The British Racing & Sports Car Club’s 47th edition of the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch ended with a dramatic and thrilling Final. Team USA Scholarship drivers Jake Craig and Colin Mullan were in the thick of the action during the early stages, and while Craig’s day ultimately ended in disappointing fashion when he tangled with last year’s Festival Champion Joey Foster at Paddock Hill Bend, his teammate Colin Mullan finished eighth following a typically fraught race which was interrupted by two red flags.
A long day began with a pair of Semi Final races this morning, with Craig and Mullan lining up sixth and eighth on the grid for Semi Final One. Craig lost a position to Team Canada’s Guillaume Archambault on the opening lap but fought back on Lap 3 with an incisive move under braking for Clearways. Craig continued his march forward with an identical maneuver to displace Foster one lap later. He moved up to fourth when early weekend pacesetter Michael Eastwell suffered a mechanical problem but then, as had been the case in his heat race, he became bottled up behind Neil Maclennan. The Scotsman staunchly defended his position which, with three laps to go, enabled Foster to regain fourth place when a couple of backmarkers also hindered Craig’s progress at Paddock Hill Bend.
Craig eventually took the checkered flag in fifth, just ahead of Mullan, who had found a way past Archambault on Lap 10.
Grid positions for the Final were determined by the finishing order of the two Semi Finals, with the respective winners, 2016 champion Niall Murray, from Ireland, and Englishman Oliver White sharing the front row. Craig and Mullan lined up ninth and 11th. Both Team USA drivers had moved up a couple of positions inside the first two laps, whereupon the red flags flew as a result of three separate on-track incidents, one of which had seen fellow Californian Carter Williams spinning across Craig’s bows at Paddock Hill Bend.
The race was restarted from the original grid positions, only for the Safety Car to be scrambled after one lap when Foster and Craig collided at Paddock Hill Bend while disputing seventh position. Both were eliminated with Foster’s car buried deep in the gravel and Craig pulling off at Druid’s with damaged suspension. A few laps later, the red flags were displayed again.
“Even though I had an unfortunate end to the Festival I am so happy with the amount of knowledge I gained this week,” said Craig. “I’ve leaned so much from race craft to car setup, it’s been tremendous. I’m disappointed I couldn’t show the absolute potential of my car this weekend but I’m looking forward to taking what I’ve learned here and applying it to the Walter Hayes Trophy in a couple weeks’ time.”
With light fading, the race finally was shortened to eight laps, with the grid forming up for a third time in the order the cars had been running at the previous stoppage. As Murray, White and Englishman Joshua Smith waged a thrilling battle for the win, with Smith claiming a magnificent victory following a last-lap pass on Murray, Mullan (right) was embroiled in a similarly fraught scrap for fourth. He finally took the checkered flag in eighth behind Matthew Cowley, Maclennan, Donegan and Archambault after overtaking Northern Ireland champion Matt Round-Garrido on the final lap. All six cars were blanketed by a little over one second.
“The race was interesting to say the least,” said Mullan. “With two red flags and lots of time under caution, I’m happy to say I kept the car in one piece. I started 11th and was able to pick up some spots with the first two starts. On the final restart, I was in seventh, staying there for a while but made some mistakes and fell back to 10th. I managed to recover some spots, and finished eighth. Although we only had eight laps to properly race, it was a great learning experience, and I feel ready for the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone.”