The FIA-certified F4 United States Championship Powered by Honda continues to gain momentum even as the weather turns cold in much of the country, with Crawford Composites continuing to build the chassis that the entry-level open-wheel series will race in 2016. Max Crawford, the Director of the Racing Division for Crawford Composites, recently sat down to discuss the current status of the car.
As it stands now, 97 purchase agreements have been sent out to teams and individuals wanting to become part of the new series. A total of 30 of those agreements have been returned to Crawford, finalizing a commitment to buying a chassis.
"The response we've had is phenomenal," Crawford said. "We only announced this series three months ago, and our hope was to sell a total of 12 cars in the first year. Right now, we've sold 30 cars in three months, and we're still six months away from racing.
"I know a lot of the people involved with these teams, since I have been in the business for more than 30 years. I know many of them personally, and the quality of the teams behind them is very high. This is going to be a wonderful series because of the upper echelon of people and teams involved in this."
Crawford got a leg up on the development of the Formula 4 car with the 2015 build of the SCCA Pro Racing Formula Lites chassis. While the chassis will be subject to changes to fit the worldwide Formula 4 model and earn approval from the FIA, some of the test data collected as part of the Formula Lites program will help designers by giving them a real-world picture of the performance.
Included in the price cap of the chassis is the Honda power plant. The engine will be a version of the 2.0-liter Honda K20C Type-R engine, turning out an FIA-mandated 158hp. Following some dyno tests, this stage of development can be crossed off the list.
"The motor is on the dyno, as of today," Crawford said. "We have the engine installation kit complete. That includes the electronics and prototype parts for engine installation. That marks quite a big stepping stone for us as it took many hours of hard work to complete.
"On Dec. 10 and 11, we are doing a preliminary crash test of some of the new parts. Then, from Jan. 11 through 15, we are doing the FIA-mandated crash test. Once that crash test is passed, we will start assembling cars. Those cars will be delivered at the end of January."
One of the unique aspects of this creation process has been the involvement of the FIA. As this is a tightly controlled spec series ultimately governed by the worldwide sanctioning body, there are some steps that must be taken to satisfy their requirements. One of the largest tasks includes homologation of all parts of the car. That requires that each affected part be drawn and submitted to the FIA to ensure that changes are not made by either the teams or manufacturers before a certain point in time.
"Obviously the 2016 FIA requirements are a little stiffer than the 2015 ones [for the Formula Lites car]," Crawford said. "For that reason we've had to change some things we did originally, but the organization doesn't create a bunch of needless hoops to jump through. On the whole, our dealings with the FIA and their personnel have been absolutely fabulous."
"Our contacts with the FIA have been exceedingly helpful to us. Without the help of these folks, getting a car up to the standards required of FIA would be more of a challenge."
On-track testing of the F4 car is set to begin in late December or early January. In addition to tests performed by Crawford Composites, the company will also work with teams through May to help each of them in their individual testing and development efforts.
Crawford touted the importance of the F4 worldwide program. Not only is the classification of racing a world-wide one, but there is a mandated price point for each car. That allows racers, who are so inclined, to gain racing experiences in different parts of the world at a reasonable price point.
"If one looks at how this class has performed in other parts of the world, it is fantastic," Crawford said. "If you look at the fields in England, it is absolutely staggering. I have pictures of starting grids with upwards of 30 cars. I think the only reason more cannot be seen is that the picture is not big enough. This is the perfect series in which to make the move from racing karts to cars in a cost-effective manner."
"In addition to that, SCCA Pro Racing has made it possible for us to race with some great series including Trans Am and Pirelli World Challenge. It will be a really great opportunity for everyone."
From another perspective, Crawford said this is one of the most important projects in his company's nearly 30-year history.
"We have been involved in several different projects from the time we built our first car in 1987," Crawford said. "It has been a unique project for us because we actually have a complete rulebook to build the car to. Most of our other cars, we have had to do our own design work."
"But, this is up there with what I would call the phenomenal projects with which we have been involved. Not only are we building a car, but we are building a new series here in America. We also have a fantastic product to offer. One can't find a negative in this. You have an FIA-compliant car that runs in a series recognized around the world."
In addition to the new car and series, the winner of the 2017 United States F4 Championship will go onto race in a worldwide F4 championship race. Crawford said he thinks that is one of the ultimate selling points of the series.
"Tell me another series where that happens," Crawford said. "This is the perfect pipeline for talented young drivers to grow. A current kart racer can move into these cars, and come 2017 be named a worldwide champion, for a very affordable price. He could then get picked up by an Indy Lights or IndyCar team. That driver could even get picked up for GP1 or GP2. I believe it's the right ingredient for American racing."
Image: An overview of the Crawford Composites shop floor as new Formula 4 cars are constructed.