After seven years out of regular competition, Stuart Gough returned in 2014 with Oldfield Motorsport – competing a full season for the first time – on the National and Northern BRSCC Formula Ford 1600 championships.
The deal to race for Oldfield Motorsport came about quickly for Gough, who hadn’t competed full time since the BRSCC FF1600 Northern championship in 2007.
The team – run by James Oldfield – is very much a family based operation, running a full time season for the first time in 2014, although Gough and Oldfield had raced together before.
“I’ve done some races for Oldfield Motorsport before, we came second at the festival in our first event together ever,” said Gough.
“We knew that we had good foundations to do something we just weren’t sure what was achievable and what wasn’t.”
It wasn’t just the previous experience with Oldfield that led to his comeback though, as there is a strong family tie in between the two.
“I have a long history with them anyway, In terms of James Oldfield, his dad used to compete against my dad and our grandfathers raced one another, so threes a long history there.”
The comeback got off on the wrong foot in the build up to the first round at Oulton, as problems with the new black Van Diemen RF92 – identified later in the season as a roll bar issue – was some way off the pace, and so the team had to resort to the backup sister car, a blue RF92 which Oldfield had run in previous races.
Once the car had been changed though, Gough qualified second for the first race behind the rapid David McArthur, and went onto to score a fairytale victory. The win was vital to Gough and Oldfield, as it gave them the belief that they could still be competitive and run at the front.
“The first weekend, the car was really quick out of the box, we hadn’t done any pre-season testing, the car was quick and that gave us the motivation to really go for the whole championship and make it work.
“Everyone pulled together, it was a good weekend. The car was amazing and I had full confidence from then on that we could have a good year.”
Runner up in the second race, it was almost a perfect start to the title challenge for Gough, and two second place finishes on a soaking track at Anglesey in the next round further displayed the threat Gough and Oldfield presented to the rest of the drivers in the paddock.
“Those conditions didn’t play to our strengths at that time as we had done no wet running with the car. Two seconds was a good recovery really.”
Gough and Oldfield struggled in the wet throughout the year, with the team still finding its feet in the tricky conditions with the RF92 and with limited testing time.
It didn’t help that Cliff Dempsey Racing and driver James Raven – who would become Gough’s biggest competition for the championship – were blisteringly quick in wet conditions with their Ray GR13/14.
“When it rained we were up against a really strong driver in those conditions in James Raven, but also his team that pretty much has dominated in those conditions in recent years.
“The Ray is good in the wet. I used to own one so I know how good they are, and Cliff Dempsey has something for everyone in those conditions, that’s why scholarship drivers who have never even raced in the wet have won races and big events because the cars are good.”
Next up on the calendar was a dry Brands Hatch, where an incident in race one not only took Gough out of contention for that race, but the second race grid was decided on the results from the first instalment leaving Gough to start at the back.
However, Gough is never one to shy away under pressure, and delivered one of the drives of his career.
“I was pretty low after the first race, I was worried it was going to give us two really bad results from the weekend and that would be our two dropped scores used up already early in the season.
“I knew I had to make the first lap count and I think I finished the first lap sixth after starting 11th. I picked my way through and I felt like we had really good pace, for a number of factors really. The car is great round there, the car is great on used tyres but also I had conserved the tyres in the first race.
“I think I got up to third position behind Raven and Luke Williams when Luke spun by himself, which just cost me a couple of seconds. Even though James won, to come through to second and to get the fastest lap, that second was critical.”
Only the spin by Williams likely cost Gough the win in that race in what was an incredible comeback drive, something underpinning his title success. The ability to overcome adversity was key all year to both Gough and Oldfield.
It was prior to Brands Hatch that a key turning point came in Gough’s season, as the issue plaguing the Black RF92 that Gough had supposed to have been competing in was solved prior to the race.
“We never did any testing other than at the race meetings all year and I had been testing the blue and the black car to try and rectify the problem with the black car.
“The team were working and doing everything they could, they stripped it, rebuilt it, had the gearbox away, we were trying all sorts to try and work out why there was such a performance gap.
“At Brands Hatch we found something, we decided to stick with the blue car to be safe, but we had confidence that we had found the issue, bizarrely with the roll bar.
“Even though it showed no sign of damage, it’s something you don’t normally swap. I knew as soon as I drove out of the pits that the car was fixed.”
Up next was a huge boost for Gough, as unbelievably, he had never competed at Donington Park before and put in two solid results.
“It’s one of those things people think I’ve been around forever so I must have [raced at Donington] but I hadn’t. Qualifying wasn’t great but I was learning the track in the dry and we qualified fourth and missed out on the win by a tenth from Foster.”
