The Formula Ford Festival is over, Thomas has joined William and me at our Milton Keynes base away from the track, and our time in the UK has flown by. The happenings and results from Brands Hatch have been posted and told, but what hasn’t been shared are my personal experiences from the Formula Ford Festival and what life is like as a Team USA Scholarship driver.
With the benefit of hindsight, I made a couple of costly mistakes on Saturday at Brands Hatch that ended up rippling through the rest of the weekend, which in reality started even earlier during the practice days. The value of practice days can’t be underestimated, and the way I went about the runs wasn’t as calculated as it should have been. A few more practice starts at the exit of pit lane may have changed everything. While I think it is obvious that the weekend didn’t come with the result I wanted, the car was strong. I take it as a learning experience – eliminate the small mistakes that can swing the results in a completely opposite direction.
Onto the here and now… we are staying in our Milton Keynes apartment once again. It isn’t something I’ve spoken much of, but this whole time comes as a big adjustment for me. This is the longest I have ever been away from home and living on my own, and I feel I’ve grown in the process. I would like to think I am responsible at home, and my work for MPG Motorsport involves a large degree of independence, but everything that is part of the Team USA life pushes me further than ever. Before leaving I wondered if I would feel homesick. While there are times I miss staying in my own bed and being with the family, largely it is so busy there isn’t much time to miss life back home. This is what I’ve dreamed of doing, and it’s hard to forget that.
The best part of this week off is that Thomas, William and I have been fortunate to have a factory tour almost every day. Haas F1, McLaren Technical Centre, Multimatic Motorsports and Ilmor Engineering Ltd. were all generous to make time to show us around. First was Haas and it did not disappoint! Although it wasn’t an F1 “factory” in the literal sense of the word, that doesn’t take away from what we saw there. The UK factory is more of a home base leading all of the operations and preparations for Haas Formula 1. Mark Lowe kindly showed us around, and answered all of our questions. The effort that goes into running a Formula 1 team is astonishing.
Tuesday we visited Ilmor Engineering with 2020 Team USA Scholarship winner Bryce Aron accompanying us. Ilmor is a British high-performance motor racing engineering company that does Chevrolet’s IndyCar program among many other things. When you walk through the door into reception, you’re greeted by the V6 and V8 IndyCar engines on stands, as well as others that they’ve worked on through the years. Senior Design Engineer Simon Young gave us a very thorough tour, taking us through the design office then onto where the engines are built, stress-tested, improved upon, before a final build is sent off. It was impressive to see their engine dynos where race laps are simulated. The size of the facility and the complexity that goes into engineering a single part let alone the entire engine is simply amazing.
On Wednesday, the three of us along with Ammonite’s two full-time mechanics Adam Thomas and Toby Evans, were off to Woking for a tour of the McLaren Technical Centre. The people at MTC Events were immediately welcoming, and after some quick refreshments we started off with the “Boulevard” which includes many special road cars and past World Championship winning F1 cars. In my opinion, the 1988 MP4/4 was the standout. It was incredible to see the history in that showroom and to consider the people who have been instrumental to McLaren over the years. We continued into the heart of the operation where the F1 cars are designed and built. A lot of stories are told about the cleanliness of the facility but when you hear “you could perform surgery in their rooms” it’s no exaggeration. Going through the trophy room ended the tour perfectly.
The week ended at the Multimatic Vehicle Dynamic Centre. It started early in the morning when William and I introduced Thomas to public transport in England by taking the train from Milton Keynes, through London, and on to Thetford. Dan Bridgeman was amazing – as an engineer, he was able to answer our questions with very technical answers. We got a look at how different manufacturers/race teams test the limits and capabilities of their cars and how different changes in the setup affect the vehicle dynamics. We started with the large physical testing rigs that cars are put onto and investigated their different purposes. It followed with what we drivers find the most interesting – the driver-in-loop simulator.
As a driver, often you don’t consider all of the work put in by the team outside the track. Seeing the different facilities gave me an added level of appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes, with so many different people putting their hearts and souls into racing cars and motorsports. I am forever grateful to all of the people who showed us around and answered all of our questions, including the sometimes silly ones.
Now all focus is looking towards the Walter Hayes Trophy. I plan on taking all that I learned in the Formula Ford Festival and adding to that. I have high spirits going into next week and one goal – bring home some hardware for Team USA and Ammonite Motorsports.