Club column: Matt Beer
News of possible guest star drivers for the Walter Hayes Trophy may make headlines, but there are plenty of real stories among the racers taking part
“HOW MUCH THE HAYES MEANS TO FF1600 BELIEVERS WAS APPARENT AT SILVERSTONE”
Fernando Alonso did not contest the Walter Hayes Trophy. Neither did Mark Webber. Nor did Tony Stewart. Skier Lindsey Vonn skipped it too. Former prime minister David Cameron’s recently mooted return to the public eye did not take place at the wheel of a Souley Motorsport
Van Diemen RF89 at the Hayes.
WHT mastermind James Beckett’s playful social-media chasing of superstar guests is endearing (in fairness, he hasn’t really been tweeting #Hayesfever in the direction of @David_ Cameron). And the Hayes has a very strong track record for bringing intriguing names into – or back to – Formula
Ford 1600 over the years.
My only misgiving is that too much focus on potential superstar Hayes ringers may leave the general motorsport fan underwhelmed when an entry list appears without any.
There were no active Formula 1 drivers in the 2018 field at Silverstone. But the heats were won by a past National FF1600 and Formula Renault BARC champion, an electrician doing the event on a shoestring, a South African fresh from a USF2000 rookie season, last year’s Hayes victor, a 2018 National series frontrunner who’s made brilliant progress this year, and a double regional FF1600 champion who was once a BMW junior in single-seaters. That seems an ideal balance of people for 2018-spec FF1600.
A worry with guest drivers is that they may not ‘get’ the
Hayes and properly appreciate it or Fford. Close racing and cost-effectiveness aside, the main reason FF1600 is defying all pragmatic logic and thriving into a sixth decade in a world of not just slicks and wings (its original existential threats) but hybrids, electricity and automation is the fervent group of Ff1600 besotted drivers, team owners, event/championship organisers, car/engine builders and journalists over whose bodies you’d have to crawl if you wanted to eradicate it. FF1600 believers really believe in it, and how much its big events mean to them was viscerally apparent at Silverstone. “i’m still speechless, my eyes are stinging because I’ve got so much champagne in them, I’m absolutely soaked, but I’m having the best time of my life,” declared now-double winner Michael Moyers. His face showed he wasn’t exaggerating.
Moyers’s team boss Kevin Mills, who finds failure to win even more personally offensive than most team owners, assembled a six-car Spectrum superteam and – as KMR’S only full-time staffer – worked 16-hour days to prepare them. He definitely wasn’t the only Fford person doing those hours in the Festival/hayes fortnight. Mills suspects he lost money on the programme behind his team’s fourth Hayes win, but has no regrets because “it’s a good advert for the future” and the Wht “has a place in my heart”.
The heat-winning electrician was TM Racing’s Felix Fisher, a man who last won a race in 2012, last did a full season in ’15, was getting through the event on just one set of tyres and only had a half-day test in a Ray he’s driven barely a handful of times. Never slow, but very much in “turn-up-and-have-a-go” mode in recent years, Fisher raised his game and “felt like a frontrunner again”. His win was the first big underdog feel-good story of an event always full of them, and it wasn’t diminished by the broken distributor that stranded him on the semi-final restart grid.
It wasn’t just the delighted drivers showing how much the Hayes means. At the other end of the emotional scale, James Clarke stood lost and disconsolate in the middle of the Cliff Dempsey Racing garage after spinning to the back in the final. Having starred in a National one-off at Croft after switching to the multiple title-winning team, Clarke admitted he’d let representing CDR at such a big event and racing alongside the hand-picked future stars of the Team USA Scholarship overawe him and affect his driving. His tears showed how much he understood the value of Hayes success in the
FF1600 world; the speed and racecraft behind his semifinal podium showed why Dempsey rates him so highly and why he could be a future winner.
FF1600 is adjusting and resettling again right now, with regional grids shaky and Road to Indy/tcr-package question marks floating. But teams are bullish and signing up promising numbers of drivers for 2019 championships and next year’s Festival and Hayes. This year, 330 people have raced an FF1600 in the UK, and 99 of them competed last weekend in a Hayes that may have lacked the triple-figure entries and strength in depth of its greatest ever years but was still one of the best and most emotional weekends of the 2018 motorsport season.
The temporary added attention that guest stars bring certainly isn’t unwelcome (I’m particularly fascinated by the idea of NASCAR’S Stewart turning up), but it’s stories like Moyers’s, Fisher’s and Clarke’s that get me to Silverstone.