Bryce Aron produced two excellent performances today at a treacherously slick Silverstone National circuit on his way to a third-place finish in the Walter Hayes Trophy Grand Final behind veterans Oliver White and Neil Maclennan. Aron, who started ninth, became the fourth Team USA Scholarship driver to stand on the overall podium in the last seven years, following in the footsteps of Michai Stephens (2014), Oliver Askew (’16) and Scott Huffaker (’19) — in addition to the trio of victories earned by Conor Daly (‘08), Connor De Phillippi (‘09) and Tristan Nunez (‘12).
“What an absolutely awesome way to cap off my time here in the U.K. with a podium at the Walter Hayes Trophy,” said a justifiably delighted Aron. “It was a very difficult race in some very wet conditions, but in the end I was able to keep my head together and finish on the podium. As I crossed the line I went absolutely mental; this had been something I dreamed of for ages. Throughout the entirety of the cool down lap I was screaming with joy and by the time I reached the pits my voice was hoarse!”
Teammate Jackson Lee qualified comfortably for the Final but was unfortunately involved in an incident on Lap 10 which caused the race to be red-flagged. Fellow American Max Esterson placed 14th aboard another Low Dempsey Racing Ray.
The first of two 12-lap Semi Final races this morning started out on a damp but drying track with Lee lining up seventh on the grid and Esterson 11th. Another mediocre getaway saw Jackson lose three positions on the opening lap, after which he settled into a rhythm, battling back and forth with a group of five other cars before finishing 10th, one position ahead of Esterson. The 12-lap race was won by recently crowned Avon National Formula Ford 1600 champion Neil Maclennan in a KMR Spectrum.
The second Semi Final began in similar conditions…but not for long. An incident on the third lap brought out the safety car with Aron in ninth, having also lost a couple of places at the start. He was shuffled back another couple of places at the restart, but the complexion of the race changed entirely as heavy rain suddenly began to fall. Aron took full advantage of his recent wet weather experience by making up six places in the closing stages, including two on the final lap, to finish strongly in fifth. Oliver White took the win to secure pole position for the 15-lap Grand Final.
After two days of intense action on various degrees of a wet track, 36 cars from the original entry of 103 lined up for the final race of the weekend under a leaden sky. Aron was the highest placed of the Low Dempsey Racing Rays, ninth on the grid with Lee in 20th, Esterson 22nd and 2019 Formula Ford Festival winner Jonathan Browne 27th following an incident in his Semi Final.
White, twice previously a podium finisher at the Walter Hayes Trophy — named in honor of one of the founding fathers of Formula Ford in the 1960s — and Maclennan led a snarling pack of cars in the opening stages on a very wet track following another rain shower a little earlier in the afternoon. Unsurprisingly, an incident on the third lap caused the safety car to be deployed. Later, after 10 laps, the red flag was displayed with several cars, including the unfortunate Lee, having been deposited into the gravel trap at Luffield.
By that stage White, Maclennan and Chris Middlehurst (Van Diemen) all had spent some time in the lead. Aron, Josh Fisher (Van Diemen), last year’s winner Jordan Dempsey (Spectrum), two-time WHT winner Michael Moyers, Matt Cowley and 2019 National champ Ross Martin (Van Diemens) were all very much in the thick of the action, although the unfortunate Dempsey had departed the scene with an incident after seven laps and Moyers also fell back into the pack after a quick spin.
The frantic final stages saw White hold on for a fine victory in his Souley Motorsport Medina, while Maclennan narrowly held off Aron and Martin at the finish line.
“After the delay the Grand Final was to be decided with a four-lap dash to the finish,” said Aron. “My heart was pounding out of my chest!
“A good restart was key, along with a defensive effort against Ross Martin and Matt Cowley in order to secure the podium finish. With two laps to go I found myself on the gearbox of the second-place runner Neil Maclennan but stayed put as I did not want to open the door to Martin behind.
“I’m so happy for Low Dempsey Racing who provided me with an absolute rocket ship of a race car. I can’t thank everyone involved enough. This has been an awesome experience that I will remember forever.”
Lee also was involved in a frenetic midfield tussle before being ensnared in the melee at Luffield. But he had plenty of positives to draw from the experience.
“I know the ending to this adventure looks tough, but the positives far outweigh the few negatives,” said Lee. “I have learned so much in these past two weeks. This has truly been an experience I will never forget. This experience has developed me as a driver and given me great momentum to carry into the 2021 season. This has by far been the biggest moment of my career and I know it will show in how much I have improved when I am on track back in the United States.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Jeremy Shaw and all of the Team USA sponsors one more time. Without them, I would have never gotten this fantastic opportunity.
“Also, racing with the Low Dempsey Racing Team has been amazing. Not only have the cars been fast but their coaching and camaraderie has been great. It’s been a tremendous about of fun. Bryce and I have become true teammates and I hope we find ourselves on track together in the U.S. soon.”