At Silverstone this weekend, the eleventh running of the Walter Hayes Trophy provided some fabulous racing, especially in the second of the semi finals and in the final, with victory eventually going the way of Adrian Campfield, despite the fact that he started his heat from the back of the grid with a 10 second penalty. In what was only his first race meeting this year he fought a spirited battle against Wayne Boyd, recently returned from racing in the US Formula Ford 2000 championship, and in the early stages of the final, Josh Fisher, to lift the trophy by a margin of 0.279 seconds at the end of a titanic 15 laps.
As is always the case with this meeting, the entertainment got underway early on Saturday with six heats to see who would go straight into the semi-finals and who would have to go through the lottery that is the Last Chance Race, or worse the Progression Race run at stupid o’clock on Sunday morning, from which the top six would go into the Last Chance Race. Of them, only the top eight would make it into the semis so it was all to play for in the heats and it showed.
Interest in this heat was concentrated on the experienced Felix Fisher and the young gun, Neil Alberico, one of this year’s pair of Team USA Scholarship drivers sent over to learn race craft and show their talent off (in his case by running the entire British Formula Ford Championship season and the Formula Ford Festival). He certainly did that, getting the drop on Fisher at the start and leading all the way to the flag, by what became a massive amount. Behind the youngster Fisher was having all sorts of fun holding off Luke Cooper initially after running wide and losing 2nd before snatching it back again. The duo battling for 2nd became a trio when Abdul Ahmed (starting from the midfield) barged his way through to join in. He passed Cooper and then Fisher only to have Fisher come back at him as they passed one of the back markers on the penultimate lap.
This heat came down to a straight fight between Wayne Boyd, another driver with considerable experience in the category, and Robert Hall. Boyd got away in the lead with Stuart Gough slotting in to 3rd, though he couldn’t live with the two front runners for long. Behind him Oliver Bull, James Hammond and Ben Mitchell were locked in a three-way squabble that would run all the way to the flag, but it was the fight for the lead that was most absorbing. Boyd and Hall swapped places numerous times with Boyd only getting away in the closing stages when Gough put in a late charge to get onto Hall’s gearbox for long enough to distract him.
On paper this heat was the one with the least promise, but turned out to be highly entertaining. Chris Middlehurst eased into the lead at the first corner but from then on Johnny McMullan was right with him, with Ben Norton joining in thereafter. In a very smart move McMullan snatched the lead a lap later, while Norton got it wrong and spun out of contention. That left McMullan with just Middlehurst to deal with. Just was probably the wrong word, because Middlehurst was all over him, getting so close he was almost under the gearbox. The trouble was he couldn’t quite find a way past no matter what he tried, though it’s fair to say he never gave up all the way to the flag.
This heat contained the second of the Team USA Scholarship drivers, Trent Hindman, the teenager starting the race from 2nd and in the unenviable position of having Morgan Dempsey alongside and Gauis Ghinn just behind him. He was going to need to be awake to come home ahead of both of them. And so it proved as Dempsey got the drop at Copse to lead the youngster. A lap later and Hindman found a way past, coming up the inside at Luffield. Dempsey, to no one’s surprise, instantly fought back, towing Ghinn with him. Meanwhile Tom Bradshaw and Adrian Campfield, starting from the back with 10 second penalties apiece for not respecting the track limits in qualifying, were on the move, making the spectators wonder what might have been if they’d been able to start further forward. At the front Dempsey’s fightback had derailed when he spun off. Though he was able to hang onto 3rd, he was a long way back from Ghinn who had lost touch with Hindman by then. And that was how they finished, with Campfield having clawed his way through to 4th just ahead of Bradshaw.
