Walter Hayes Trophy Silverstone 6th November 2022
Preview: The Walter Hayes Trophy was back for its 22nd instalment over the weekend of the 5th and 6th of November. Held on the Silverstone National circuit, the prize is one all FF1600 drivers want to win and a fiercely competitive field of 100-plus Formula Fords gathered in Northamptonshire. Reigning Walter Hayes Trophy holder and 2022 Formula Ford Festival winner Max Esterson was back to defend his crown for Ammonite Racing but there were many others looking to dethrone the American. 2022 Festival runner-up Joey Foster aimed to go one better and take his fourth Walter Hayes Trophy title in his Firman RFR20. Two-time winner Michael Moyers was back in an unfamiliar Medina along with 2020 Festival winner Rory Smith and 2021 National champion Chris Middlehurst. The Team USA trio of Thomas Schrage, William Ferguson and Elliott Budzinski plus the Team Canada scholars Kevin Foster and Jake Cowden were keen to impress. Also crossing the Atlantic were returnees Shawn Rashid (Ray) and Andre Lafond (pedalling the Van Diemen Niall Murray used at the 2022 Festival). Australian Supercars team owner Tim Blanchard joined the entry in a Ray GR08, the 2007 Australian Formula Ford champion returning to the UK after racing in the Duratec category back in 2008. The antipodean flavour continued with fellow Aussie Will Lowing and New Zealander James Penrose, both in Rays. Further interest from outside of Europe came from a quintet of South Africans, namely Julian van der Watt and Robert Wolk in a pair of Mygales, with Andrew Rackstraw, Alex Vos and Josh Le Roux all in KMR Spectrums. GB4 race winner Tom Mills was back in another of his father Kevin's Spectrums, 2022 Festival Semi-Final winner Michael Eastwell joining him in the 5-car team. 2021 Castle Combe champion and 2020 Walter Hayes Trophy winner Oliver White returned to his FF1600 roots in a Firman chassis, after a season spent in Porsche Carrera Cup GB. Tom McArthur lined up in a Medina BH20 after his starring role in a Van Diemen RF85 at the Festival and would surely be in the running, as should his Historic Final rival Cameron Jackson. The Fisher brothers couldn't be discounted either - Josh is always in the mix come the final and Felix was fresh from sealing the Castle Combe championship. Combe silver medallist Luke Cooper would also rejoin battle with the TM Racing Ray pilot. Rapid historic racers Ben Mitchell, Callum Grant and Miles Griffiths could be dark horses too in a Van Diemen RF99, Van Diemen RF08 and Ray GR13 respectively. Another to keep an eye on was former BTCC driver Michael Epps, a late entry in a 2018 Ray. The list of possible contenders just kept on going...
Progression Race: The field comprised competitors who had finished 22nd or lower in the four heats held on Saturday afternoon, giving a chance to some of the fancied runners who had struggled on Saturday to start fighting their way back into the reckoning. From the first heat, third qualifier David McArthur would start 26th and sixth qualifier Michael Epps from 23rd. 2021 Castle Combe champion Oliver White was unable to qualify his Firman on Saturday so started last in 31st. From Heat 2 came the KMR Spectrum of Alex Vos and was best placed in ninth. Heat 3 had Combe front-runner Kieran Attwood starting from 25th, meanwhile from Heat 4 was the Team Dolan Van Diemen of Adrien Laissac in 27th. A busy race was in prospect for the 31-car field, with only the top eight finishers moving on to the rear of the Last Chance grid. A murky start to the day and a damp track surface made for very slippy going, which front-row starter Neil McArthur proved by spinning on the green flag lap. A starting grid reshuffle and then a lap one red flag held up proceedings, David McArthur had collected the spinning Crossle of Bob Scanlon at Becketts, which left both cars stranded in the middle of the track. Poleman Neil Richardson led the pack into Copse at the restart for the first of six laps, the Australian heading Neil McArthur as far as Brooklands, where the Van Diemen hit the front. Making rapid progress up the order was Epps, passing McArthur exiting Luffield and amazingly ending the opening lap in the lead from the twelfth row! Vos was also going well to reach second at Copse on lap two but undid a lot of the hard work on lap three with a spin at Brooklands. This elevated an inspired Sam Mitchell, who was revelling in the slippery conditions in his historic Merlyn. Frenchman Laissac displaced Mitchell for second on lap four, the Van Diemen taking the flag 9.383 seconds behind the dominant Epps. Mitchell went great guns to finish third from the nineteenth grid spot, Vos recovered from his lap three rotation to come home fourth, German Dieter Haeckel was fifth, Nigel Thompson sixth and a nose-less White made it through in seventh. The Firman lost ground late on with a trip into the Luffield gravel trap before making contact with Adam Fathers as he rejoined. Fathers’ Ray was the last to progress into the Last Chance race in eighth.
