A dramatic opening day to the 51st annual BRSCC Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch featured four hectic Heat races and a solid podium finish for Thomas Schrage as the highlight for the trio of Team USA Scholarship drivers. Schrage, 17, from Bethel, Ohio, profited from an incident between former winners Niall Murray and Jamie Sharp to finish third in Heat Two and secure himself a third row starting position for one of two Semi Final races tomorrow and an opportunity to gain a strong starting position for the 20-lap Final.
Teammates Elliott Budzinski, 20, from Ann Arbor, Mich., and William Ferguson, 18, from Pacifica, Calif., were less fortunate. Budzinski finished eighth in a very competitive opening race, while Ferguson, after starting third for Heat Four, was eliminated in an incident after only three laps.
Fortunately, the other two Americans being fielded by the Ammonite Motorsport team fared rather better. One of last year’s Team USA Scholarship winners, Max Esterson, from New York, N.Y., claimed a dominant victory in the opening race, while Shaun Rashid, from Atlanta, Ga., took full advantage of a slightly weaker third Heat, as well as dramas for some of the other front-runners, to claim an impressive victory.
The day began on a treacherously slippery track with qualifying sessions for all four races starting at 9:00am, although with the Formula Ford Heats interspersed with other events as the morning progressed, track conditions evolved considerably.
Esterson used his extensive prior to excellent effect by qualifying comfortably on pole for the first Heat race, more than 0.4s faster than recently crowned British Formula Ford champion Jordan Dempsey’s Spectrum. Esterson led throughout the 12-lap contest, although he had to work hard to fend off both Dempsey and 2020 Festival winner Rory Smith (Medina), who both took the checkered flag within 0.4s of Esterson’s winning Ray GR18. After qualifying seventh, Budzinski lost a couple of positions at the start but made one of those back to finish eighth and secure a midfield starting position for Sunday’s Semi Final round of competition.
“I have mixed emotions on my first heat,” he summarized. “On one hand the race ended clean for me, which was great. On the other, a poor start put me back three or four spots. Either way we’re through to the Semis and are going to work hard to make up some lost ground.”
Heat Two saw Schrage line up fourth on grid, his qualifying time bettered only by three former Festival winners: Sharp (2021), Murray (2013 and 2016) and Joey Foster (2003 and 2017). Schrage lost a position at the start to fast-starting Lucas Romanek (Van Diemen) but was in a position to profit when Murray and Sharp tried to occupy the same piece of real estate at Surtees on the sixth lap and went spinning off the track.
Foster, meanwhile, romped to a clear victory in his Firman chassis over Romanek, with Schrage a comfortable third.
“I’m happy with the progress our Ammonite Motorsport crew has made on the No. 22 Team USA Scholarship car,” said Schrage. “In qualifying we had shown great pace in changing track conditions lining up fourth in Heat Two. Like many others today, I had a poor start in the race, but that wouldn’t stop me from fighting back to a third-place finish.
“I will be advancing into the Semi Final tomorrow and the weather forecast calls for more rain. I can’t wait to see what we can do once again in the treacherous wet conditions on the Brands Hatch circuit.”
Heat Three was stopped early following a frightening accident at Paddock Hill Bend which sent the Van Diemens of both Matt Rivett and Thomas MacArthur cartwheeling into the gravel trap, thankfully without injury to either driver. A mechanical problem prevented 2021 New Zealand Formula Ford Champion James Penrose (Ray) from taking the restart, after which Rashid romped to a clear victory in a shortened four-lap race.
Ferguson qualified a fine third fastest for Heat Four but also found the standing start rather more difficult than he anticipated. After slipping to fifth, he was hit from behind at the exit of Druid’s which ended his race (below).
“We had a very unfortunate end to a hopeful day,” said Ferguson. “For qualifying we were able to put it P3 in our Heat. Although it wasn’t the best session for me, it was a great result to start off the weekend. Starting third, I didn’t have the best of launches and fell back to fifth on the start. After a few laps and easily hanging with the leaders, unfortunate contact ended with us in the barriers.
“Huge thanks to Ammonite Motorsport and my mechanic, Luke, for getting the car back together for tomorrow. Everyone under the tent has shown great speed and we’re all confident heading into tomorrow. I will be starting ninth for the Progression Race, just got to keep our heads down and we’ll make it happen.”
“Thank you Team USA and all of our supporters for making this happen, we’ll come back stronger tomorrow.”
With only the top 12 finishers in each Heat race qualifying automatically for the Semi Final round, Ferguson will have one more opportunity to move on during the first of two Progression Races which will start at 10:40 a.m. tomorrow. The top 12 from each Semi Final, plus the top six in another Last Chance Race will comprise the 30-car field for the 20-lap Final, set for 5:06pm local time (five hours forward from EDT).