Entering the final round of the championship with a 10 point lead, and needing to finish 3rd or higher to win, the day started well with Neil quickly heading to the top of the qualifying timesheets. Things then started to go rapidly downhill when he pulled into the pits after only 8 minutes of the 15 minute session with a very sick engine. Neil's time remained the quickest throughout but unfortunately the Ford engine of his Lola T200 had run its last lap.
With his championship hopes now hanging by a thread David Wild, who runs in another Lola T200 as a customer of Neil's Fowler & Goodwin Racing team, stepped into the breach and surrendered his car. Neil had to run this car amongst a gaggle of much more powerful Formula 500 and Formula 2 cars for a mandatory three laps after which he would be able to start his Formula Ford 1600 race from the back of the grid. This effectively put Neil's main championship rival, Nelson Rowe, on pole position with 23 cars between himself and Neil.
|Neil Fowler in the race|
The start of the race under a gloriously sunny Autumn sky saw Nelson Rowe make the best start and by the end of the first lap he was a full 2 seconds clear of the pursuing pack. As impressive as this start was it paled into insignificance when compared to Neil's who scythed his way through the grid to move up to an amazing 8th place as he crossed the line at the end of lap 1 of the 15 minute race. By the end of lap 4 Neil made the decisive pass, by championship long shot Nigel Bancroft, which put him into that all important third position.
You would have thought that, championship winning position secured, Neil would have settled into a safe third place but he is after all a racing driver and he set about harrying the March 718 of second place Ben Simms. He finally passed on lap 8 but they remained glued together for the rest of the race and at times seemed to be perilously close to colliding with each other. At the front Nelson Rowe claimed the spoils for the race, four seconds clear, but it was Neil Fowler crossing the line in second who had the most reason to cheer as he retained his championship.
The Championship Story
Neil's season had started with what was supposed be a one off appearance at the opening round at Donington Park back in March. He won that round, just, from then new kid on the block Rowe but at that time he had no ambitions to contest the whole championship opting rather to try pastures new in the Classic Formula Ford 2000 championship.
After winning his first FF2000 race the scheduling of a tightly packed racing year started to take its toll as Neil, concentrating on his business of race car preparation and rental in the Historic FF1600 championship, found that too many meetings were clashing and he was unable to mount a realistic FF2000 challenge. That coupled with the frustration of watching his crown being raced for prompted him to make a return for round 5 of the Historic FF1600 at Cadwell Park.
|Neil Fowler after a hard day's work.|
During Neil's absence Nelson Rowe had established himself as the dominant force amassing two wins at Snetterton and Silverstone and was the clear favourite for the title at the end of the 10 race schedule. Neil stamped his authority over Nelson with a win on his return at Cadwell Park and then again at Brands Hatch, by the narrowest of margins (0.065 seconds), to make it 3-2 in wins in Neil's favour but with the points tally set at 110 - 75 in Nelson's favour it left Neil a mountain to climb as, even if they continued to finish 1-2, Neil could only chip away 5 points at a time into Nelson's lead and would, with only 4 races of the championship remaining, come up short.
A non championship round at Silverstone in August saw Rowe finally get the better of Neil and at round 7 at Castle Combe he repeated this feat with an initially hard fought but ultimately clear win from Neil that swung the championship momentum firmly in his favour, 3-3 in wins and 135 - 95 in points.
Nelson was most definitely in the ascendancy as the championship moved to Oulton Park on August Bank holiday Monday for round 8 and he posted the fastest qualifying lap by a dominating 1.660 seconds from Neil to claim pole position. Another mighty battle ensued but now lady luck smiled on Neil as Nelson's engine expired on the penultimate lap of the race while he was in second place.
This result altered the complexion of the championship tussle as Neil now had 4 wins to Nelson's 3 and the points tally stood at 135 - 120 in Nelsons favour. It was still a tall order but the championship dream was alive and kicking for Neil. The penultimate round at the super fast Thruxton circuit in Hampshire saw a complete turnaround in favour of Neil as Nelson suffered even more engine woes and failed to score while Neil yet again won, though he by no means had it easy as series newcomer David Gathercole took the fight to him.
Neil had entered the Thruxton round 15 points adrift but emerged 10 points clear leading 5 wins to 3 and 145 - 135 points. He only needed to finish 3rd or higher at the final round at Silverstone to retain his crown.
Provisional Final Championship Standings - Top Five:
01. Neil Fowler 165 points (5 wins).
02. Nelson Rowe 160 points (4 wins).
03. Nigel Bancroft 137 points (1 win).
04. John Goldsmith 116 points.
05. Westie Mitchell 70 points.
In all 47 separate drivers scored points in the championship.