Originally written in 2017
The 2017 Walter Hayes Trophy possibly marked the end of one of the most intense rivalries ever seen in Formula Ford 1600.
Michael Moyers, of Kevin Mills Racing, and Josh Fisher, of Wayne Poole Racing, have been battling it out in the Castle Combe championship since 2015, and this season their rivalry went toxic. Next year both are set to move on, with the WHT being their last definitive encounter for the time being.
In the WHT they weren’t on track together until the final, which resulted in one of their most controversial battles yet and an emotional first victory for Moyers and a frustrating second place for Fisher, who beat Moyers to the Combe title this year.
What made this 0.256-second defeat particularly difficult to bear for Fisher was the way in which it happened, with Fisher alleging the pass for the lead took place while yellow flags were being waved, which resulted in Fisher and his team launching an appeal against Moyers’ supposed illegal overtake immediately after the finish.
Fisher almost addressed his quarrels in a different way after he got out of the car, but some quick thinking team members cooled him down and prevented anything regrettable from occurring.
For Moyers, the emotions were just as strong, and he broke into tears before making it to the podium. Sat on the top step, head in hands, it wasn’t long before father Pete, best known for preparing the cars used at Silverstone’s racing school, came along to comfort his son, making a quick victory yelp to the crowd while he was it.
On the second step stood Fisher, straight faced and unresponsive to the scene beside him until Moyers’ inability to take hold of the Walter Hayes Trophy itself through his tears prompted Fisher to quip “I’ll have it!”.
Their rivalry in the eight-round Combe championship came to a head in August, when the pair clashed on track at successive meetings, with the second leading to both retiring from the series’ penultimate round. Moyers had already lodged an “entirely unrelated” protest against Fisher’s engine, and after their second clash the same was done by Fisher, this time against Moyers’ Spectrum chassis.
Both proved to be legal, but the distrust didn’t end there, with Fisher starting the season finale from the rear of the grid under the conviction that Moyers’ Kevin Mills Racing team-mates would push him off the road if he was among them. He duly avoided any collisions and won the championship, with Moyers cruelly losing second in the standings after receiving a controversial track limits penalty; the third successive year he had lost out on the title.
The failure to turn strong results into the ultimate prize is an attribute both had shared in the WHT, with Moyers having led the final three times without winning it, and Fisher finishing on the podium four times prior to this year.
aaWith six heats it meant there were six qualifying sessions for the Walter Hayes Trophy, and with a total washout on the Saturday morning, six opportunities to make mistakes.
aaThe very first man on track, and one of the least experienced, was Matt Round-Garrido, who guided his B-M Racing Medina through the spray to initially hold pole for the first heat.
aaAs the water was displaced the other drivers started to take risks, and he was shuffled down to third by Don Hardman Racing’s Jake Byrne and Team Dolan’s James Roe Jr.
aaThe second session failed to include rain, but the track was still wet, and 2017 Scottish FF1600 champion Ross Martin was fastest from DBA driver Cameron Jackson, makig his first ever appearance in contemporary FFord machinery.
aaIn the first few moments of the session, a misunderstanding resulted in Luke Cooper and Sebastian Melrose colliding in the assembly area. The damage to Cooper’s suspension required a collaborative effort from his own Swift Cooper team and garage-mate WPR to get his Swifct SC16 back on track, and we was still able to qualify eighth.
aaThe track got drier, but no easier to drive, in the subsequent sessions, as the Silverstone National surface became fiendishly greasy.
aaThree-time Trophy winner Joey Foster topped the third session in his DHR Ray, ahead of Jordan Dempsey, who was making his first appearance for KMR in a Spectrum, and 2017 Historic FFord champion Richard Tarling in his Jamun T2.
aaReigning Trophy winner Niall Murray dominated heat four qualifying in his Murray Motorsport Van Diemen, with Team USA scholar and Cliff Dempsey Racing driver Jonathan Kotyk putting in a late lap to go second fastest.
aaFestival runner-up Keith Donegan and Avon Tyres Northern champion Josh Smith were third and fourth, ahead of Smith’s Northern title rival Luciano Carvalho’s UCLAN Van Diemen.
aaMoyers and two-time Festival winner Ivor McCullough battled for pole in the fifth instalment of qualifying, with Moyers triumphing by almost half a second.
aaThe track was at its driest in the final session, in which Stuart Gough edged Fisher and B-M Racing’s Oliver White for pole in his KMR Spectrum.
Moyers started his 2017 attempt with pole for the fifth heat, while Fisher just missed out on the top spot to Moyers’ team-mate Stuart Gough in heat six qualifying.
The wet conditions were unrepresentative of what they would be racing in though, and Moyers’ set-up choice for his heat was “a guess”. It seemed to be the right choice, as he put in the most dominant display of any of the six heats.