Joey Foster is a former National champion and extremely experienced Formula Ford driver, and to finish so close behind him in his first race at Donington was no mean feat.
An incident with James Raven in race two almost saw Gough retire, but he held on to secure a difficult second.
“That was a critical moment in the Championship. I overtook James into Redgate and on the undercut he ran over the top of me.
“I don’t know how my car survived, the exhaust was bent and the carburettor was flattened, but we still managed second! I really enjoyed it, it was a good weekend.”
Perhaps the most surprising result of the year for Gough and Oldfield came at Silverstone, where the entry list was incredibly strong thanks to many drivers using the round as a Walter Hayes Trophy warm up.
“Silverstone was the race I was most worried about, it was a mega entry list and looking at it we could of finished eighth without doing that much wrong, it was that competitive, and I was unsure of the strengths of the RF92 around there compared to the modern cars.”
There was no doubting the pace of the RF92 in the first race though, Gough put it on pole and won the first race fairly comfortably after breaking the tow.
“I was completely amazed, actually the team had a new setup on the car and it was a rocket ship. That Silverstone first race blew our expectations. That’s when we knew we had an awesome opportunity [for the Championship], at a track we probably shouldn’t have done so well on paper, we won.”
The second race didn’t go so well for Gough, as a pool of fuel gathering in the cockpit mid way through the race understandably knocked his concentration a little…
“Every lap I was trying to lift myself out of the car as I was nearly on fire, which was quite distracting. If there were any sparks or anything, I was sat in a pool of fuel!
Fourth place was probably a small achievement for Gough compared to escaping with his life.
“It was funny because I drove the fastest ever in-lap, jumped ship straight into a shower. I had actually burnt myself quite badly in places.”
The penultimate round at Oulton Park began well for Gough, after a difficult tussle with arch-rival Raven, he came out on top. The second race however was a different story.
As had become the norm in 2014, Raven drove away at the front when it began to rain, and he all but had the race sewn up before a rose joint failure put him out in the closing stages.
That left Gough to battle David McArthur to the finish, and after a skirmish, Gough managed second. Raven’s demise was key going into the final round at Anglesey, as Gough took in a narrow advantage into the decider.
The stars seemed to align at Anglesey, the notorious bad weather at the circuit – which would have given Raven the advantage – stayed away for the most part. Raven took pole for the first instalment, but it was Gough who converted for the win, before sparks really began to fly in the second race.
Gough led away in the second but Raven stayed close, and he attempted an ambitious move up the inside into the final corner, the two touched and Gough was out of the race.
Raven went on to win the race, but was disqualified by the stewards for the incident with Gough. It was far from over though, as Raven was reinstated on Saturday evening.
Gough went from championship winner to being behind Raven going into Sundays decider, and he would likely need the four points extra for pole and fastest lap if he was to have a chance which hadn’t been done in a single race all year after 15 attempts.
“I was pretty low on Saturday as I thought I had won the championship and I hadn’t, it was a pretty tough thing to go through.
“I was going into Sunday five points behind so I felt all the pressure was on me. I know I needed pole and a win and I knew it would be difficult to get the fastest lap because James had been towing me in the races.”
The race could not have gone any better for Gough, as he stormed to pole, and then took the win and fastest lap in the race, taking a perfect 36 points and the championship.
“That was the championship, awesome!
“The team did an amazing job, the pace we had all year was unbelievable and that’s what helped win the championship.
“It just shows if you get a good team behind you someone that can setup and prepare the car well it just shows you what you can achieve. Yeah, a new car is going to give you an advantage, but I think we proved this year as others have in the past that if you get a well setup car you can do the business still.”
The team then put a budget together for the final round of the Northern championship at Oulton Park.
“That was really good, we were two points behind on dropped scores, got a pole and two wins. We just rocked up, no testing, and just went straight into it was just a great way to end the year.”
Gough finished the year with the Northern and National Championships, adding to the coveted Triple Crown, awarded for the Brands Hatch, Donington Park and Silverstone rounds.
With such a successful year, Gough is obviously chomping at the bit to return, but finding the budget may be difficult.
“The calendar looks great this year, and I’d love to be part of it, I’d love to do it with Oldfield Motorsport again. But ultimately the budget has to be there.
“My objective was to do what we did this year, and in my eyes it was more important for Oldfield Motorsport than for Stuart Gough. For Oldfield Motorsport, for James, young guy setup his team and won the championship in their first year, incredible.
“I want James and the team to be successful and my focus at the minute is trying to secure some drivers for him, if that’s not me then it can’t be me, but hopefully we can find two drivers and he can have a two car team for next season.”
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Images courtesy of Gary Hand Photography