This was an interesting one, containing as it did Jay Bridger, Michael Vergers, Cormac O’Neill, David Quinn and – a real blast from the past – Dave Coyne, stepping back into a Formula Ford car after what must be the best part of two decades. Back in the day Coyne was a force to be reckoned with and one of Formula Ford’s seriously hard men. There’s a lot more of him now (and much less of his hair) but could he still cut it? At the start it was O’Neill and Vergers who set the pace, with Bridger in 3rd, before he made a dive on Vergers to snatch 2nd. Vergers wasn’t having that and reclaimed the place at Luffield in one of his trademark moves. Meanwhile O’Neill was getting away, and Coyne was up to 6th. An outbreak of yellows at Copse slowed them all down for a short while, and allowed Bridger to hold steady no matter what Oliver White threw at him. Vergers, meanwhile, managed to go straight on at Becketts in his pursuit of O’Neill. Dropping back to 6th. He briefly lost the place to Coyne but came straight back, while O’Neill came home for the win, well ahead of Bridger and White.
At the end of the day in deepening gloom the final we saw a titanic battle between Josh Fisher and Ivor McCullough, both highly experienced and equally highly experienced drivers. This was going to be fun. It was McCullough who led but Fisher was soon past him. However, passing was one thing; leaving his opponent behind was another matter altogether and it seemed to be impossible. Behind the battling pair Roger Orgee and David Grady were scuffling furiously too, but all eyes were on the front. Fisher hung on for dear life but on lap 3 McCullough forced his way through at Luffield, only for Fisher to come back at him again a lap later, just as the red flags came out to put a temporary stop to the race while a couple of cars were recovered from dangerous places. The restart saw McCullough on pole (the officials having lined them up in the order they ended lap 4) from Fisher, but this time it was Fisher who got the drop and took the lead. McCullough’s efforts to get back ahead finally led to grief as he spun out of contention during the first lap, ending up clawing his way back into 5th, but effectively handing the win to Fisher while behind him a three way scrap for 2nd went the way of Neil Fowler in the end with Grady and Orgee running him close all the way to the flag.
On Sunday morning the fun started all over again with the Progression Race, which basically threw all the drivers who finished lower than 11th in the heats together to give them an opportunity to make it into the Last Chance Race. To do that, they needed to finish in the top 12, which meant 19 drivers would be going home 10 laps later. The start saw David Wild rocket off the line from 5th to challenge Scott Moakes for the lead, while further back Ben Norton was recovering from a dreadful heat and having started 23rd was a remarkable 8th by the time they reached Luffield for the first time! Moakes meanwhile dropped back, while Wild was left to fight with Joseph Walton. However the story of the race was becoming clear and it was Norton who was charging hard now. A lap later and he was 4th and it didn’t take him long to get on terms with the front running pair. A carefully chosen moment and he made his move, passing Walton, whose car took sick shortly afterwards, pulling into the pits steaming alarmingly with two laps left to run. Norton was the clear winner, followed closely by Jamie Stanley (another who started a long way back) and Jason Cooper, both of whom got the better of Wild by the end.
Last Chance Race
Lunchtime saw the Last Chance Race, with the odds a little better now. The top 30 would go through the semi finals, which meant it was all to play for but at least only six runners would fall by the wayside. Obviously the aim was less to survive than to haul yourself up the order, as even the winner wouldn’t exactly start close to the front.
The fastest starter was once again Ben Norton, while at the front John Ferguson and Ed Moore were battling tooth and nail, and were already starting to pull away from the pack. In the pack it was no surprise to see Norton already swathing through the pack like a knife through butter, while Austin Kimberley, another American, was up to 3rd. This was at the cost of Kevin Donnelly, who was plummeting down the order, as were Adrian Hamilton and Matthew Dean, both of them spinning at Lufield. To add to the fun, David Jermy pulled into the pits and out of the race early on. Simon Hadfield had also gone missing, and Rebecca Dean and Henry Campbell both went off on the first lap too. All of this nonsense enabled Norton to slip through to 10th, while Ferguson continued to lead Moore. Jamie Stanley, meanwhile, was also on the move and fought his way up to 14th. The leaders seemed to be slowing each other up though, as was proved when Michael Moyers caught and started trying to pass Moore, who resisted fiercely while behind them Norton loomed ever larger, setting a new fastest lap as he continued to carve his way up the order.
