MOYERS DOUBLES UP
WALTER HAYES TROPHY SHOWDOWN
Until halfway through the 2018 Walter Hayes Trophy final, ’17 winner Michael Moyers looked like a man with serenity to spare. A dominant heat poleman and winner on Saturday, a relatively comfortable semi-final winner once Kevin Mills Racing team-mate Michael Eastwell had misfired his way backwards, and then swiftly past yet another KMR Spectrum teammate – Julian van der Watt – to lead the final from second on the grid.
The potential mishap of a too-dry setup for the quite-wet track was averted with a last-gasp change completed just as the whistle blew in the assembly area. Moyers had the lead and the pace. Back to back wins looked predestined.
Then coming into a fiendishly slippery Brooklands just before half-distance, Moyers had his only blip of the weekend.
“I screwed up. I probably braked five feet too late. Literally just too late,” he said. “The fronts locked and I had a bit of a wobble and I knew I had to go straight on. And my heart just sank.”
Even as Moyers was slithering over the run-off area, good news for him was unfolding behind. Jordan Dempsey, another member of Kevin Mills’ WHT superteam, had been a huge threat early on – quickly recovering from a poor start to hack through into second by the end of the first lap and then hounding Moyers. Dempsey’s overtaking ambitions were only stymied by yellows at the complex after team-mate Roger Orgee was sent spinning into Team USA Scholarship winner Jake Craig’s Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray. Once that was cleared with a safety car, two thirds of the race remained and Dempsey’s “‘yes, I can have a go at him now!’” intentions were made very clear with a big look down the inside at Brooklands.
But next time around, Dempsey was attacked for second by a charging Joey Foster just as Moyers went off in front of them.
“He [Foster] just understeered into me and biffed me off,” said Dempsey. “But it’s the Walter Hayes final, I can excuse it.”
With Dempsey following Moyers across the run-off, and others losing momentum behind the incident, Moyers rejoined the track to a pleasant surprise: rather than having tumbled down into the midfield, “it was just Joey in front of me”.
Moyers also had time to think “‘where’s Joey come from? That’s typical Joey...’” when he remembered the new leader had started way down in 11th, before quickly deciding he had to immediately attack to avoid getting drawn into a battle that would allow the pack to swamp them.
Foster thought he had Moyers covered “for a fraction of a second” but “knew I had a fight on my hands” when he saw how much the Spectrum gained on him through Copse.
Onto the back straight, Foster thought “he’s not going to go for it straight away, surely?” but that was exactly what Moyers did – diving to the inside at Brooklands and reclaiming first place precisely where he had lost it just one lap earlier.
Still learning about the quick but setup-sensitive Firman he has recently taken on, Foster’s pace would fade as the race went on. He also fell down the order when taken wide at Brooklands by Festival winner Josh Smith, who had charged through from ninth while grappling with tricky brake bias on his Oldfield Van Diemen that led to the brush with Foster and an eventual exit backwards into the Copse gravel.
Foster and Smith going off-course together opened the door for Matt Cowley to appear in second. Back from America to lead the charge of the Dolan team that had dominated the National Championship with the absent Niall Murray, Cowley had already made epic progress from the Last Chance race and was benefiting from a Van Diemen with a dry-leaning set-up on an improving track.
But Moyers had things in hand. Giving himself “take a deep breath every lap, keep calm, I’ve got it under control” instructions in the cockpit, he inched into a small advantage as Cowley found himself very busy with the recovering Dempsey.
“I was so close to the dream weekend,” said Cowley, having fallen 0.978 seconds shy of victory. “But considering we weren’t even in the semi-finals at the start of today to be battling for the lead in the final and coming second was great.”
Third-placed Dempsey was left “a bit annoyed” as he – rightly – felt he had the pace to win, but readily conceded that Moyers had been “top class all weekend”.
While Mills’s crew celebrated a fourth WHT win in eight years, it was quiet next door at Cliff Dempsey Racing – so often KMR’S main rival at this event. With Craig taken out, Nico Gruber retiring with damage, and the very rapid James Clarke a disconsolate last after spinning, CDR’S best finisher was Team USA’S Colin Mullan in 12th.