Last Chance Race: The field was made up of all the drivers who had placed between 15th and 21st overall in the four heats, plus the top eight finishers from the Progression Race tacked on to the rear of the grid. The top sixteen finishers would go on into the Semi-Finals, the odd-numbered positions going into Semi-Final 1 and the evens placed in Semi-Final 2. The distance was reduced to eight laps due to the earlier hold-ups and forecast bad weather at lunchtime. Rick Morris’ Firman and Megan Gilkes’ Medina formed the front row, Castle Combe champion Felix Fisher lined up tenth after a Heat 1 incident, South African Josh Le Roux sat in 13th and the Progression Race advancers headed by Michael Epps and co went from 28th and beyond. Morris led into Becketts for the first time but was under pressure from the fast-starting Ben Stone Titan, the Andrew Schofield Reynard and Gilkes. Stone drove around the outside of Morris, with Gilkes following suit on the exit. Canadian lady racer Gilkes sped past Stone into the lead by Brooklands to end lap one at the head of the pack. Fisher was quickly climbing the leaderboard and was into second by the end of lap two, relieving Stone of the place into Becketts. He then set about closing in on Gilkes, taking the lead on lap four under braking for Brooklands. Fisher reeled off the remaining laps to win from Gilkes. Frenchman Pascal Monbaron worked his way up to third but was passed by a rapid Josh Le Roux on the last lap, the Spectrum driver showing good pace despite a second lap coming together with Michael Epps. Top Progression Race finisher Adrien Laissac emerged from a squabbling group in fifth, ahead of fellow Progression Race starter Alex Vos. In seventh and eighth came Stone’s historic Titan and Oliver White, who also began the day in the Progression Race. Rick Morris and Mark Armstrong were in the fight for fourth but came together at Luffield on lap seven when the Merlyn spun and was clipped by the Firman, leaving Morris beached on three wheels and Armstrong heading down the pitlane. Alex Ames made it through in twelfth as he continued to recover from his Camel-liveried Van Diemen RF90 breaking down on the out lap of qualifying. Of those who didn’t make the cut, Michael Epps went out on lap two after another stunning opening lap to be in the top ten - the clash with Le Roux at Copse breaking his steering. Fellow ’Progressionist’ Sam Mitchell was involved in a multi-car tangle at Becketts and couldn’t recover the lost ground.
Semi-Final 1: Joey Foster and Julian van der Watt came through from their heats to form the front row of the first Semi-Final, with the Cornishman’s Firman heading the field. Cameron Jackson's Van Diemen RF90 and Shawn Rashid's Ray made up the second row. The distance was lowered to ten laps after the earlier delays and predicted heavy rain, with the top eighteen finishers going forward into the Grand Final. An even getaway from the front row pair when the lights went out saw van der Watt claiming the lead on the inside of Copse from Foster, who soon took back the lead into Becketts for the first time. Behind, Ben Mitchell suffered a hard impact with the wall heading towards Maggotts, after contact sent him spearing across the track. Mitchell was quickly out of the car, thankfully. Foster, van der Watt, Tom McArthur, Cameron Jackson, Chris Middlehurst and Tom Mills completed the top six ending lap one. The Spectrum of Mills soon began to come on strong though, the youngster had started fifth and had slipped to sixth behind Middlehurst on the opening lap but wouldn’t stay there for long. The KMR teamster had sliced up to third by the end of lap two, passing Middlehurst at Maggotts, then breezed by Jackson on the Wellington Straight and rounded up McArthur with a move that started at Brooklands and finished at Luffield. Mills’ rise continued when he took second from van der Watt up the inside into Brooklands on the third lap. Setting fastest lap after fastest lap, Mills began to reel in Foster. As Foster started to defend the racing line, Mills tried a move on the inside of Luffield on laps eight and nine but Foster held firm. Mills then tried the outside line at Luffield for the final time but the Firman kept the Spectrum at bay so Foster won from Mills, with Van Der Watt third ahead of a big fight for fourth. Lucas Romanek prevailed to lead home Middlehurst, McArthur, James Penrose, Jackson and Elliott Budzinski. The latter two had tangled at Brooklands on the eighth lap arguing over fourth, most of the group having a had spell in the position. Completing the top ten was the historic March of Neil Fowler, who had starred on Saturday by qualifying in fifth for his heat. Second-row starter Rashid spun out of the leading group on the opening lap whilst battling with van der Watt and McArthur, the American finished 20th after a second moment so failed to reach the final. Last Chance starters Felix Fisher and Josh Le Roux both made it into the final in 12th and 15th positions, whilst Adrien Laissac missed out.
