Team USA Scholarship drivers Brett Smrz and Connor De Phillippi lived up to expectations today. Each earned a podium finish from their respective 15-lap heat races as the Formula Ford (Kent) Festival commenced on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit.
Smrz, 18, from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, was first to step up to the plate in Heat One, with De Phillippi instead taking a seat in the grandstands at Paddock Hill Bend to watch the early stages. After qualifying a strong second, Smrz was pushed wide at the first corner and lost a position in his No. 21 Team USA Scholarship/Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray GRS08. He quickly regrouped and soon began to exert pressure on the second-place Swift of experienced Formula Ford racer Josh Fisher.
“He was taking a defensive line in every corner,” related Smrz. “I was much quicker than he was but couldn't find a way around. I finally thought I had a shot at passing him on the outside of Paddock Hill Bend, but he turned to the left at me just when I was entering the corner. I almost drove off the track but held my position and stayed behind him. Next time we crossed start/finish line, Fisher got a black-and-white [warning] flag, and he started calming down after that.”
Smrz took full advantage, sweeping past Fisher on the next lap and holding second place to the checkers, just over two seconds behind race winner Scott Malvern, who drove another Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray. Fisher was involved in a dramatic accident at Graham Hill Bend on the final lap with Noel Dunne (Mygale SJ08) and Matt Rivett, whose Ray GRS09 was badly damaged during a series of flips. Thankfully, the Formula Ford veteran was not seriously hurt.
“I am happy with second,” said Smrz, “and will be starting my Semi Final in second place tomorrow morning.”
Forty-five minutes later, De Phillippi took up his position on the inside of Row Two for the afternoon's second Heat race in the No. 22 Team USA Scholarship/Cliff Dempsey Racing Ray. The 16-year-old from San Clemente, Calif., maintained third for most of the race, directly behind Matthew Parr's Van Diemen RF01, as Scottish Formula Ford Champion Rory Butcher cleared off into the lead in his well-sorted Van Diemen RF92.
De Phillippi briefly lost third place to Irish veteran Neville Smyth, in yet another Ray, but regained the position on Lap 14 to secure his podium appearance.
“I was happy to just settle into position and keep any risky moves to the absolute minimum,”said De Phillippi. “Towards the end I was closing on the leader and the second-place driver. Overall, I would've liked to finish higher, of course, but I did finish towards the front and will move onto tomorrow with great confidence.”
Butcher's victory in the faster of the two Heat races ensures that he will start from the pole in Semi Final One. Smrz will start alongside, with De Phillippi right behind him on the inside of Row Two. Malvern will start from the pole in the second 18-lap Semi Final.