Clarendon Hills, Ill. (November 11, 2012) – What an experience!
These past few weeks were a phenomenal way to end my 2012 racing season. I grew so much as an individual and a racecar driver. Going over to the UK with the Team USA Scholarship really allowed me to feel like a true professional driver. I had to take a lot of responsibility for myself and had an opportunity to really focus on racing with my teammate Tristan Nunez for two weeks, which I loved. From the minute I landed in London I felt right at home with the Dempseys. Michelle and Cliff took great care of me, and I cannot thank them enough!
When I arrived at Brands Hatch on Saturday to watch Matthew Brabham drive in the Formula Renault BARC race, I was extremely impressed. The track was full of elevation change and the weather was very unpredictable. I knew that the Formula Ford Festival the next week would be interesting.
We were given three days of testing. It was pouring rain all week and we were really able to hone in on a good rain setup. Tristan and I were great at helping each other get faster, and we ended up finding tons of time just by looking at our data. I was able to get very comfortable and consistent by Friday, and I was really looking forward to the races.
On Saturday we had qualifying in completely dry conditions. I just used the 15 minutes as a lapping session, being that it was my first time on track in the dry. I ended up sixth. This would start me in sixth for the Quarter Final and I was excited about being able to start off the weekend well.
Luckily, as soon as Tristan and I called Jeremy Shaw on Skype after qualifying the rain started to come down! It continued until the start of my race and that gave me a lot of confidence. My first standing start went well, I earned three places on the first lap! I ended up taking the lead from last year’s Festival winner, Ivor McCullough, a few laps later and pulling a seven-second gap before the race ended under yellow.
This victory meant that I would start on pole for the dry Semi Final. It was a surreal feeling sitting on pole position with so many fans watching! I was proud to be an American. My start went well initially, I held my position until Druids. Once we reached the hairpin I had a car on either side of me and was not in the best position. When I got to the exit, another driver pushed me into the grass, and I dropped back to eighth. Nothing could have prepared me for how aggressive everyone was going to be and I am glad I experienced it. I ended up finishing sixth, which would mean I started 12th for the Final.
I was on a mission in the Final, and worked my way up to fifth overall. Considering the competition, lack of seat time in the dry and where I started, I was very pleased with my result! (So was everyone else -Ed.)
Tristan and I had a few days off to relax and help the team get ready to travel back to the shop starting Monday. Once we got to Corby we spent time with Cliff and the team getting ready for Silverstone. We got to visit WestTec, an F3 shop just down the road from Cliff’s shop. We drove their simulator for a few hours and got prepared for the Walter Hayes Trophy.
We had two days of testing this time around, and it was in the rain again! We spent the two days learning the track and getting acclimated with the new setup for the weekend. Qualifying was our first session in the dry unfortunately, and I qualified sixth. The draft is huge on the National circuit, so I was not worried.
The Quarter Final was actually my favorite race! I worked my way up to third but it was not handed to me. I was most impressed with how the Cliff Dempsey Racing crew took the tiny amount of data that we gathered from the 10-minute qualifying session and made enough changes to my driving style and car setup to allow me to set the second fastest lap in the Quarter Final. I got a great taste of European racing. There was tons of bump drafting and I saw another driver use a really clever trick that I had never seen before! I don’t think anyone will notice if I use it myself when I go back to America… Thanks!
I started eighth for the Semi Final and finished eighth. The race took place with weird track conditions; it was in a semi-dry greasy state. The track was never greasy in testing so I was just learning again. In the Grand Final I had to start 16th, because of the Semi Final result, and worked my way up into 10th.
I was very happy with how the Final went because the level of competition was unreal. I could not believe the talent level of the top 25 drivers, and the years of experience that some drivers had! I think if the Semi Final had gone a little better, that I could have definitely been with Tristan in the top five. A top-10 finish was definitely something to be proud of with the experience that I have. When I saw that Tristan had won the race I was so ecstatic for him. We were as close as brothers by the end of the two weeks and I was happy he was able to get the job done.
My goal for England before I left was to represent the United States well and learn as much as I could. Finishing each Grand Final, having two podiums, a win, and a pole position is a great two weeks in my mind. I learned more about racing on and off track than I ever could have expected and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity that Jeremy Shaw, Cliff Dempsey Racing, and all of the Team USA Scholarship supporters have given me.
Jack Mitchell Jr.