From pole he was unchallenged, with McCullough, Castle Combe rival Roger Orgee and Rory Smith all trying and failing to reduce his lead. Moyers finished the eight-lap race with a four second lead over Orgee, and with it earned pole for the second semi-final.
Fisher had his heat a little harder, only taking the lead on the first run through Brooklands, and then presiding over a fluctuating margin to Gough and White.
White briefly held second, but was relieved of the spot by a spectacular around-the-outside move from Gough at Brooklands.
The heats highlighted several of the other overall victory contenders, with 2017 Festival winner Foster dominating the third heat.
Tricky weather conditions caught out several drivers on the first lap of that heat, and the race was briefly red-flagged. This didn’t faze Foster, who pulled away from Dempsey, with the battle for third being won by BRDC British Formula 3 driver Jamie Chadwick, who was making her FF1600 debut with Graham Bunton Racing in a Ray.
Youngsters Round-Garrido and Chadwick’s team-mate Martin won the first and second heats. Round-Garrido showed maturity in his heat, while Jameses Raven (CDR Ray) and Roe Jr (Van Diemen) misjudged the track surface and made race-losing mistakes.
Martin had an easy run to victory in heat two, with Kevin O’Hara acting as his main rival after front-row man Jackson slipped down the order. Cooper overcame his bizarre qualifying collision to finish third. Prior to the race his team had to work on a clutch problem, and he raced with damaged steering courtesy of the clash.
The fourth heat was an all-Irish battle between Murray and Donegan. The latter took an early lead from third on the grid, but Murray was always just behind. On the penultimate lap they made contact, allowing Kotyk briefly through. Donegan got a superior exit out of Luffield though, and crossed the line 0.144s ahead of Kotyk.
Donegan was then given a penalty for the contact with Murray, which dropped him to fifth behind Kotyk, Murray, Oldfield Van Diemen driver Josh Smith and Chris Middlehurst, racing with his family’s self-titled team.
The semi-finals kept Moyers and Fisher apart, and eliminated several of the event favourites.
The first semi-final, in which Fisher featured, was interrupted by a red flag caused by a scary crash involving Murray and Melrose. Murray had taken too much kerb into Brooklands, spinning the car and coming to a stop after a battery cable snapped. Melrose didn’t see Murray until it was too late, and struck him at considerable speed. Both escaped without serious injury.
At the point the race was stopped, Fisher held a lead of 1.5s, a rarity in a WHT semi-final, with White, Gough and Josh Smith battling for second place. White and Smith had started from the fourth row, and two brilliantly aggressive moves by White at Brooklands, having failed to make such moves in his heat, assisted him on his way to second.
“Before the red flag I was kind of in control really,” said Fisher.
“I was putting in quali laps every lap, quite smooth, but then after the red flag I didn’t have that luxury, and it was a real dogfight.”
After the restart White was all over Fisher, with the margin between the two usually around two tenths. On the last lap White set up his Medina perfectly through Brooklands to get a superior run through Luffield. The pair were almost alongside across the finish line, with Fisher prevailing by 0.027s.
“That was proper Formula Ford racing,” was the victor’s summary.
“It was an epic race,” agreed White.
Gough finished third, only three tenths behind the winner, with Smith taking fourth ahead of Kotyk.
Martin, Cooper, Middlehurst and O’Hara completed the sixth to ninth spots, each with the ability and speed to win the race, but either through poor luck or their own mistakes failing to make an impact at the front.
The second semi-final had a similarly intense lead battle. Moyers lined up on pole, with Foster alongside and Round-Garrido, with Orgee completing the second row. Foster got the strongest start and led into Copse, but Moyers was back past by Brooklands and held the lead until the final lap.
After realising sitting behind Moyers wasn’t an effective strategy, Foster attempted numerous moves in the second half of the race. The strong head-wind down the Wellington Straight made things difficult for both drivers, but Foster was finally able to get through when Moyers misjudged his defence into Brooklands for the final time, running wide and allowing Foster to slip by on the inside and narrowly take victory.
“[That was] pretty feisty to be honest, for a semi-final,” Moyers stated after defeat.
“It would’ve been great to have won, but coming home second is alright, and we’re going the start the final on the second row.”
Winner Foster, who would be starting from pole for the final, wasn’t quite as jubilant, and when asked whether he was confident heading into the final, had a simple answer: “No.”
Orgee benefited from a ferocious scrap between Raven and Round-Garrido to take a relatively unchallenged third, with Raven winning the battle for fourth.
KMR’s Michael Eastwell, who made his car racing debut in the WHT last year, finished a distant sixth, ahead of Jack Wolfenden’s Firman and USF1600 champion Matthew Cowley, from 21st on the grid in his family-ran Van Diemen.
Foster’s hard-earned start advantage in the final didn’t last long, and he ended the first lap in fourth behind Fisher, White and Moyers.