The top three kept right on scrapping, while Norton set about Kimberley for 4th, the American not having the answer. As the race moved towards its close he was briefly saved by waved yellow flags at Copse where Stephen Hagan had gone off but it was just a brief stay of execution. As soon as they were clear of the area Norton was past, while ahead of him, Moyers had another go at Moore but couldn’t quite make it stick. One more lap might have been enough to let Norton get on terms with the leaders, but as it was he ran out of time, although he was less than a second off Moyers at the end. Ferguson came out the winner, from Moore (who seemed surprised to be there). And so we would progress to the semi finals later in afternoon.
Semi Final 1
From the semi finals the top 18 would make it to the grand final so it was still all to play for. This turned out to be the better behaved of the two semis (or at least the calmer one), which doesn’t mean it was exactly sane. At the start Josh Fisher got away nicely from the front row, towing Trent Hindman with him. How the youngster was going to handle the opposition was anyone’s guess though, because there were some serious fierce drivers stacking up behind him, including Jonny McMullan who started to pile the pressure on immediately. However, he soon found he had to deal with Neil Fowler, the latter stealing 3rd from McMullan, at least temporarily. McMullan came back at him, before setting about Hindman once more. It didn’t stop the youngster having a look at Fisher, but Fisher wasn’t in the mood to co-operate. Meanwhile both Chris Middlehurst and Adrian Campfield were on the move as well, Middlehurst leapfrogging Fowler to go 4th. The beneficiary in all of this, especially as McMullan increased the pressure on Hindman, was Fisher, who started to pull away, putting as much distance between himself and the mob in his mirrors as he could.
Meanwhile, Campfield had hacked past Middlehurst and was 4th which meant he was now all over Hindman, the latter having lost out to McMullan. With McMullan now desperately looking for a way past Fisher, Hindman had no answer to Campfield, though he refused to let him get away and was clearly looking for a way past.
Back in the pack Ivor McCullough was starting to edge through to a useful position, and was not 8th, but the attention of most was still riveted to Fisher, as McMullan got the better of him and Campfield set about him too. For a moment it looked as if McMullan might start to pull away but Fisher wasn’t done yet, and he snatched the lead back again, finally managing to break away as the race wore on. Meanwhile Hindman was trying all sorts to get back on terms with Campfield, but he couldn’t do it. Campfield edged away, getting on terms with McMullan and finally finding a way past to claim 2nd. Further back, McCullough went for 6th, trying to demote Tom Bradshaw only to spin at Luffield yet again once he’d claimed the place. By the time he recovered he was back in 11th. Ironically Bradshaw went missing as a result, thus ending what had been a good recovery run with two laps to go.
Fisher held off Campfield for what remained of the race, the two coming home ahead of McMullan and Hindman, with David Grady 5th from Neil Fowler, John Ferguson, Morgan Dempsey, Adam Higgins and McCullough.
Semi Final 2
If the first of the semi finals was exciting it was as nothing compared to the barnstorming race that semi final 2 turned out to be. At the start Wayne Boyd got away into the lead, just ahead of Cormac O’Neill, though the two of them were two abreast once they reached Copse. At Becketts, however, it all went pear-shaped, and as they discovered the oil already laid down on the track, they both ran wide, letting Neil Alberico through into the lead. At Luffield there was more oil and the result was a handful of cars scattered over the scenery, and a red flag. Oliver Bull, Ed Moore, Steve Chapman, Klaus Dieter-Hackel, David Quinn and Stephen Gibbins were all off, and several of the cars were stranded on the racing line. No one was hurt, though several were embarrassed, and all of them were out of the race. That let a couple of the reserves in and eventually the race restarted to be run over the full distance. It was to be hoped everyone would have enough fuel in to run an extra lap or two.
