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Formula First a champion’s starting point

The pathway to being a top driver is a simple formula for former Formula First Champion Dennis Martin.

With 52 years of motorsport behind him including two championship driver titles, Palmerston North’s Martin has experience to back his claim.

Contesting the last ever meeting at the Levin Motor racing circuit in 1970, Martin says he made a mistake at the start that he is keen others do not repeat: starting in a category beyond his means.

He first raced in Formula Ford, without success. Switching to Formula First, he found his feet, ultimately leading to championship victory. Now a stalwart of the category, he is clear in his message to future drivers: Formula First is first.

At a time when spectators flocked to motorsport events he says the biggest change he’s seen in the past 52 years is the level of professionalism – yet he says it could be better.

“I have fond memories of the Tasman Series and the New Year’s meet at Baypark – the girls in bikinis,” said Martin. Without relegating the memory to history, Martin believes the ingredients exist to recreate that environment for the future.

“We need to get to a level the sport can sustain around 50 drivers on a professional basis. That requires a three-way partnership between the sport’s governing body, the promoter, and the category – and it’s not going to happen overnight.

“We need a pathway, a starting point. New Zealand has a solid karting base, then Formula First, Formula Ford and then to the Toyotas. We also need the same for the saloon drivers – and it should be a silhouette type car, where manufacturers can get in behind it. The cars become relevant and can be evolved without needing a whole new chassis when they upgrade.”

The list of drivers Martin has seen progress through Formula First is exhaustive. Three examples are Liam Lawson, Shane van Gisbergen and Brendon Hartley.

“My advice is do a season in Formula First. Do the one-day driver school, then the Manfeild winter series – where you don’t need time off school or work. Then in 10 months you’re into the summer season and moving forward.”

Martin points out the cars are more advanced than meets the eye. They have a simple data logging platform that’s supported by Australian based Hamish Pemberton of HPD.

Throttle position, brake pressure, steering, shock potentiometers and GPS for sectors, are some of the inputs used for driver training graphs that Pemberton has refined for the category.

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