This is the year the Walter Hayes Trophy reaches maturity, so to speak. The 18th edition of this special end-of-season Formula Ford 1600 event marks an important milestone, but competitors will be doing what most 18-year-olds do on a weekend: going out and having some fun with their mates.
There are big prizes at stake, bitterly cold November weather, thrilling racing and camaraderie seen little elsewhere in racing.
Who’s going to win?
Ian Sowman (Autosport contributor)
I believe if I keep predicting the same thing often enough, eventually I will be right. So I’m tipping the man I said would win the Festival, Oliver White. Everything I said before Brands Hatch still holds true, and of course if the last lap of the Festival final had panned out differently, Ollie could easily have come out as winner.
Elliot Wood (FF1600website BRSCC FF1600 reporter)
Having won the event three times already, it’s hard to look past Joey Foster as favourite. The Don Hardman Racing driver may have switched to a Firman chassis, but he’s a proven winner in Van Diemens and Rays so another manufacturer change shouldn’t pose an issue.
Alasdair Lindsay (FF1600website Scottish FF1600 reporter)
Much like the man himself, I’m treading water by picking Luke Cooper. He was in fine form here back in March during the National round and, such was his dreadful luck ever since his engine blew late on in the Castle Combe season, he’ll be determined to end the season on a high. But those engine woes might temper his speed – running on a borrowed unit from Alan Slater’s Nike Mk4 which wasn’t at full strength in the Festival final, he retired to protect his loaned engine for this weekend. I think that decision will pay off if his engine can go the distance.
Phil Waldron (FF1600website FF1600 Racer)
Kevin Mills Racing’s Spectrums are consistently fast round Silverstone’s National layout, and with the form he’s had of late I’d say Michael Eastwell has a great shot (he was desperately unlucky not to be in contention at the Festival as well). As usual the event is wide open, and with the attrition rate it’s always so hard to call.
Rachel Harris-Gardiner (FF1600website Classic FF1600 reporter)
I’m tipping Jordan Dempsey for a win. He’s a proven race-winner at National level and he’s going to be really confident after winning the Chinese Formula 4 title. A win in a marquee event like the WHT will do his profile over here no end of good. On the historic side, Rick Morris has a good car in his new Royale and he’s still frighteningly quick, despite being, in his own words, “an old person”.
Graham Keilloh (FF1600website MSV FF1600 reporter)
The safest option is to go with pace and form, which leads me to back Festival victor Josh Smith to make it a double triumph. His Festival win cannot be ascribed to fortune, even though he benefited from others’ last lap battling. Smith alone went toe-to-toe consistently with pacesetter Niall Murray; he almost alone had the confidence to think he could.
Fergus Reed (FF1600website BRSCC FF1600 reporter)
A highlight of last year’s WHT was Oliver White’s sheer pace and racecraft amongst a very talented grid. Proving he’s just not a Brands Hatch specialist, White’s drive in the Medina was aggressive and determined, and he led the final until contact with Josh Fisher on the penultimate lap. Expect to see him at the front and, if he can rid himself of bad luck, he may be able to lead that crucial final lap this year.
Stephen Brunsdon (FF1600website Scottish FF1600 reporter)
If the Festival is difficult to predict a winner, then the WHT is almost impossible. I got it wrong last year and will likely do the same again in 2018 due to the closeness of an ultra-competitive field of drivers. Defending champion Michael Moyers is undoubtedly one of the favourites, as is Joey Foster. The pair showed good pace at the opening BRSCC National meeting in March, but I’m going for Michael Eastwell to back up his double BRSCC Northern victories on the same circuit in July.
An underdog to watch
IS: Is Chris Middlehurst really an underdog? Perhaps not, when you consider this statistic: between 2013-’17, the Formula Renault BARC champion is, by one reasonable measure (number of top six finishes), the most successful driver in the major end-of-season showpieces. He’s only been on the podium once, though, and will need to keep out of trouble – which is something he didn’t always manage at Brands Hatch.
EW: In typical WHT weather earlier this year, Michael Eastwell took two resounding victories in the BRSCC Northern Championship races at Silverstone, and his late season form suggests he could pick up from where he left off from his last Silverstone visit.
AL: He’s barely had any running this season but it would be foolhardy to discount Josh Fisher. He’s racked up four WHT podiums in the last decade and is fast around Silverstone no matter what. His National appearance this season reinforced his front-running credentials. Battling Murray for a podium ended with a broken trackrod, ruining his second and third races, but the speed was there to see. He’s only done five FF1600 races all season which puts him at a disadvantage but Fisher is one of the few that can make up for it around here.