At the restart O’Neill led into Copse from Boyd, while Alberico fell back into Felix Fisher’s clutches, and it didn’t take long before the second of the Fisher brothers was through for 3rd. Meanwhile Boyd passed O’Neill, but then had to mount a spirited defence of his position. Back in 4th, Alberico had lost another place, with Ahmed Abdul also coming past, while back in the pack Douglas Crosbie and Emmet Glynn had clashed, leaving bodywork all over the track. A mad dash by a pack of burly marshals saw the wreckage cleared away, to a resounding round of applause from the enthusiastic crowd, but it was enough to allow Boyd back into the lead while O’Neill ran over some of the bits. Elsewhere Alberico was having a pretty tough time of it, and was locked in a battle that was spreading through the pack now. Rob Hall was on his gearbox, and the battle for the lead was intensifying by the minute with six cars now in contention. A further reshuffle saw Ahmed up to 3rd, while Fisher was 2nd and O’Neill dropped back, allowing Boyd to break away for a while, and Noel Dunne also caught them up, setting the fastest lap of the race as he did so. Alberico was going backwards and Hall ran wide, but then came back for 2nd, passing Fisher in the melee. Ahmed was warned about not respecting track limits and eventually fell back down the order to 6th, which was a popular position, occupied by Alberico briefly, then Stuart Gough (until he fell off), and Dunne, before the USA-based Indian ended up there.
Meanwhile, at the sharp end, Boyd was breaking away finally, while Alberico fought his way back to 4th, just behind Fisher, with Hall finishing 2nd, the pack no longer on Boyd’s gearbox, much to the Northern Irishman’s relief. He’d stopped looking in his mirrors by that point, alarmed by what he was seeing. It’s fair to say that Boyd got a standing ovation when he came round on his slowing down lap, but the applause also went to the next half dozen drivers who had done so much to entertain the frozen but happy crowds.
Anticipation was high for the Grand Final with Wayne Boyd and Josh Fisher occupying the front row and looking set to have a major battle on their hands even if none of the other strong competitors managed to get involved. At the start Fisher got ahead but was forced to defend himself from Boyd, while Adrian Campfield dived into 3rd and started to look very menacing. Boyd dived back ahead at Copse, and we were set for an epic battle over 15 laps of Silverstone. With a slippery surface flag being waved at Copse, and Campfield breathing down Fisher’s neck, Boyd tried to open a gap. Neil Alberico was back in 7th, just ahead of Trent Hindman, the Americans having started on the same row. Meanwhile, Campfield came through on Fisher, only for Fisher to take it straight back again in a bravado move. Behind them, Rob Hall was now 4th from Jonny McMullan, Felix Fisher and Noel Dunne. The odds on Alberico or Hindman getting past any of them weren’t promising, but they were trying their hardest, even if they weren’t reaping the rewards. And in the case of Alberico it all went wrong when Abdul Ahmed spun off, damaging the American’s car as he did so. Alberico limped round into retirement leaving Hindman to uphold Team USA’s honour.
Meanwhile, Boyd hung onto the lead but Campfield was looming ever larger in his mirrors, and he was clearly the faster of the two, making the most of new tyres. He started to reel Boyd in, leaving Fisher and Hall to squabble over 3rd, just as Dunne vanished from the pack and Ivor McCullough joined in the mob by barging his way through to 6th.
A lap later and Campfield went for the lead at Copse, getting through but losing out again at Becketts. At Copse a lap later Campfield tried to go round the outside at Copse, but Boyd pushed him ever wider to hang onto his lead a little longer. Again Campfield got ahead and again Boyd came back at him and moved back into the lead, this time squeezing his opponent close to the pitwall as he tried to dissuade further attacks. Fisher, meanwhile, was given some breathing space as Hall dropped back somewhat. That was bad news for Campfield and Boyd because it enabled Fisher to catch back up to them, though they seemed to be too busy swapping places to notice anything going on behind them. The next time Boyd had to reclaim the lead, Fisher tried to go with him, though he couldn’t quite make it stick, having to settle back into 3rd. All of this was slowing them down and Hall was regaining lost ground, and was pulling McMullan along with him, which meant it was getting very tense, especially as McCullough nipped through for 5th, and then 3rd only to spin off yet again on the run into Luffield – quite why was hard to say but he just didn’t seem able to help himself.
That let Campfield and Boyd again break away from the chasing pack and the fight concentrated down to the two of them, Boyd trying everything he could think of to get the lead back, but just never quite managing it. Fisher came home 3rd from Hall, McMullan, Hindman, Oliver White, Ben Norton a recovering McCullough and David Grady in what was a terrific meeting. Afterwards everyone seemed to be thoroughly happy with their races, and are no doubt writing this meeting into their diaries for 2012 as we write this.