Team USA leads at the start of the Semi Final (Jack Mitchell photos)
It was always going to be hard to top Saturday's opening day at the Brands Hatch Formula Ford Festival as Team USA Scholarship drivers Jake Eidson and Joey Bickers made light of treacherous conditions to finish first and second in their respective heat races. A dramatic overnight weather change saw this morning's Semi Final race run in cool, dry conditions, after which Eidson and Bickers finished a disappointing fifth and sixth after starting from the front row of the grid.
The result ensured starting positions on the fifth and sixth rows for Sunday afternoon's 20-lap Grand Final, and while Bickers made the better of the start to hold down 10th place in the early laps, an incident on lap 8 saw his race end against the barriers at the Druids hairpin. Eidson, meanwhile, drove a storming race to rise from 11th on the opening lap to finish fifth.
Eidson lost a couple of positions on the opening lap, slipping from ninth to 11th, but overtook teammate Bickers on lap 6, immediately after a brief full-course caution, then displaced Jonny McMullan, Stephen Daly, early race leader Noel Dunne, Joey Foster, and two-time and defending Festival champion Ivor McCullough to rise to fifth on lap 17.
At one point Eidson held the fastest lap of the race aboard his No. 22 Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray GR12. He posted his best lap on the final tour to finish just 2.61 seconds shy of the race winner, young Irishman Niall Murray, and a scant 0.678sec behind second-place finisher and former UK Formula Ford champion Wayne Boyd. Englishman Oliver White took third ahead of Team Canada's Scott Hargrove, winner of this year's Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
“I'm pretty happy with a top-five finish,” said Eidson, 18, from Littleton, Colo. “I think given a few more laps I could have been right there. We had the same pace as the leaders so I don't think speed was as much of a matter as not passing as many cars as I would have liked to on the start. I took too long to get past a couple of cars and I just didn't have enough laps to get right up there, but starting ninth and finishing fifth is a good result. I kind of know what to expect now for (next weekend's Walter Hayes Trophy at) Silverstone so I'm looking forward to that.”
Bickers, 21, from Moorpark, Calif., was disappointed with the result but had already made his mark on the proceedings with a stunning performance on Saturday in what was his very first standing start and first ever wet-weather race.
“The pace was pretty good in the wet but on Sunday in the dry I was struggling a little,” he admitted. “It was tough out there. All the top racers, the top 10 at least, were capable of winning, and having to cope with the changing weather was kind of interesting. It's a shame it ended the way it did – I tangled with somebody and ended up going straight into the wall – but overall I learned a lot and am really grateful for the experience.”