Hunter McElrea has been crowned the 2018 Australian Formula Ford Champion after a nail-biting finale at Sydney Motorsport Park.
Heading into the weekend, the title chase had two key contenders: Sonic Motor Racing Services' Hamish Ribarits and Hunter McElrea.
Ribarits drew first blood in qualifying, sticking his Mygale on pole ahead of McElrea and BF Racing driver Nathan Herne.
Ribarits backed up his qualifying pace in race one, sending a clear message across the garage with a standout win, out dragging Herne to the line by six-thousandths of a second. McElrea managed to finish third, despite struggling for pace.
Race two started in dramatic fashion with a safety car intervention, triggered on lap one by FF1600 championship contender Tim Hamilton. The Queenslander suffered a brake failure entering turn two, sending him hard into the outside wall. McElrea, who had a rocket start from the second row of the grid, led the race from start to finish, staying ahead of Ribarits and keeping his title chances alive. Due to mechanical issues, Herne couldn't keep up with the Sonic pair and finished in third position.
With only eight points separating McElrea and Ribarits, race three was always going to be a title showdown. McElrea and Ribarits made contact at turn two while dicing for the lead, sending McElrea back down the order. McElrea eventually finished the race in seventh position, while Ribarits, who crossed the line second behind Herne, received a time penalty that sent him back to 14th position. Nathan Herne, Angelo Mouzouris and Tom Sargent stood on the podium for race three, after the penalty was applied to Ribarits.
The last race of the season was Herne's maiden race win in Australian Formula Ford, cementing his overall round win. Herne also collected the Shell V-Power Award and the CHI Hard Charger Award for the round.
“I’m just stoked to be able to get a round win to wrap up the season. I’d like to say a big thank you to all my sponsors for supporting me and give them a trophy to show how much their support means", said Herne after winning his maiden National round.
McElrea's persistence, effort and speed over the course of the year were rewarded and he clinched the 2018 Australian Formula Ford title, 15 points clear of Ribarits.
"This just feels unreal. I can’t thank Mick and Maria from Team Sonic enough for everything they’ve done for me over the last two years. It’s a pretty surreal feeling, it hasn’t sunk in yet. Massive relief and just really happy", said the newly crowned champion.
2018 Australian Formula Ford Runner-Up, Hamish Ribarits, challenged McElrea throughout the season, exceeding the expectations of many during his successful rookie campaign at national level.
"It’s been a very great year.I’ve had four pole positions this year, a few round wins and lap records and what not. It’s been a really great year for both me and the team. I couldn’t be happier for everyone", said Ribarits.
Zac Soutar was the standout privateer of the year, mixing it up with the established teams and going for race wins. Despite a disappointing weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park, Soutar finished third in the championship aboard his Adams Print Mygale.
"I’m absolutely stoked. We definitely didn’t expect to be in the top three of the championship at the start of the year. It’s been brilliant, really. We’ve been up and down, but we’ve had a round win and a heap of other podiums, which has been unbelievable".
In December, Hunter McElrea will head to Wild Horse Motorsports Park, near Phoenix, Arizona, to represent Australia in the 2018 Mazda Road To Indy Shootout. The winner of the shootout will receive a US$200,000 scholarship offered by Mazda to compete in the 2019 USF2000 Series.
"I can’t wait to go over there. I’m really excited to head back to the US and chase my dream, so I can’t wait”, said McElrea.
The Australian Formula Ford Championship will return in 2019, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Formula Ford racing in Australia.
2018 AFFC Standings (top ten)
Hunter McElrea - 321 pts
Hamish Ribarits - 306 pts
Zac Soutar - 239 pts
Nathan Herne - 236 pts
Lachlan Mineeff - 172 pts
Angelo Mouzouris - 159 pts
Liam McLellan - 158 pts
Thomas Sargent - 138 pts
Bart Horsten - 128 pts
Cody Donald - 116 pts