A day which had begun with much promise ended in disaster when Team USA Scholarship drivers Spencer Pigot and Felix Serralles collided while running in fourth and fifth positions during their Formula Ford Kent Festival Heat race this afternoon.
Both drivers were unhurt in the accident, which occurred on the 11th of 12 laps around the 1.2-mile Brands Hatch "Indy" circuit.
The two teenaged Americans had been posting fast lap times ever since beginning their testing program with veteran team owner Cliff Dempsey on Tuesday. Pigot, 17, from Windermere, Fla., underlined that promise by comfortably snaring pole position for the Heat race this morning in the No. 22 Team USA Scholarship/Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray GRS07/08. Pigot's fastest lap of 54.572 seconds on a damp track was more than a half-second clear of the remainder of the 25-car field which was headed by Irishman Noel Dunne in a Mygale SJ08.
Serralles was fifth quickest with a best lap of 55.332 seconds.
A heavy rain shower at midday resulted in the team hurriedly switching the cars to full wet weather settings. However, the typically unpredictable weather then changed abruptly, and the track rapidly began to dry as the start time approached. Again the team went to work, switching the cars' configurations one more time.
Both youngsters faced all manner of challenges as they lined up for what would be their first-ever standing start, and sure enough each of them lost one position when the lights turned to green.
Pigot ran second for the first four laps before losing a couple of positions to Irish veteran Neville Smyth and young Australian Jordan Skinner. Serralles, meanwhile, found his car working slightly better than Pigot's, so by lap seven they were running in nose-to-tail formation, fourth and fifth. They remained in that order until lap 11 when they came up to lap a backmarker entering the notorious Paddock Hill Bend.
"We were both passing a slower car at the same time as we went into the corner," related Serralles. "When I went to hit the brakes, I realized I was going too fast. I tried to avoid Spencer but the other car was right there and I ended up clipping him and we both went off. It's unfortunate. It was just a mistake; I wasn't trying to pass him. I feel so bad."
Both cars ended up in the gravel trap, with Serralles' No. 21 machine suffering severe damage after making heavy contact with the barriers on the outside of the corner.
"It's just one of those unfortunate things," said team owner Dempsey. "We've all seen it all before. I feel sorry for the boys. They were doing such a good job."
Pigot's car sustained damage to the left-side suspension and sidepod but should be repaired easily in time for Sunday's Semi Final race, which he will start from the back of the pack. Unfortunately, it appeared the damage to Serralles' car was much more severe and was likely to curtail his weekend activities – unless a replacement car can be found. Nevertheless, Serralles will stay on to cheer on his teammate, who remained upbeat despite the disappointment.
"Today started off really well," said Pigot. "I got pole by just over half a second. With the different conditions I was having a very hard time finding grip and the car just wasn't handling like it had been. I started to fall back a bit but was still in P4. Then Felix and I had an unfortunate incident that took us both out.
"The team is working on the car now and we should be all set for tomorrow. I'll be coming from the back in the Semi Final but I'm confident that we will sort the car out and still have a good chance at a strong finish for the final."