With the final being 15 laps long, there were plenty opportunities for Foster to move back up the order, but the writing was already on the wall and he failed to finish after being struck by an ignition problem.
This left Fisher, White and Moyers to battle for the lead, a fight which White took control of on the second lap with another brave move at Brooklands. Fisher was then deprived of second, with Josh Smith, and then Moyers, occupying the place.
A spin by Gough on the sixth lap led to another scary Brooklands crash, this time between Jackson and and brothers David and Tom McArthur. As David reacted to the yellow flags for Gough, he inadvertently pitched B-M Racing team-mate Tom into a barrel roll. He then collided with Jackson, and the yellow flags that were then waved for their incident prevented any overtaking moves at Brooklands for the next three laps.
With four to go Moyers looked to make a move on White, but was hung out to dry and instead lost second place to Fisher through Woodcote. Fisher immediately started on the leader, but his numerous attacks into Brooklands were rebuked by White, himself a driver who has finished on the WHT podium multiple times without winning it.
On the penultimate lap Fisher had finally found a way around White at Brooklands, but contact between the left-rear of the new leader as he cut across and the front-right of White damaged White’s car, led to a chaotic end to the race.
Moyers was the chief beneficiary of this, moving straight into the wheel tracks of old rival Fisher.
Further back, the slowing car of White was struck by Raven, then collected by Smith, with White and Smith retiring on the spot. This meant yellow flags were still waving at Brooklands on the final lap, preventing anyone from making a late move for the win.
Moyers got round that by making his race winning overtake on Fisher before Brooklands, using a “mega run” through Becketts to move ahead down the Wellington Straight.
Fisher was unable to challenge through Luffield and Woodcote, and his post-race challenge in the stewards’ room also failed in what was a bitter end to a great weekend of racing.
“I swear to God I did not see any yellow flags coming down into Brooklands, so I just kept my foot in,” explained the 2017 Walter Hayes Trophy winner. “I was past halfway down it [the Wellington straight], to be honest with you.”
The last lap drama brought to an end eight years of trying for Moyers, with six of those coming with KMR.
“We’d come so close so many times, to get it done is overwhelming really. The car’s just been fantastic no matter what the weather. It’s just been unbelievable, so thanks very much to the team for that.”
Fisher was, quite obviously, not as happy with the result, but after his initial feelings of injustice was understanding in defeat and complimentary of his rival.
“It was a cracking race. Me and Michael have been battling like that all year, and I think I can say we’re probably the two best Formula Ford drivers out there at the moment.
“Oliver, I know he came off at the end, but we had a real ding-dong in the semi, and that carried on into the final.
“[The 2017 WHT was] probably the best weekend I’ve ever had. There’s a little dispute over Michael might have overtaken me under yellow flags. I wouldn’t like to win it in that way, but I feel I deserved to win if it does go that way.
“I’ve congratulated Michael. It doesn’t take away from him what he did, but if it is black and white yellows, then I’m afraid that will have to be done. If not, then fair play to the man.”
The stewards sided with Moyers, and he became the 13th different winner of the event.
Despite making contact with White himself, Raven finished third, in what was his first racing appearance in 2017. “I’ve spent a year out of the car, so I’m actually pretty pleased with where I finished,” he said.
“I knew I had the pace and it’s just frustrating when I see them in the distance. [But] I only sat in the car on Friday, so third’s not too bad.”
O’Hara finished a remarkable fourth from 18th on the grid, picking off five people on the first lap alone and then gradually moving up the order until he was on the tail of Raven and Smith, moving past Smith having been the only the one of the three to avoid hitting White, whose performance still earned him a Mazda Road to Indy Shootout ticket.
Matching his Festival result in fifth was Middlehurst, who seemed to brush off every setback thrown at him over the weekend and surprisingly ended the final as the best placed of the seven cars looked over by B-M Racing.
Kotyk finished sixth, ahead of Cooper, Round-Garrido, Orgee and Eastwell.
The battle for position between Cooper and Round-Garrido included driving interlocked through the penultimate lap mayhem, best described by Round-Garrido himself:
“[At Brooklands] he went for a move on me on the brakes. He went on the grass, and when he rejoined we were interlocking wheels. I looked up, and there was Oliver White and [Josh] Smith, and bits of car flying everywhere. So then me and Luke, we were interlocking wheels, whilst weaving through all this stuff.
“Going out of the corner we were still interlocking wheels, I looked across, like: ‘mate, you’re a nutcase’. Into Copse we were still side-by-side. I committed as hard as I could, but I lost my rear end and almost spun.
“That was probably the best bit of racing I’ve ever done in my life, given that I didn’t come out on top. It was awesome.”
Which is the kind of racing the Walter Hayes Trophy delivers best.