PW: Not strictly an underdog but things haven’t quite seemed to fall into place at the WHT for Roger Orgee and he hasn’t had much seat time this year. Having persevered with his Van Diemen before swapping to a recent Ray, maybe his third different chassis will bring him the luck he needs this time out.
RHG: Coming from a historic perspective, it’d be great to see Callum Grant make his mark in the Heritage class. The double Historic champion has never raced a 1990s car like Roger Arnold’s Van Diemen before, but he’s got talent and he’ll be looking to pick up a win to counteract his slightly disappointing Historic season. Among the modern racers, you can never rule out last year’s winner, Michael Moyers.
GK: Carter Williams has improved steadily throughout this season and while an early spin in the Festival final denied him a representative result he was well-pleased with the pace of his DHR Ray, which was right in the mix. He promised to take the momentum into the Walter Hayes; with a trouble-free weekend he won’t be far off first place.
FR: Team USA scholar Jake Craig made his UK racing debut in the National championship finale at Donington Park and, having qualified 12th in torrential rain, managed to finish fifth in the day’s first dry race. Collisions at the front of the pack helped his cause, but race two was uninterrupted and Craig got another top five finish. At the Festival he was running as high as second in his heat before dropping to, you guessed it, fifth place, and he managed the same result in his semi-final too! In the final, a dramatic collision with Foster at Paddock ruled him out, but the very fact he was battling with the FF1600 legend shows he is one to watch out for this weekend.
SB: It seems bizarre to label double Scottish FF1600 champion Ross Martin an underdog, but the teenager has had precious little running against the National field this season. Martin is as quick as they come and was unfortunate in both the Festival (where he picked the wrong gear and slid through the Paddock Hill Bend gravel trap while in podium contention in the semi-final) and WHT last year. He’ll be looking to make amends this time around and, with a 100% points-scoring win record in Scotland this season – the first time this has been done since Kenneth Thirlwall in 2011 – the GBR racer is in his best form yet.
What would be a heart-warming result?
IS: He was out of the Festival by mid-morning on Sunday, but seven hours later, at the end of the day, Michael Eastwell was still utterly despondent. On the basis that he is one of the nice guys in the FF1600 paddock it would be great to see him get a pre-winter boost, and he is more than capable of picking up the WHT.
EW: Foster’s DHR team-mate Carter Williams has grown in confidence over the year, and having made his FF1600 debut at the same circuit at the beginning of this year, victory would be a great way to cap his first year of racing in the UK.
AL: Scottish FF1600 regular Ross Howe is in desperate need of a positive end to his season. Having to shell out on engines twice in quick succession left him a bit shell shocked. On the rare occasion the car was working as it should, Howe overdrove his Van Diemen and made mistakes trying to make up for lost results. His ultimate lap times were much better than his results suggest, so progressing to the final – even if it comes through the last chance race – will be a win in itself.
PW: Stuart Gough is well overdue, I think this will be his 28th Walter Hayes. Michael Moyers defending last years win would have the feel good factor.
RHG: Ed Thurston is racing for Classic Team Merlyn in the Pre-‘82 section and it would be great to see him shine after a disastrous end to his Historic season. He might have managed a win had his Elden’s engine not blown up at Brands Hatch. Stuart Gough is another driver whose season was written off after a sponsor pulled out, so it’d be good to see him up there in the contemporary section.
GK: Witnessing the habitually sunny Luke Cooper experiencing the sheer despair of his misfortune upon misfortune in the Festival means only those with a heart of stone would not wish for a change in his luck. He’s surely due such a shift, and we know that if misfortune stays away Cooper has the pace to sweep all before him.
FR: I am going to second Graham’s pick of Luke Cooper. A regular name in both the National and Castle Combe championships, as well as the Festival and WHT, the Swift driver has always been a frontrunner but never manages to reap the rewards thanks to seemingly never-ending bad luck. As shown at the National championship’s opener in April, with a win in race two, Cooper has great pace on the Silverstone National circuit in use this weekend. It’s just a matter of whether luck dictates his success once again.
SB: Even as recently as testing this week, Neil Broome has been through the ringer with car trouble. A broken gearbox due to a pinion bearing failure on his Ray GR17 forced Broome to furiously spanner through the week to make it in time for testing. He’s had a far more consistent season this year than last, and has been able to overcome the underpowered engine problems which dogged his 2017 season and WHT. A strong result for the ‘StrongBroo Racing’ driver is long overdue.
Do you agree with our selections? Who do you think will be standing on the top step of the podium come Sunday afternoon? And which stories in the paddock will you be following closely as the weekend unfolds? Below is the confirmed draw for Saturday’s heat races – a chance to map out your favoured driver’s route to victory.