I’ve just come back from a very exciting race weekend after over a year out of car racing.
I took to this challenge with eagerness to learn and an open mind. Keeping in mind that the Formula Ford 1600 without slicks or wings would be quite a different beast to master.
Having mostly raced modern single seaters and shifter karts, I have barely had any experience racing anything with an H-pattern gearbox, or that required the use of heel-and-toe.
The deal came together very late, and I ended up getting my first taste of the Ray FF1600 on a very wet Brands Hatch during the Thursday and Friday practice for the Formula Ford festival. The amount (or lack) of traction was an eye-opener, and I’d never have thought I’d get wheel spin in top gear on the main straight.
There were many crashes, spins and red flags throughout the test days, but fortunately I didn’t have any major incidents and had a mega time improving car control whilst learning more and more about the car.
Silverstone – Week leading up to the Walter Hayes Trophy
The following week I get to Silverstone and practice gets off to a good start. Getting down to competitive times within my first session. We had to make quite a few changes to the set up and gearing throughout the day, as the team didn’t have a chance to test on the resurfaced Silverstone circuit prior to me driving on it.
I found learning the Silverstone national circuit was far more straightforward than Brands Hatch, but without a doubt this would mean that the field would be closer, and it would be very crucial to get every last detail sorted.
I started to mysteriously get slower and slower on the second day of practice. I found the car getting more unstable in the corners and it never seemed to take a set. I was constantly dealing with oversteer and understeer throughout the corners. In the last session of the day, my lap times were slower than I’d ever been and I went off at Beckett’s after the left hander.
Fortunately, I just ended up in the gravel trap, and my car was brought back on a truck. We later discovered the front-right wheel bearing was getting loose and this was causing the entire wheel to vibrate and affect the car’s handling.
After one final practice day in the wet which was looking good. We get to qualifying on Saturday morning.
It was very cold and wet, and this made it difficult to get any heat into the new set of tyres. So the objective was to stay out for the entire session and learn the conditions whilst getting the tyres warmed up.
I felt that I had a good session, however we were about 3 seconds off the pace, and ended up 15th in our group. It was a surprise, as I wasn’t so much off the pace in the wet practice sessions, but for various reasons it didn’t turn out to be a good qualifying session.
To guarantee a spot in the semi-final. I need to finish 13th or above in my heat. It may seem simple, however the track dried up and a dry line started to form. I didn’t have the greatest start and lost two positions, but got them back fairly quickly.
However, when I tried to make an overtake into Brooklands, I went down the wetter line on the inside whilst the other competitor took a wide line. Just at the apex, I had a bit of oversteer and the other guy closed in which made us have some contact. It damaged my steering arm, offset my alignment and . I ended up falling and finished 18th.
Finishing 18th meant that I’d just make it to the last chance race, where I had to finished in the Top 20 to start the final. I started 18th and finished 12th. This meant I’d make the semi-final. I felt that I could’ve finished higher than that, however whilst avoiding multiple spinners right in front of me, I lost some positions.
Having made it into the semi-finals, I’d be joining the back of the existing grid and would start 31st. I had the big task of finishing 18th or above to make the final.
The semi-final was slippery and eventful. Coming through the field there were many older Formula Fords I had to pass. They weren’t so fast in terms of straight line speed, however in the corners their cars seemed to work very well, and I got up to 23rd before making a huge mistake when shifting from 4th to 3rd gear in Copse. I don’t really know what happened but it felt like I went into 1st gear and the car did a 450-degree spin. I never made such a big error before, but it was costly and I ended up finishing in 27th place.
My hopes of getting to the final were over and that was the end of my first Walter Hayes Trophy weekend.
It was very frustrating with all the safety cars in such a short race, but overall I still got to do a ton of close wheel to wheel racing which was very fun.
I definitely want to come back next year and even do the Formula Ford Festival too. The category and the racing was awesome and my team were incredibly helpful too.
I’m not extremely happy with the results, however with a bit more testing. I’m sure we’ll get on top of the issues we faced and continue to improve my driving too.
I’d like to thank my parents, friends who came to see me, John Davis my Physiotherapist, and the entire team at Graham Brunton Racing for making this weekend such an enjoyable one.
My focus now switches to getting a drive for 2020 sorted out, and doing more Formula Ford racing is part of my plans 🙂