The 23rd Annual Walter Hayes Trophy, named in honor of one of the founding fathers of the venerable Formula Ford category, kicked off Saturday in diabolically wet conditions at Silverstone. The traditional knockout format began with over 90 competitors split into four eight-lap heat races. Ultimately, Team USA Scholarship drivers Jack Sullivan, from Hamilton, Ohio, and Ayrton Houk, from McCordsville, Ind., qualified easily, although perhaps not not comfortably, for the Semi Final round to be held on Sunday morning.
Heavy overnight rain continued unabated for the majority of the day, ensuring the Silverstone National Circuit was more akin to a skating rink than a race track. Both Americans were drawn together in Heat Three, and their predicament worsened when the majority of their 12-minute qualifying session was run, rather bizarrely, behind a Safety Car.
“The weather made sure to keep us all on our toes, as the conditions were quite tricky,” related Houk. “Heavy rain paired with low visibility brought a safety car out after only three laps of qualifying. We remained pacing for the duration, causing us to only have set laps quick enough to place seventh and eighth respectively for our Heat. Fortunately, due to some penalties for drivers not conforming to the yellow-flag conditions, Jack and I were bumped up to fifth and seventh for the official grid.”
Formula Ford veteran Michael Eastwell splashed home to a comfortable victory, leaving both Team USA cars to be involved in an entertaining tussle for the minor places. An incident on the last lap and a subsequent penalty allowed Sullivan and Houk to salvage fifth and sixth places, which will translate into fifth and sixth row grid places for tomorrow’s Semi Final round.
“That was the most treacherous race I’ve ever been in,” declared Sullivan. “The visibility was absolutely zero. For the first two laps the only problem was the immense amount of spray that comes here at Silverstone. All of a sudden my visor and glasses fogged all at once and for the rest of the race it was all about survival. I guessed where to brake into every corner and after I could go down through the gears, I had to flip up my visor to see the corner and then once I had a better idea of where I was in the corner, I could finally drive with some confidence and then try my best to get a good exit. I know that if I would have seen where I was going, I definitely had some more speed and I would have fought up front. Still, a solid result puts me on the fifth row for the Semi Final. The car has been strong all throughout testing and once we get some nicer conditions, the pace will be where it needs to be.”
“Coming into our Heat race I knew I was in a transfer position for the Semi Final from my grid spot and focused on running a clean race to move on to the Semi Final tomorrow, when the weather should be a little better,” added Houk. “Heavy rain again brought extremely low visibility and I found myself driving based more off of the rain lights in front of me than any track markers as I could not see much of anything else! My eyes are set on tomorrow and fighting my way up through the pack for my grid position in the Final.”
Michael Moyers (Medina Mk.2), Jason Smyth (Ray GR) and Formula Ford Festival champion Rory Smith (Medina JL18) were the other heat winners.
Sullivan and Houk enjoyed an extensive interview during today’s live stream coverage (just over 33 minutes into the broadcast), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gL1CJB_TwgE. Coverage will resume Sunday with the Progression race, followed at 11:25 a.m. local time by the first of two 12-lap Semi Final races from which the top 18 finishers in each race will qualify for the 15-lap Grand Final. The start time is slated for 3:15 p.m., although the schedule is subject to change. The Sunday live feed can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hi47TXd-_Ho , with live timing at https://www.tsl-timing.com/event/234456.