BRIGSTOCK, England – After a rain soaked week the 49th running of the Formula Ford Festival is complete, and what an experience it was. Jackson and I arrived at Brands Hatch Tuesday night for the beginning of our testing program which spanned three days. It was an amazing feeling for both of us, arriving at the legendary circuit as we reminisced about the first time we met while karting at a WKA event in 2016. To think that four years later we would be teammates for the Team USA Scholarship would only be something of our wildest dreams, but there we were at the gates of Brands Hatch for the biggest race of our lives.
Initially when Jackson came over for the scholarship I was not sure how we would get along because we hadn’t spoken since the karting race four years prior. I remembered getting along well but people change over time and I didn’t know what to expect. My worries were quickly extinguished during Jackson’s first night in Brigstock when he turned the TV on directly to the old Top Gear and was just as amused as myself about Cliff’s race car USB sticks. It was at that moment I knew we would get along just fine. Since then we have had some great moments together here in the U.K., but most importantly we were ready to tackle the weekend.
Our first day on track was marked by some torrential rain which made for lots of fun but also for some very soaked race gear. In fact I think my helmet and gloves are still drying out from the weekend! Thursday and Friday did not provide much better conditions – a few dry sessions but unsurprisingly some more damp running allowed us to gain valuable experience which would come very handy later in the week.
Along with testing came the first time Jackson and I were able to break out our brand new Sparco Team USA Scholarship race suits and Styled Aesthetic teamwear. Not only did we get the honor of representing our country but we would look great while doing it.
After our three days of testing it was safe to say Jackson and myself were pretty tired from the early mornings and late nights at the track. Luckily for us we were able to stay at the Mercure right at Brands Hatch which made our morning commutes much easier. We were also very thankful for the Mecure’s spa facility which housed a hot tub, sauna and steam room. We couldn’t resist giving it a go. I can proudly say Jackson and I survived the sauna which was over 60 degrees Celsius – but not for very long since we are both more used to the colder temperatures of Midwestern America.
As the first race day dawned it looked like the weather had improved dramatically – at least until halfway through my qualifying session. That was until the rain decided to come back. Before coming to the U.K. I could only imagine what conditions I would be facing but I did not predict the on and off rain showers which lasted for the duration of this year’s Festival. At some points the sun was shining brightly, but that never lasted for long.
For my Heat race, full wet conditions provided for some great on-track action. It was an eye-opening experience to race against some of the best wet weather drivers. My heat was very tough since it was made up of multiple very experienced drivers such as Luke Cooper, Rory Smith (who ended up winning this year’s Festival), Jordan Dempsey (last year’s Walter Hayes Trophy winner) and Chris Middlehurst. It may have only been a Heat but it definitely felt more like a National Championship race! Nonetheless I enjoyed the experience and finished fourth with the fastest lap of the race, which left me with a big smile on my face.
Later that night Jackson and I attempted to film a vlog at the top of Paddock Hill Bend to recap our day. It did not go to plan – again due to the British weather. Halfway through filming our little video clip in the cold and wet, I was nearly blown away by strong winds, giving Jackson and myself a big laugh before we wisely ran back to shelter.
Sunday provided some more interesting conditions as our Semi Final was on a completely soaked track but with the sun shining brightly. Unfortunately, I decided to use a yellow visor which made life a little difficult. Going into Druids and Surtees corners I could barely make out the track due to the bright glare of the sun. Despite the challenging circumstances I had a very entertaining race where I finished third after another battle with Dempsey.
As the Grand Final approached my nerves heightened. The time had come for the big one. I had been looking forward to the Formula Ford Festival for the longest of times and also realized the amount of history behind the event. Legendary names such as Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Eddie Irvine had run the Festival and now it was my turn. Dreaming of what could unfold only made my mind run rampant, but Cliff Dempsey made sure I remained calm.
The track was still wet from all the rain but the sun was out again, so it was slowly beginning to dry, which led to many last-minute changes for everyone on the grid. The race was a very tricky one but thankfully due to our testing earlier in the week I had a better understanding of what to expect. After some more overtakes, using one of my favorite moves, the switch back into Druids corner, I found myself fourth and eventually in a podium position. We were extremely close to finishing on the podium but it just was not meant to be after a robust dive-bomb from a competitor. In the end I finished fifth, slightly disappointed but holding my head high with plenty to be proud of. It was an awesome experience and a pleasure to be mixing it up with some very talented drivers. It was racing at it’s best. Loads of wheel to wheel action and plenty of hard battles. Nothing more I could ask for in an event. Now the focus has shifted and after a two-day rest Jackson and I will be back at it again for the prestigious Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone. I can’t wait to do it all again this week. Until next time. – Bryce