Formula Ford Festival Finals Day didn't go quite the way Team USA Scholarship winners Tristan Nunez and Jack Mitchell Jr. had hoped, but the two American youngsters still played central roles in the plot and emerged with their heads held high.
Nunez claimed another brilliant come-from-behind victory in Sunday morning's Kent Semi Final before being taken out in the Final, while Mitchell posted a fine charge to elevate himself from 12th on the grid in the Final to finish fifth. The event was won for the second year in succession by Northern Irish veteran Ivor McCullough.
“It's been an amazing experience,” said Mitchell, from Clarendon Hills, Ill. “I have learned so much this week, especially in terms of race-craft. It's going to be huge as I move forward in my career. It's been awesome.”
Sunday morning dawned cool but dry, which wasn't what the two 16-year-olds had been hoping for, since almost all of their experience this week has been gained on a wet or at least damp track. Nunez, from Boca Raton, Fla., started from the pole and maintained his advantage at the start of the first 15-lap Semi Final race, but was muscled back to third place in the early stages as he broke in a brand-new set of dry weather tires. Undaunted, Nunez soon began to pressure the leading pair of McCullough and the equally experienced Luke Cooper.
He passed Cooper for second on lap 14 then pulled off an audacious pass on McCullough on the final lap going downhill into Graham Hill Bend – with two wheels on the grass – to snatch the win. Nunez also set the fastest race lap at 51.012 seconds (85.24mph).
“It was an interesting race,” said Nunez , before adding with a chuckle: “I showed them you can't push the Americans around!”
Mitchell, who also started from pole in his Semi Final, found out all about the legendary rough and tumble of Formula Ford when he was unceremoniously ushered off the track at the exit of Druid's hairpin on the first lap. In an instant he fell from first to seventh. He lost one more place on lap 3 but fought back to finish sixth.
The field of 44 cars had been whittled down to 28 qualifiers for the 20-lap Kent Final this afternoon, with Nunez earning the pole position and Mitchell starting 12th. A forceful move by another Irish veteran, Noel Dunne, saw Nunez edged back to third at the notorious Paddock Hill Bend, but he remained firmly in contention in the middle of a five-car group.
On lap 5, Nunez had a great run onto the front straightaway and made his move to the inside of Graham Carroll, only for the Scot to turn in on him at the apex of Paddock Hill Bend. Nunez's car was pitched into the air and thence into the gravel. He resumed a distant 25th and worked his way back to 16th before his engine abruptly expired on lap 13.
“It's disappointing but the racing here is so special,” said Nunez. “Just looking at the crowds that came for this race was unbelievable. It looked like an F1 race. It's impressive. The fields are just massive and everyone knows how to drive. This has been an amazing experience.”
The race was stopped a lap after Nunez's unfortunate exit due to a multicar incident, with Mitchell classified in fifth.
“It was really good,” said Mitchell. “I started 12th but it was really difficult to get past anyone else because the fight for 11th and 10th was just as intense as it was for second and third the day before in the Quarter Final! I got up to P5 in the end which I think was a pretty good result. All those guys are really experienced. It was awesome; I learned so much; I'm really grateful.”
The American pair will now travel to Silverstone for next weekend's Walter Hayes Trophy, where a significantly larger field is expected to show up for what has become the world's premier event for Formula Ford.