Jonathan Kotyk marked his Silverstone debut with an impressive drive in treacherous conditions this afternoon on Day One of the Walter Hayes Trophy event. Kotyk trailed Ireland’s Keith Donegan, who finished second in the Formula Ford Festival two weeks ago, across the finish line by a scant 0.144s and later was awarded the victory after Donegan was penalized for his part in a last-lap incident with countryman Niall Murray. Last year’s emphatic Formula Ford triple Crown winner held on for second, closely followed by Englishman Josh Smith in a typical FF1600 thriller.
The results remain provisional following an appeal by Donegan.
Aaron Jeansonne, in the second Team USA Scholarship entry, was out of luck in his eight-lap Heat race, retiring to the pits at half-distance with suspension damage sustained in an incident at Copse Corner.
Six Heat races were required to whittle down another strong field of 116 cars, with Kotyk drawn in Heat Four and Jeansonne in Heat Five. The top 10 finishers from every race would qualify directly for tomorrow morning’s pair of Semi-Final races.
The first curveball of the week was delivered at dawn this morning. After displaying prodigious speed in dry-weather testing, suddenly the two patriotically liveried protagonists were faced with rain and a wet track for qualifying. And with each qualifying session slated for only 10 minutes, there was precious little time for the drivers to adapt. Nonetheless, after running around fifth on the timing charts for much of the session, Kotyk put it all together on his final lap to annex second on the grid.
The track began to dry slightly by the time of his race, and Kotyk (above) immediately settled into a tight four-car battle for the lead.
“The conditions were not too bad,” said Kotyk. “I adjusted quickly. Thankfully, all of the wet running at Brands (Hatch) came in handy. A dry line formed but to pass you were forced onto the wet. This made it difficult because if you drove in too deep you would slide wide and get crossed up. It was key to get the car stopped up and rotated into the corners. The track continued to evolve each lap.
“Qualifying up front allowed me to pull away with a small pack. The lead battle was fierce, with the top four drivers changing positions multiple times a lap. The draft down the back straight was mega.
“The last few laps came down to myself, Murray, Donegan and Smith. Niall and Keith got together and ran wide out of (Turn) Four (Luffield) on the last lap and I slipped past, but Keith got me at the line. My right mirror fell down halfway through the race so I was blind on the right side. It made it hard to defend but I was glad to finish up front.”
Jeansonne’s day didn’t go quite so well. He was out of luck in qualifying as the first driver to take the checkered flag on a drying track for Heat Five, restricting him to a nonetheless solid sixth on the grid. His race was no better following an early incident.
“Today provided lots of learning opportunities,” said Jeansonne. “The heat race was perhaps the trickiest conditions I’ve yet faced – using the dry line on a very damp course. Unfortunately, I made a mistake while thinking I should carry more speed into Turn 1 (Copse Corner), and I hit the car in front of me. The good thing about tomorrow is that the only way we can go is forward. I’m looking forward to doing my best.”
Jeansonne now faces a tough task to make Sunday’s 15-lap Grand Final, and will begin his quest at 9:00am with a 10-lap Progression Race. He will require a top-14 finish to move on the Last Chance Race, followed by another strong result to qualify for one of two Semi Final rounds.
Live timing and commentary can be found at http://www.mstworld.com/results/event/2017/11.