A week has passed since Team USA Scholarship winners Connor De Phillippi and Brett Smrz made their impressive European racing debuts in the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch. The time has passed quickly with a variety of tours and activities to fill the time before they will return to the cockpits of their patriotically liveried Team USA Scholarship/Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray GRS08 Formula Ford cars for next weekend's Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone.
The two American teenagers have been staying in the historic City of Oxford, home of one of the world's most storied universities, sharing an apartment with 2008 Team USA Scholarship winner Josef Newgarden and his roommate, F3 racer Philip Major, who hails originally from Canada and is also pursuing his goals of a European-based racing career. Newgarden, who has competed with great success in this year's MSA Formula Ford Championship of Great Britain, has kindly acted as a guide, mentor and chauffeur to the eager youngsters.
“Josef has been great,” says Smrz. “Oxford is a very fun place and it has some great architecture. Josef, Philip, Connor and I all get along really well, so that has made our trip even more enjoyable.”
“The lifestyle is very different,” he continues. “The people act very differently over here and the food is much more healthy than in the USA.”
“The main thing I noticed is that everyone walks everywhere,” adds De Phillippi. “There are several restaurants within a mile or so, and everyone walks, whereas if you were in the States most people would drive! The other thing that has stood out for me is how much faster everyone drives on the motorways. I also noticed that the drivers are much more aware of what is going on around them, and they move out of the way if they are going slower!”
On Tuesday, Smrz and De Phillippi took part in the Grand Prix Shootout, which offers the winner an opportunity to contest the 2010 Formula BMW series in Europe. Later in the week they made enjoyed eye-opening visits to top GP2 team iSport International and the 2009 Le Mans Series championship-winning Aston Martin Racing/Prodrive organization.
“It's been a busy week, but fun,” says Smrz. “The Shootout was a pretty good experience and it was interesting to compete against drivers from many different countries. We drove little Abarth 500 cars at an old airfield, called Bruntingthorpe, which is used quite a lot for testing and developing cars but not for racing. I think both Connor and I did well, so I hope we get invited to the next round where we will be tested in Formula BMW cars.”
Both youngsters appreciated their opportunities to take their first-ever close-up looks at a GP2 car, which provides the final step on the open-wheel ladder for Formula 1 aspirants, as well as the stunning Lola-Aston Martin B09/60 Le Mans Prototypes and Aston Martin GT2 and GT4 sports cars.
“Seeing the effort that is put into building specialized GT4 Aston Martins and their Le Mans series cars was amazing,” notes De Phillippi. “The development area for their LMP1 and GT2 program was astounding – there was not a speck of dirt anywhere!”
For Smrz, another highlight was the opportunity to take a close look at the Prodrive-prepared Subaru rally cars with which the late Colin McRae reaped so much success in the World Rally Championship.
After a relaxing weekend, De Phillippi and Smrz are due to make visits to the McLaren Technical Centre, home of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team, 2009 British Touring Car Championship-winning team WSR, famed constructor Lola Cars and RML, which fields the factory-backed Chevrolet team in the World Touring Car Championship.
The Team USA Scholarship, now in its 20th year, is supported by Doug Mockett & Company, Road Racing Drivers Club, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, Robo-Pong, Highcroft Racing, American Honda, Silicon Salvage, McMurry Inc., Dyson Racing, Metalore, The Gorsline Company, Integrated Performance Technology, PitFit Training, Sparco USA, OnCars.com, eFormulaCarNews.com, Speedstar Management, Manifest Group and an array of past Scholarship winners.