We were very pleased to work alongside Scuderia Fern Racing once again as they hosted talented kart racer Isla Mackenzie for her first test session at Silverstone last week.
Hailing from the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, 28-year old Isla works as a dyno technician with the Mercedes AMG F1 team in Brackley. She is currently racing karts in the senior Rotax class with IMC Motorsport, and has longer term career aspirations to race in W Series.
Isla is the first driver to sample our structured pathway to aid drivers with the transition from karting into single seat racing. In addition, she is also the first female driver to test/race with the team, who have a key mission statement to promote diversity in club level motorsport. You can read more about the race team and their wider off-track aims here.
The team had already completed a seat fit ahead of the test back at their workshop, meaning that we were able to focus on maximising Isla's track time across the four 30 minute sessions. The aim was to run the morning sessions in the team’s Van Diemen RF95 Formula Ford to establish the basics and get used to running in traffic, and then step into the Dallara F301 car for the two afternoon sessions. The focus of the day was very much on facilitating the best possible learning environment and providing a taster of the key differences between the two cars.
Recent experience of testing KZ karts gave Isla a head start on picking up gearing and clutch control; skills that kart drivers can sometimes find a steep learning curve on their first time in a car. With both the Van Diemen and Dallara running H-pattern gear boxes (4 and 5 speed respectively) this is another factor in why the gradual progression into the Formula 3 car offered by Scuderia Fern can be so useful. The team also have a fully sequential Dallara F302 on the way for next season, offering the option of a further incremental step to aid development once a young or novice driver has experienced and mastered mechanical skills in the other cars.
"The Formula Ford was easier to drive than I expected, it was great fun and the perfect introduction for me to single seaters."
After a lunch break spent debriefing and reviewing the lessons learned in the Van Diemen, it was time to switch focus to a debut in F3 machinery for the afternoon sessions. After a quick (and messy!) second trimming of the moulded seat to ensure that Isla was as comfortable and well-positioned in the car as possible, she headed out on track. Once again, the aim was to build up pace gradually and end the day having felt the differences in mechanical grip, engine power and aerodynamic downforce between the two cars. As usual on a general test day there were a variety of cars out on circuit with a wide range of pace, so effective spacial awareness and traffic management were crucial.
"The F3 car felt very different to the Formula Ford and more complex, really rewarding you the faster you drive as the downforce starts to kick in. I can’t wait to get back out in it to learn more and start pushing closer to the limit."
The Silverstone International circuit was the ideal venue for Isla to make her debut, providing a mix of fast downforce-dependent corners and slower more technical sections. Although a big leap in terms of performance, she managed admirably with sampling both cars in one day, and the next step will be a more focused test session in the Dallara F301 (likely around a more technical venue such as Brands Hatch Indy) to continue her learning process in the car. Isla left Silverstone with a detailed review process to go through, as well as feedback to amend her fitness program to account for her first impressions of the key physical experiences in handling the F3 car. As with any driver making the transition from karting into car racing, the key is to not rush the process and maximise available track time outside of the fast-paced race weekend environment to work through an individual plan/program.
Thank you to Isla’s sponsors, Ishga Skincare, Walero racewear, Lab X Fitness and H2W Customs for supporting her debut test. You can keep up to date with Isla’s continuing progress with SF-R by following her on social media.
All photos courtesy of Maisie Tucker/Scuderia Fern Racing