Team USA Scholarship winners Elliott Budzinski, William Ferguson and Thomas Schrage displayed promising speed during Saturday’s eight lap heat races as the prestigious annual Walter Hayes Trophy Formula Ford event kicked off at a damp, chilly Silverstone Circuit. All three drivers qualified comfortably for Sunday’s semi final round, highlighted by a pole position for Budzinski, from Ann Arbor, Mich., in the opening race and a third-place finish for Ferguson, from Pacifica, Calif., in Heat Two.
Schrage, from Bethel, Ohio, looked set for at least a podium finish until the combination of a major oil leak and a slight mistake dropped him to sixth in heat four. Schrage’s result completed a strong day for Andy Low’s Ammonite Motorsport team which also claimed a win for 2021 Walter Hayes Trophy winner Max Esterson, from New York, N.Y., and a runner-up finish for Shaun Rashid, from Atlanta, Ga.
The day began with qualifying for every heat race being held on a damp track following overnight rain which, despite there being no more precipitation until later in the morning, remained treacherously slippery. A total of 114 drivers and no fewer than 20 different Formula Ford chassis manufacturers took part in qualifying.
Budzinski dominated the opening session to claim pole position. A poor start cost him a couple of positions on the opening lap but he quickly moved up to second before an ambitious challenge on Rashid for the lead at Copse Corner resulted in a quick spin. A chastened Budzinski rejoined in ninth before rapidly working his way back to fifth at the checkered flag, reducing an earlier deficit of almost 5s to just 1.102s behind former South African Formula Ford champion Julian van der Watt (Mygale SJ01), who nipped past Rashid for the win on the final lap.
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“I’m a bit frustrated with myself for trying to force a move too early on and having to make a recovery drive,” admitted Budzinski. “That being said I know we’re very fast and are in a decent position to have a good Semi Final tomorrow.”
A disappointing run in qualifying saw Ferguson line up sixth for the start of heat two, although he took full advantage of a melee at the first corner between Esterson and Michael Eastwell (KMR Spectrum 011C) to vault into the lead. The Californian didn’t quite have the pace in tricky conditions to match Esterson, who romped through to claim a clear victory over two-time Walter Hayes Trophy winner Michael Moyers (Medina Sport), but third place still represented a fine effort on his first visit to Silverstone.
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“We knew there was a bit more pace than we showed in qualifying but it was a good way to start the weekend,” said Ferguson. “At the start, I had a great launch and then a scuffle at the front meant that I had the lead after Turn 1. The rest of the race I couldn’t quite match the front pace but third was a great result for the team as Max actually won the race. It was great to have two Ammonite drivers on the podium.”
After three-time WHT winner Joey Foster took his Firman RFR20 to the victory in heat three, Schrage lined up for the fourth and final heat on the second row of the grid as rain once again began to fall. Schrage lost four positions at the start but immediately began to regain the lost ground. He rose as high as fourth with two laps to go, despite his car exhibiting increasing oversteer as the race progressed. A podium finish seemed on the cards until a small error at Luffield saw him slide wide onto the edge of the gravel, costing him a couple of positions.
Schrage eventually crossed the line in sixth, and only once he reached parc ferme, did he realize the cause of his oversteer was a failed engine gasket which loosened the fuel pump and allowed copious amounts of oil to spill into the engine bay. The race was won on the road by Rory Smith, although a 5s penalty for exceeding track limits allowed Josh Fisher (Van Diemen RF99) to take the spoils.
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“My heat race was as close to a roller coaster as it can get,” recounted Schrage. “I had put myself in a great place on the grid but fell back to eighth early on and had plenty of work to do. I had shown the pace we have had all weekend, charging to third before realizing I had been leaking oil the whole time. Ultimately, I fell to a sixth-place finish. Tonight the Ammonite Motorsport crew is working hard to swap engines for tomorrow. Thanks to all the guys and girls at Ammonite Motorsport for their support! I also want to thank Jeremy Shaw and the Team USA Scholarship, program supporters and partners for all they have done for me and my racing career in the past few months.”
All three Team USA Scholarship drivers will now move on to a pair of 12-lap semi final races Sunday, starting at around 11 a.m. local time (6 a.m. ET time following the clock change overnight in the United States). The top 18 from each race will move on to the 15-lap grand final, which is slated to start at 3.15 p.m (10:15 a.m. ET), although the schedule is quite likely to be moved forward.
Live timing for all races will be available at https://www.tsl-timing.com/event/224456. There will also be a live stream of Sunday’s races at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRoKbZU1cxE.