Two of the three drivers with the best victory shots had scooted straight on at Brooklands on lap one – final polesitter van der Watt and the ever-combative Oliver White. Van der Watt’s weekend eventually ended in the pits straight gravel after a tap on the rear through Woodcote, but the South African was still ecstatic about his performance. Promising but low-key on his UK FF1600 debut in last year’s Festival, van der Watt returned emboldened from a rookie season in USF2000 and shone. White’s Souley Motorsport Medina was in the thick of things up front all weekend but was beached at Luffield after a collision with Luke Cooper.
Foster made it back to fourth ahead of Cowley’s Dolan team-mate Chris Middlehurst and Cooper – who was stymied during the whole event by an engine generously loaned by Swift Cooper team-mate Alan Slater, but originally prepared for recent racing returnee Slater’s Historic Nike and not up to challenging for a WHT win.
Scottish champion Ross Martin, last year’s WHT runner-up Josh Fisher, Eastwell and lead B-M driver Tom Mcarthur completed the top 10. Mcarthur had starred all weekend and spent the early laps as Moyers and Dempsey’s main chaser before “a rush of blood to the head” after losing ground at the safety car restart sent him wide and down the order. He also had a slowing-down lap brush with Middlehurst that was investigated by officials, but over which no action was taken.
Fisher was “over the moon” with eighth given that he had started the day near the back of the Progression race grid, but Eastwell couldn’t decide how he felt about ninth. That was understandable, his team boss Mills reckoning Eastwell was potentially the fastest of all his drivers in the Sunday afternoon conditions had he been able to start up front.
If you were going to pick possible heat winners before the weekend, Felix Fisher, Julian van der Watt and Rory Smith were perhaps not at the top of the list. But all three triumphed as the Saturday races produced some surprising results.
Fisher did benefit from a huge slice of luck to win heat two in his TM Racing Ray. Jordan Dempsey and Matt Cowley had a close battle for the lead, with Dempsey holding the advantage into lap seven of the eight. But then into Brooklands the pair collided and spun.
Dempsey described Cowley’s move as “stupid”, saying: “Matt just went for a gap that wasn’t there. An experienced driver would know that it’s going to close. I don’t know what he was thinking.”
Cowley countered: “I darted right and then back on the inside and I think he thought I was on the outside still and didn’t leave me enough room.”
Cowley and Dempsey weren’t the only ones in the wars, as Sebastian Job spun his B-M Van Diemen at Becketts on the opening lap while Tom Brown rolled his Van Diemen RF79 ( see news) on the final tour at the same corner after clashing with Paul Mason’s Swift SC94.
Heat three didn’t look the most exciting on paper, with it seemingly lacking major contenders, but it ended up being one of the most entertaining. South African van der Watt, Tom Mcarthur, Scottish champion Ross Martin and Carter Williams (Ray) were close throughout, with van der Watt eventually prevailing after Martin led initially.
“What a heat!” enthused Martin. “That was the first proper race I’ve had since I raced here last year. In Scotland you don’t get races like that.”
Smith also had to work hard for his win in heat five, just keeping Team USA driver Jake Craig and three-time Hayes winner Joey Foster at bay.
There was another slightly surprising victor in the final heat too. Festival winner Josh Smith was on a charge on the opening lap, passing Nico Gruber around the outside of Copse and Ollie White at Brooklands. But his lead only lasted until lap three when a missed gear on the pit straight cost him dear and allowed Roger Orgee, who has had little competitive action this year, through to win narrowly from White.
A less unexpected winner was Chris Middlehurst in the opening heat. Michael Eastwell led the early stages but – just two weeks after his Festival heartbreak – a missed gear on lap four damaged his engine and allowed Middlehurst to get ahead, although the Team Dolan racer reckoned he had the pace to win anyway.
But in a worse position was Josh Fisher. Having already qualified at the back after an oil leak in qualifying, he then spun off at Becketts on the final lap having just passed the ailing Eastwell.
The most predictable heat winner of them all, however, came in the fourth contest as last year’s victor Michael Moyers was dominant, with Ivor Mccullough’s Van Diemen snatching second from Stuart Gough’s Oldfield-run machine with two laps remaining.
While Moyers was looking ominously untroubled, Josh Fisher, Job and Cowley all had plenty to do to reach the final.