Englishman Rory Smith claimed his second Formula Ford Festival title for B-M Racing, narrowly ahead of teammate Jamie Sharp and Chris Middlehurst after a typically hard-fought race which also featured two-time winner Niall Murray, who took the lead on two different occasions before cruelly suffering an engine problem with just three laps remaining.
The day dawned in an entirely different fashion to the majority of the preceding week, with bright sunshine greeting the teams and drivers as they assembled at the historic Brands Hatch Circuit for Finals Day.
First order of the day was a pair of Semi Final races, the first of which saw Houk and Sullivan line up fourth and sixth on the grid respectively.
After the first two attempts at a start were aborted for various reasons, the race was shortened from 14 laps to nine. Unfortunately, not long after the green lights finally flickered on, Houk understeered through the gravel at Clearways and fell back to 13th on the opening lap. Sullivan, meanwhile, profited to run fifth, where he remained until the checkered flag. After a Safety Car period following an incident farther down the order, Houk recovered to finish 10th to ensure both young Americans qualified comfortably for the Grand Final later in the afternoon.
The 30 final protagonists treated an appreciative crowd, still basking in glorious sunshine, to one of the most memorable races in the event’s storied history. Smith, who started from the pole, traded places with Murray several times, including a spectacular move by Murray around the outside at the notorious Paddock Hill Bend, before misfortune struck.
A little way in arrears, Sullivan and Houk also were involved in fierce battles of their own. Sullivan maintained his position at the start and then scrapped for virtually the entirety of the race with British Formula Ford regulars Tom Nippers and Brandon McCaughan. Sullivan fought his way past Nippers on Lap Nine, but was unable to shake off McCaughan, who slipped through into eighth with just three laps remaining.
“What a race,” exclaimed Sullivan. “My first Formula Ford Festival is in the books, and I have to say that it was the most intense race I have ever taken part in. Coming from where we were on the test days, a ninth-place finish is phenomenal. After a solid getaway using an A-sharp engine note this time(!), I managed to hold onto my 10th place starting position, and after the first few laps, I finally found my groove and made a move for ninth. Unfortunately, in doing so, I lost the draft in front of me.
“I fought very hard for 15 laps and unfortunately lost ninth the place with three laps to go and ran out of laps to try and pass back. I’m super grateful for all the help the team has given me to bring me up to speed and for giving me such a great car here at the festival. I’d like to thank Jeremy Shaw, all of our Team USA partners and supporters, all of the Ammonite Team, and all of my family for their support and belief in me. I can’t wait for what the Walter Hayes Trophy has in store for us in just two weeks’ time.”
Houk was similarly busy in a tussle with the two Team Canada Scholarship cars of Logan Pacza and Alex Berg, who had started 11th and 13th, Aiken, who started 15th, and David MacArthur. Pacza edged Berg in a photo-finish for 12th, with Houk hot on their heels after sneaking ahead of Aiken on the final lap.
Images courtesy of Gary Hawkins Photography.UULL