Luke Browning feels better prepared than ever as he readies himself for the 2020 F4 British Championship certified by FIA – powered by Ford EcoBoost season opener at Donington Park on 01-02 August.
The 18-year old switches to Fortec Motorsport for his sophomore season in Britain’s FIA Formula 4 series, and will partner fellow returnee Roberto Faria and Mexican rising star Rafael Villagomez.
His rookie campaign yielded two race victories, a further seven podiums and a brace of pole positions en route to 6th overall in the standings, netting the Kingsley-based racer his first valuable FIA Super License points.
Amongst his new surroundings, Browning’s ambition is clear: to mount a challenge for the title in 2020.
Discussing the switch, Browning underlined the new resources, and level, to which he is now able to operate as he puts in the hard yards preparing for the season opener.
“It’s massively helpful. Ollie Dutton [Team Manager] is a personal trainer, it’s great to have Richard Dutton’s connections and the simulator that Fortec have got is phenomenal. Their HQ is full of helpful engineers; any questions I have whatsoever, I can give them a call any time of day. I think that’s really important,” he explained.
“I’ve got data packs to take home. When I wake up in the morning, I’ve got my Donington notes next to me on my bedside table and it’s in a pack, so I’ve got five or six sheets of paper, analysing each corner, what I need to do and things I need to focus on.
“I had limited test days as it was, and I’m not using those days to find out information that other people have already figured out. It’s good to have that just on standby, because they [Fortec] have got everything, they really have. I’m surprised they haven’t won the championship yet, because they really are that strong of a team.
“I walked in there, and I think I said this on Media Day, but I’d eat my food off the floor in that place, it’s that immaculate.”
The Brit narrowly missed on the inaugural British F4 iRacing Trophy after a thrilling seven-week battle with Chris Lulham, and believes lockdown has been really useful for him in mapping out new career opportunities and maximising his pre-season work.
“Lockdown has been pretty productive for me, to be fair,” he said.
“With iRacing and everything you can do online at the moment, I’ve not really experienced any boredom. I’ve been more busy than I was before, actually.
“It’s been quite good for me in terms of finding new things to be passionate about and finding ways to further myself and my career.”
As a second-year driver, Browning will have a raft of experience to draw upon, something that could prove even more crucial in the reshaped 2020 calendar, with the ultra-challenging Knockhill and Brands Hatch GP moved from the back end of the season to the opening few weeks.
“It couldn’t have been better for me this year, really, in terms of the calendar shake-up. I’ve got a few tracks that I’m really strong at at the start; you only have to look at Media Day for Donington, Brands GP at the last round of 2019 I was following round behind the leader for both races and, to be fair, we could have won at any point in that race weekend.
“It’s looking very promising for us, we’re hoping to kick the season off like we did at the start of last year.”
Fitness and mental resilience will play a key role in that intense August period, something not lost on Browning.
“We’ve got four race weekends in five weeks. If you’re a little bit tired after the third round, it’s really going to hit you, you’re not going to perform at your best for the fourth,” he said.
Reflecting on his debut season, Browning believes consistency was his biggest downfall in 2019, but is fired up to address that this year and cited the form of second-year drivers Sebastian Alvarez and Josh Skelton last year as a blueprint to try and emulate.
“I think consistency; we were rapid at certain parts of the year, and we had the complete opposite in others,” explained Browning.
“Some of that was my fault, some of it wasn’t. I’m looking forward to a little bit of consistency this year, being constantly at the front, very similar to what [Sebastian] Alvarez did last year or Skelton with his run of podiums, I’d be looking to do the same thing – hopefully with wins!
“I think we’ll just have to wait for race day really. Media Day isn’t always a teller, there’s not as much scruitineering or anything. As soon as we get into qualifying at the first round we’ll really know who’s got the pace, and who hasn’t. It’ll get some of the mist gone and we’ll start to establish an order from the get-go.”
Browning also admits he’s done some self-reflection on qualifying pace; a much-used stat from 2019 was his race wins coming from no higher than sixth on the grid (and in one case from as low as tenth), but says Fortec’s dry-weather setup has made all the difference to his confidence, and his perspective.
“I’ve certainly analysed that myself, and I think what we really struggled with was developing the car in the dry last year. We’d absolutely nailed it on the wet setup, but we just struggled a little bit when it came to the dry.
“We’ve really sorted that out this year; I jumped in the car at Donington and it felt absolutely incredible and I was able to go top of the timesheets, which was something I just couldn’t see last year. I felt like I was driving the pants off it and I just couldn’t see the time, I was just not there.
“Whereas on Media Day, I did the fastest time by half a second and thought ‘well, there’s another two or three tenths in that’ when I came in. If I really do nail this, there’s no reason why we can’t be on pole everywhere.”
His next runs out in the car will be at the championship’s official test days at Snetterton (23rd July) and Thruxton (27th July) before heading to Leicestershire for the season curtain-raiser on 1st-2nd August.