Semi-Final 2: Heat 2 winner Max Esterson and Heat 4 counterpart Josh Fisher lined up on the front row for the second Semi-Final, with Esterson on pole having set the faster Heat race time. Michael Moyers and Luke Cooper lurked on row two. Starting a disgruntled eighth was on-the-road Heat 4 winner Rory Smith before he was pinged five seconds for track limit abuse. Josh Fisher got a great start to lead Esterson into Copse for the first time, unfortunately it counted for little as a startline incident forced a red flag - Gaius Ghinn, Ivor McCullough and Gerry Wainwright becoming knotted together leaving the grid. Fisher beat Esterson again into Copse at the restart to head the field. Luke Cooper lost ground on the opening lap after challenging Moyers for third at Copse, Team Canada's Kevin Foster and William Ferguson went either side of the Swift at Maggotts but the Team USA Ray spun to the rear of the field when they reached Becketts. The Safety Car was summoned at the end of lap two with Miles Griffiths’ Ray marooned in the Copse gravel trap, the top three had remained the same ahead of Andrew Rackstraw and Andre Lafond. The Safety Car came in at the end of lap four and Esterson immediately started pressing Fisher for the lead, trying first at Becketts to no avail. The Ray then skated up inside of Fisher into Brooklands but slid wide with Fisher chopping back ahead by Luffield. Esterson repeated the move on the next lap around and made it stick this time, moving clear to win. Rory Smith moved through to challenge Fisher for second, despite a seventh lap tangle with Andrew Rackstraw, which saw the South African ride over Smith’s right front wheel at Brooklands and spin out of the race. The Spectrum of Michael Eastwell followed close behind in fourth, as Moyers slipped back to fifth. South African Robert Wolk worked his way up from 16th to an impressive sixth in his Mygale. Supercars team owner Tim Blanchard took the flag in 11th but copped a ten-second penalty which dropped him to 16th, still making the final. Alex Ames climbed twenty spots to go through in 14th place from starting 34th. Oliver White took the last remaining Grand Final grid spot in 18th, just behind fellow Progression Race starter Alex Vos. American Andre Lafond spun out of fifth place at Becketts on lap five and didn't make the cut.
Janet Cesar Memorial Trophy Final: The first trophy race would be for the Pre-1999 cars and 2022 Festival Historic Final winner Cameron Jackson's Van Diemen RF90 sat on pole. Tom Bradshaw lined up alongside in the RF91 that Callum Grant had used to win the trophy twice previously. James Clarke’s recently rebuilt RF90 made it three of the futuristic Van Diemen ‘Stealth Bombers’ populating the top three, the slightly older RF89 of Doug Crosbie going from fourth. Heavy rain during the lunch break forced a Safety Car start due to the reduced visibility in the spray. After two laps following the BMW safety car, Jackson led Bradshaw, Clarke and Crosbie away. In similar fashion to the Saturday afternoon Pre-Final, Jackson eased away from Bradshaw and Clarke initially. Clarke was continually hassling Bradshaw but couldn’t get the run on the RF91 using his tighter line out of Becketts, the pair trading fastest laps as their battle intensified. Northern championship regular Crosbie, who had earlier held the fastest lap, was being closed on by Sam Street but the Swift wasn’t able to make a move. On the final lap, leader Jackson was handed a 5-second penalty for track limit offences so the fight for second on-the-road appeared to be for the race win. Bradshaw withstood the race-long pressure from Clarke to cross the line just ahead. However, Bradshaw was then penalised too for track limits so Clarke took the trophy in a car that was competing in its first race weekend since 1990! Crosbie and Street were also beneficiaries with promotion to second and third overall. Bradshaw and Jackson were reclassified fourth and fifth, as a riled Jackson received a second track limit penalty. “I was so stressed I almost gave myself a nose bleed!” said Clarke after repairing blown clutch seals almost meant a non-start.
