Corby, England (November 1, 2012) – If I had to summarize this past weekend at Brands Hatch using one word, it would be incredible.
I started off testing in the rain, like I said in my last blog, from Wednesday until Friday. Tristan and I where within a few tenths every session and really quick all week, but we never had any track time in the dry! This made it all the more exciting for Saturday and Sunday. Obviously it is nice to be quick in practice, but in the end the races are what count!
Saturday morning I woke up and it was dry outside the hotel window, and I knew I had a challenge cut out for myself. Qualifying was first on the schedule that morning, and I had the sixth fastest time in the dry. I was actually really happy with sixth, because everyone ahead of me had raced at Brands Hatch many times before. Unlike the racing back in the United States, qualifying is only a small part of getting to the final, so it does not matter as much.
The quarterfinal was my first standing start EVER, and I could have sworn my heart stopped when the red lights came on! I felt like I was an F1 driver getting ready to drive in a Grand Prix. It was the coolest experience of my career to date without a doubt and I will never forget it. Apparently, the Team USA and Cliff Dempsey “Rain Dance” had worked also because it was pouring rain.
My first standing start was pretty good; I passed three cars before Paddock Hill Bend. Within a few laps I was passing for the lead on last year’s Formula Ford Festival winner, Ivor McCullough. To be honest, I was really surprised by their racing style. It wasn’t better or worse, it was just really different from how the racing is back in the States. Rules about blocking are a lot looser, and you have to watch out for yourself because they can run you off the road if they want to. I got the lead from Ivor, and pulled a seven-second gap before a safety car was deployed and the race finished under yellow. It was fantastic getting to stand on the top step of the podium. I felt really proud to be an American when they called out my name and everyone cheered. Tristan won his race right before me, and that made the win even better!
On Sunday I woke up and the “Rain Dance” had failed. It was dry but I knew that the lap times would come as I gained more dry track time. I got to start on pole for the Semi Final, which was a sensational feeling at such a historical racetrack like Brands Hatch. I got another great start and led through Paddock, but Druids was a different story! It was a Team USA sandwich, because I had one driver on the grass inside of me, and another on the outside going to the apex. At the exit of Druids I got pushed into the grass unfortunately and lost eight positions (that is how close everyone is!). A safety car was deployed and I ran out of time, but I made it back to sixth luckily.
Finishing sixth in the Semi Final put me 12th on the grid for the final. I had a great start; I got by a few drivers off the line. Brands Hatch is a unique circuit, and because of the lack of passing zones a defensive driver in 10th position is just as difficult to pass as the leader. I ended up advancing seven positions to fifth overall. I would have liked to be on the podium but I was very pleased to finish in the top five. With the experience we gained at the Festival, I am sure Tristan and I will be fighting for the win at Silverstone next weekend!
Big thanks to Jeremy Shaw and all of the Team USA supporters for allowing me to come over here to race. I am having a blast!
Jack Mitchell Jr