Houk, Sullivan Qualify Comfortably for Formula Ford Festival Semi Finals

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Published on October 21, 2023 with No Comments

Nolan Allaer and Ayrton Houk finished first and third in the opening Heat race (Rianna Low).

DARTFORD, Kent, UK – Team USA Scholarship drivers Ayrton Houk and Jack Sullivan finished third and fourth in their respective 12-lap Heat races as the prestigious Formula Ford Festival kicked off today at Brands Hatch. Both young Americans secured automatic qualification for the pair of Semi Finals races to be run on Sunday morning which will set the grid for the Grand Final later in the day.

Heavy overnight rain ensured Sullivan ventured out onto a fully wet track during qualifying for Heat One first thing this morning. He briefly ran at the top of the timing charts before ultimately earning fourth position on the grid. The race also was held in wet conditions, which posed its own challenge for the 17-year-old from Hamilton, Ohio.

Sullivan looks for a way past Smyth (Gary Hawkins photos).

“I actually based my start off the musical note of the engine rather than rpm,” related Sullivan. “I used to play piano and I’ve retained a bit of the ‘perfect pitch’ that comes with it, meaning I can recognize certain musical notes. I watched a video of a previous start in the wet and I recognized a B note, and I adapted it to the wetness of my session and used an A note and it was the best start I’ve ever had.”

Sullivan immediately gained one position off the line, only to be shuffled down a couple of places at Paddock Hill Bend. He was stuck behind Jason Smyth for the first seven laps, until the Irishman was pressured into a mistake at Clearways. Sullivan then matched the pace of the leaders to finish fourth.

Sullivan feels confident for tomorrow’s Semi Final round.

“Overall, I feel good about my heat but I still feel a podium was possible had I not made those mistakes in the first corners,” he said. “Now I’ll be preparing for the upcoming semifinal tomorrow morning where I hope to put myself in a solid starting spot for the final.”

The race was won by former Castle Combe Circuit champion Luke Cooper from Festival veterans Chris Middlehurst and two-time Festival champion Niall Murray.

Qualifying for Heat Two also was held in wet conditions, with Houk, 20, from McCordsville, Ind., similarly snaring fourth on the starting grid behind Ammonite Motorsport teammate and fellow American Nolan Allaer, British Formula Ford championship winner Jordan Kelly and established front-runner Jordan Dempsey.

Houk drove flawlessly to finish on the podium .

2020 Festival winner Rory Smith leapt ahead of Houk at the start, but after some early jockeying for position, Houk recovered to finish third behind Allaer, who led the entire 12-lap distance to secure a stylish first UK victory, and Smith.

“It was still quite damp for our heat race,” said Houk. “I knew a big portion of my finishing position would come from minimizing mistakes and staying on track. I focused on hitting my marks and holding my position from a hard charging Jordan Kelly and Jordan Dempsey. I was able to find most of my time through Clearways sliding the car all the way to the outside almost like I was back in my dirt midget again! I am extremely pleased with my P3 finish in the heat and looking forward to continuing my momentum into the Semi Final and Final tomorrow.”

2021 Festival winner Jamie Sharp led throughout Heat Three, followed by American Jeremy Fairbairn.

Houk will line up fourth and Sullivan sixth on the grid for the first Semi Final, which is slated for the green flag at 10:30 tomorrow. Allaer will start on pole position. Cooper will take up pole position for the second Semi Final with the top 14 from each progressing directly into the Grand Final.

Tom Davey, aka TD, is riding with both Team USA drivers.

The races will be live streamed on the BRSCC’s YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDBnBRfiOhk. Live timing will be available at https://www.tsl-timing.com/Event/234230.

Both Team USA cars are carrying a “TD3″ decal in recognition of long-time Road Racing Drivers Club member and five-time SCCA National Champion Tom Davey, who passed away earlier this week at age 81. A staunch advocate of Formula Ford and the Team USA Scholarship, Davey, an accomplished writer and filmmaker, directed and produced the entire library of SAFEisFAST.com videos – a free online resource originated by Davey and fellow RRDC member Jim Mullen which has benefited countless aspiring racing champions over the past 12 years.

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