage, a generation before the one’s they had been racing prior. Both Bob and Ian would compete in Royale Racing RP30s, designed by Pat Symonds to contest the FF2000 championship of 1980, and powered by a 2.0-liter Ford Pinto power plant, as are the rest of the machines in the class. Against the other cars of the period, the RP30 wasn’t as successful—those from the Reynard stable are still very much the weapon of choice for this championship, but they command a much higher price than the Royales. To close the performance gap between them and the Reynolds, Bob and Ian intended to use the narrow-nose variant of the RP30, which was how the machine first appeared back in 1980, although the factory drivers in the period always ran the wide nose, believing it superior.
However, the new theory is that with the adjustability of the narrower nose, the car can be set up with a far greater balance between front and rear. In a highly controlled historic racing class, the changes that could be made to the machine to gain an advantage are limited, so adjustable aero could be a benefit too good to turn their nose up at, if they could get it to work…
Before that hypothesis could be put to the test, months and months of building and developing needed to take place on not just one, but two cars. Preparing machines alongside one another, you would think would the development process would be faster as you’d have more cars to test, but they actually found it a hinderance as duplicate problems came with the same impact on their time; you could not simply work on one car whilst you waited for parts for another. Eventually though, after months in the workshop the time finally came to load up the truck and use the cars in anger for the first time, though it was late in the championship season when rubber first hit the tarmac.
It was fitting then, as the calendar rolled steadily towards 2018, that I would catch up with Bob and Ian and ask the million-dollar question, how was their season with the new cars? “Short” was the answer I was given. In the end the cars didn’t get their first outing until a test day at Silverstone in August. After that they just had a handful of races near the season’s tail end.
Sure, the track and race time was minimal, but plenty of hours were spent getting the Royales to the point of being able to compete in 2017. I’m sure both of these guys would probably admit to wondering at times if it was even worth it, but whereas you and I may have been put off by endless evenings in the garage, fabricating and designing solutions to seemingly endless engineering problems (these cars are nearly 40 years old, and off-the-peg solutions to unlocking modern performance are a rarity), these two never quit. Racers, by default, are competitive and driven people regardless of what they’re sitting in, and the will to win is a state of mind that exists in top Formula 1 drivers and club racers alike. Building the car is just part of the journey.
So, was it worth it? Well with one class win and podium finishes for all four races that Ian entered this year, and both drivers coming within half a second of the lap times they were managing in their previous, more capable machines, you would assume the answer would be yes. But these two aren’t satisfied; regardless of the level they compete at, they want to win, and with a season that was spent mostly in the garage rather than tearing up the asphalt, neither is really happy. Both though, are looking forward to next year with great enthusiasm and anticipation. They tell me there’s a little more horsepower to unlock yet, along with the usual winter work to complete over the coming months, but the signs are auspicious for a full and fruitful 2018 season. If you ask them though, a new championship trophy in the household will be the only thing that they’ll be satisfied with.