Thursday November 23, 2017
The Walter Hayes Trophy is arguably the highlight of the Formula Ford season! Historic, classic and modern cars all come together for a knockout format finale at Silverstone in early November. Much like the Formula Ford Festival, which has been running since the advent of Formula Ford in 1967, the Walter Hayes attracts drivers from around the globe and features frantic competition.
Having competed in the event several times before in more modern machinery, this year I entered the Merlyn Mk20, which I’ve kindly been lent by owner Marcus Pye. Finally back together after an engine rebuild, it was great to get back on track in the 1972 machine. Without the luxury of testing before the meeting, it was straight into a wet qualifying. The older, softer Merlyn performed fantastically in the slippery conditions and I qualified 7th out of 20 for Heat 5. My qualifying time of 1:04.1 proved fastest of all the pre ’82 cars at the event and equalled pole for the separate ‘Historic’ final which was to be held on the Sunday afternoon.
With the grid already set for the historic final, I elected to continue through the knockout format rather than sit out and wait. Drying conditions for the heat race on Saturday afternoon meant a few corners were grip-less while others were completely dry. I ran close with the modern cars after a great start, and battled with a couple including current National Champion and Works Firman driver Luke Williams, before beating them to the chequered flag! My 7th place finish, just 1.9 seconds behind the Heat winner and eventual Grand Final winner, meant I progressed straight through to Semi Final 2 where I lined up on the 10th row.
Sunday saw bright sunshine and a dry track for the feature races. In my Semi Final, I made a strong start, battling with the modern cars that surrounded me. As the order settled down I was right on the gearbox of the modern Van Diemen in front, but not quite able to make my way past. We caught and passed the two historic cars who had finished higher in their heats, and in the process set the lap record for historic cars on the Silverstone National circuit, a 1:03.6. I finished in 21st position, and first of the pre ’82 historic cars.
For the Historic Final in the afternoon, I lined up on pole position ahead of the 12 lap race. A reasonable start saw me beaten into the first corner by a fast-starting Richard Tarling from 2nd on the grid. He led through Maggots and Beckets onto the back straight where I got into his slipstream and retook the lead into the Brooklands complex. Several frantic laps followed with a five car, slipstreaming battle for the lead! At seemingly every moment the lead changed, with each of the five cars in contention for victory. Heading onto the last lap I was in the lead, and coming down to Brooklands for the final time Richard Tarling pulled alongside on the outside. We both braked as late as we dared, and I nosed ahead on the inside of the corner. However he managed to keep in close proximity around the outside, and just got to the inside of the following 180 degree right hander, Luffield, that leads onto the start/finish straight. Richard got back in front, and on the exit Michael Mallock edged alongside too, benefitting from Richards slipstream ahead and just pulling ahead to take 2nd place. I ended up 3rd after what has to be one of the closest races I’ve had to date, yet all clean driving with respect for each other and the cars – fantastic.
So into the winter off-season we go, and I for one can’t wait for next year and the new racing season! Thanks to Lancaster Insurance and Reis Motorsport Insurance for all their support during 2017!