Features Walter Hayes Trophy

Walter Hayes Trophy 2017 – our picks

At the FF1600 Website, you won’t catch us picking a favourite out of the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy – we’re just glad our favourite type of motor racing can support two such spine-tingling events, both with their own unique character and tensions.

But we don’t mind making a few predictions, and here are the thoughts of our team ahead of the WHT – which we’ll be covering as it happens through the weekend.

Who’s going to win?

MATT KEW (AutoClassics staff writer): Tipping Joey Foster as favourite to take Walter Hayes spoils is hardly a bold call. But there’s good reason to play it safe – he is the form driver heading into the weekend.

Foster’s recent Festival triumph, decided by an overtake around the outside of Neil Maclennan through Paddock Hill Bend, will live long in the memory. And that follows on from his splendid Britcover National Formula Ford 1600 with Avon Tyres outing at Anglesey where he took a win and brace of second places. All things considered, it’s hard to look past Foster as the eventual victor – for the fourth time but first in over a decade.

GRAHAM KEILLOH (Autosport Academy member): The safest bet is Festival winner Joey Foster. The genial Cornishman radiated assurance in and out the car at Brands, with his pace allied to his experience perfect for the knockout format.

But what about the man who chased him down in the Festival final’s laps: Keith Donegan? He simply got stronger as the weekend went on, and may have won the whole thing with another lap in the final, or a better starting slot. As he said himself, “we’re not doing too bad for a ‘Dad and lad’ team are we?”

RACHEL HARRIS-GARDINER (Autosport Academy member): Keith Donegan announced himself on the FF1600 scene at Kirkistown this year, chasing Neil Maclennan ridiculously hard and finishing second, then did the same at Donington Park. Did the Castle Combe crash that interrupted the former Ginetta Junior’s comeback season slow him down? Another second place on his return at Anglesey and then coming within 0.1s of beating Foster to Festival victory proves the answer is ‘no’.

In the Historic element, watch Ben Mitchell. His Merlyn Mk20 has been the car to beat in this year’s HSCC Historic Formula Ford championship; six of the top 10 drivers used one. Mitchell is racing against his father, Westie, and will be hoping to get back into his single-seater groove, having spent most of the year driving an Elva in the FIA Historic Sportscar Championship. His brother Sam was joint fourth in Historic FFord in this car.

MATT BEER (Autosport deputy editor): Kevin Mills takes winning the Walter Hayes very seriously. Actually, Mills takes winning every race he fields an FF1600 in very seriously. He’s assembled an all-star line-up in his Spectrums as he tries to end a few years without a WHT triumph: regular event star Michael Moyers, double Combe champion Roger Orgee, rapid rookie Michael Eastwell, rising Irish star Jordan Dempsey and FF1600 legend Stuart Gough. Even by the standards of superteams put together for the WHT, that’s an awesome line-up. I’m going to chicken out of putting my money on just one of them as the likely winner, though.

Keeping an eye out – Ross Martin is looking to bounce back from an unfortunate end to his Festival weekend.

Who’s an underdog to watch?

GK: I may be slightly stretching the definition of an underdog here, but Ross Martin is a man to keep an eye on. The Scottish champion likely would have been in the thick of the fight for victory at the Festival but for not getting a gear when trying to overtake an opponent in the semi-final, which meant a tonne of places lost from running through the gravel. From this his weekend couldn’t recover. He’s quick, confident and is at a professional outfit at Graham Brunton Racing.

MK: The Walter Hayes will only be Roger Orgee’s second visit to Silverstone since swapping his double Combe title winning Van Diemen for a Ray. But if it’s comparable to his first, made in National FF1600 as a guest earlier this year, then podiums are a real possibility. He has the guile and the skill to challenge any of the frontrunners.

MB: I’m possibly asking a lot of someone who hasn’t raced in a couple of years and is in an unfamiliar Wayne Poole Racing Reynard 89FF, but I think journalist, multiple Champion of Brands race-winner and sometime Combe frontrunner Josh Barnett might be fun to watch. He certainly was when he did this event in a Van Diemen RF80 two years ago. Or maybe I’m just liking the idea of an old FF1600.co.uk writer doing well in the new FF1600 Website’s second event.

George McDonald’s Swift looks rather less crumpled than at this time last year.

What would be a heart-warming result?

MB: It’s possible I accidentally picked heart-warming results in the other two categories too, or my heart’s just too easily warmed. I’m going to go with Luke Cooper. As likeable as he is quick, he’s had a breakthrough season in National and was already one of the UK’s top FF1600 talents even before he and Swift Cooper pushed Luke Williams and Neil Maclennan so hard this season. Cooper’s delight at dominating the Anglesey opener was infectious. I can only imagine how wide his grin would get if he became a WHT winner.

MK: This time last year George McDonald’s Swift more closely resembled a crumpled beer can rather than a Formula Ford racer following an enormous crash at Donington Park. To get back on the grid with a pristine car and putting aside any loss of confidence is a real achievement. It’s fair to say he is a rank outsider for the Walter Hayes, but a clean and solid showing will hopefully be all the reward he needs after so many hours spent in the workshop.

LUKE BARRY (Autosport Academy member): Jamie Thorburn went through the mill at the Formula Ford Festival. A nasty incident involving Jordan Dempsey ruined a positive weekend, and left Cliff Dempsey Racing with it all to do to get him back out for the Last Chance race. A strong charge back up the field followed, only for another altercation to leave him stuck on the grass. The Scot is due a bit of luck. A superb debut campaign in National FF1600 proved he has the pace to spring a surprise. After the events of Brands, a strong result at Silverstone would be a great comeback.

GK: What would you say if asked what makes Formula Ford events such as the Walter Hayes Trophy special? Perhaps the friendliness; the quality of the competitors; the variety of the grids which reflects the common technical thread of FFord history. And few competitors can encapsulate all these quite like perma-smiling Irishman Mark Armstrong in his 37-year-old Van Diemen RF80. At the Festival he gave those in newer machines plenty to think about, and missed out on qualifying for the final by a mere half second. It’d be great to see him have another strong showing.

RHG: Ian Pearson has been really quick in the past in Formula Ford 2000 and Formula Renault, scooping up three BARC FRenault titles between 2005 and ’07. His Lotus 61 is one of the oldest cars on the WHT grid. Built in 1969, it’s nearly as old as the category itself. It was inspired by the turbine car Lotus built for Indianapolis with its purposeful wedge-shaped styling. A good finish for Pearson and this car is a slightly tall order, but the WHT always springs a few surprises.

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