Carl Hamer Memorial Trophy Final: The Carl Hamer Memorial Trophy Final for the oldest cars on the entry list would be contested by cars built before 1982. Starting from behind the Safety Car again, Neil Fowler led the field away ahead of Historic F2 pace-setter Matthew Wrigley, Mark Armstrong and Ben Tinkler, who went under the Irishman's Merlyn at Becketts for the first time to go third. Also making progress was Sam Mitchell, going around Daniel MacKintosh for seventh as a multi-car train began to form for fourth. Richard Tarling, one of the pre-meeting favourites, started from 25th after a suspension tweaking Pre-Final opening lap clash with Fowler and was eighteenth at the end of the first racing lap. The battle pack for fourth was reduced by two when James Sweetnam clattered into Armstrong when he lost his Hawke approaching Brooklands for the second time, spelling the end of both men’s races. Tarling would soon be well into his stride, the Royale breaking into the top ten with four laps left. He then set about reeling in the squabbling bunch ahead, passing Benn Tilley's Lotus 51, the oldest car in the race, and Mike Gardner on the tenth lap. The penultimate tour saw him bag Jake Shortland into Copse, Ben Stone at Maggots and MacKintosh at Brooklands before Sam Mitchell, who’d already fought back from an adventure at Becketts whilst sparring with MacKintosh on lap seven, lost his place at the head of the group when he slid through the Luffield gravel, enabling Tarling to complete his charge to fourth by the flag. Up front, inaugural Walter Hayes Trophy holder Fowler, in his rare March 709, serenely reeled off the twelve laps to win from Wrigley and Tinkler, the 1969 Merlyn holding the newer Van Diemen RF80 at arm's length all race.
Grand Final: Winning Semi-Final 1 in a faster time earned Joey Foster pole position for the 15-lap Grand Final and had defending trophy holder Max Esterson alongside, both drivers were unbeaten thus far so something had to give. Tom Mills and Josh Fisher formed row two, ahead of Julian van der Watt and Michael Eastwell on row three. The band of heavy lunchtime rain ensured the track would be very greasy come start time but the surface had dried out sufficiently to allow a standing start. Esterson got the jump on poleman Foster to lead into Copse when the race got underway. The Cornishman dropped down further to third as Mills snared second on the way out of the corner, the Spectrum then challenged Esterson for the lead on the outside of Becketts but was rebuffed. Fisher also tried getting ahead of Foster at Copse but ended up dropping behind Michael Eastwell into fifth. Down the Wellington Straight for the first time, both Mills and Foster were looking to go either side of Esterson into Brooklands but the American kept them at bay. Yellow flags at Copse put paid to any moves happening there so the top six soon settled into a rhythm during the opening circulations, Lucas Romanek's Van Diemen sat on the back of the train in sixth. As Esterson sought to break the tow to his pursuers, a fastest lap from the Spectrum of Eastwell saw him start probing Foster for third, trying all sides on the fourth and fifth lap before driving around the outside of the Firman at Brooklands and completing the move at Luffield on the sixth lap. Still nursing a half-second gap as they began the eighth tour, Esterson ran wide at Brooklands to trigger the race-defining incident at Luffield, where the long way round had been the favoured line all day. A bout of understeer on standing water turned into a twitch of oversteer for the American as Mills attempted to go around the outside making contact inevitable, the KMR Spectrum bounced across the gravel and fell to sixth. Just behind, Eastwell had followed the leader wide at Brooklands and allowed Foster to sneak back into second. The green Firman then had a good look for the race lead on the following lap on the outside of Becketts and at Brooklands, the pair slithering into the corner right on the ragged edge. Lap ten and Foster again tried the long way around Esterson at Brooklands but Eastwell pounced to move into second as the Firman’s attempt is blocked. Foster quickly regained second on the brakes at Becketts next time around and was almost alongside Esterson on the exit but had to tuck back in behind when the gap evaporated. The top three were almost abreast down the following Wellington Straight before Foster tried the outside of Luffield but the gap quickly closed, with Fisher also eyeing Eastwell's third place. As the Final entered its closing stages, the race boiled down to Esterson vs Foster as Fisher and Eastwell lost touch with the lead pair's increasing pace. Starting the final lap, Foster ran wide at Copse and possibly cost himself his chance of the race win but was still close enough to try cutting inside the leading Ray exiting Luffield for the run to the flag. The Firman wasn't able to find the grip to draw alongside Esterson so the American won his second Walter Hayes Trophy in succession, or so he thought... Eastwell crossed the line in third from Fisher, a recovering Mills, Romanek and Rory Smith. The 2020 Festival victor finished ahead of a huge group topped by Robert Wolk's Mygale in eighth, as 2.280 seconds split the Mygale from sixteenth place. Some 2.5 hours after the race finished, Esterson was penalised 4.5 seconds for the collision with Mills after a protest, which meant that Joey Foster won his fourth Walter Hayes Trophy. Esterson was reclassified in fifth behind Eastwell, Fisher and Mills but the American and his Ammonite Racing team lodged an appeal to be heard at the National Court in December. Following the rejection of Ammonite's appeal at the National Court, Foster's fourth victory was confirmed.
Robbie Watts (above) took the lead from George Line on the last lap to take an emotional opening Monoposto Tiedman Trophy race win after losing his previous car in a workshop fire, Gilles Cloet finished close behind in third. Cloet then sealed the Race Two win after Watts and Line spun in unison exiting Luffield.