Esterson wins Walter Hayes Trophy as Smith reclaims British Truck title

It’s pretty much the last thing you want before starting on pole position for the Walter Hayes Trophy final in just your first full season of racing in the UK. As if the thought of keeping a field packed with previous event winners, Formula Ford Festival victors and a host of Formula Ford champions behind you is not pressure-inducing enough, adding a tense 45-minute wait in the assembly area for the grid to be finalised amid ongoing protests takes the pre-race anxiety up to a whole new level. “It definitely didn’t help the nerves,” admitted that polesitter, Team USA Scholarship driver Max Esterson. Yet there was no need for the Low Dempsey Racing man to be concerned.

He headed into the final in a rich vein of form, having taken impressive wins in both his heat and semi-final to secure that crucial pole position in his Ray GR18. And he then went on to produce a consummate display, only briefly losing the lead, to become the first American to win the Hayes since Tristan Nunez in 2012. But it could all have been very different.

Two-time event winner Michael Moyers started alongside Esterson on the front row – he’d matched his feat of winning a heat and semi – and got the better launch, diving up the inside into Copse. Esterson held on around the outside, but Moyers believed Esterson ran wide off the track in doing so and gained a crucial advantage. “That changed the whole dynamic of the race,” said Moyers. Instead of fighting for the lead, the Spectrum driver had a whole queue of cars jostling to deprive him of second.

And that allowed Esterson to establish a crucial advantage. With Moyers coming under repeated attacks, notably from last year’s Festival victor Rory Smith around the outside of Brooklands, Esterson was able to build a half-second margin. “Max was just edging away and everyone was fighting, going four wide down the Wellington Straight and I’m thinking, ‘We’re giving Max an easy win here – what are we playing at, what are we doing?'” said Moyers. Matters came to a head on lap five of 15.

Smith made another attempt around the outside of Brooklands and kept the inside approaching Luffield. Neither driver was prepared to back out and significant contact sent Moyers spinning and left Smith out. Unsurprisingly, each driver blamed the other and both – justifiably – felt they were denied the chance to give Esterson something to think about. “It’s just one of those things,” said Moyers, who continued racing out of pride to finish 29th and believed he had been driving better than ever this year.

Smith added: “I wanted to get ahead of Moyers to bridge the gap to Max. I gave it my all and it didn’t quite happen.”

Michael Moyers is tipped into a spin by Rory Smith in the Walter Hayes Trophy final, Silverstone 2021

Photo by: Steve Jones

Therefore, instead of his rivals closing, Esterson had extended his lead to 1.4s. It looked like game over, his advantage gargantuan in terms of Formula Ford racing at Silverstone.

But Chris Middlehurst had other ideas. This year’s National champion was in the right place to profit from the Moyers/Smith collision and quickly started hunting down Esterson. “I saw that [clash] coming and went to the inside and read that well,” said Middlehurst. Behind, last year’s winner Oliver White (Medina JL17) and the impressive Ben Mitchell (Van Diemen JL16) were engaging in their own tussle, Wayne Poole Racing driver Mitchell initially getting third on the inside of Becketts, before White retaliated a few laps later with a brilliantly executed dive down the inside at Brooklands.

As this pair began closing on the leaders, Team Dolan ace Middlehurst was right with Esterson with three laps to go and drew his Van Diemen LA10 alongside on several occasions. Then, on the final lap, he edged ahead approaching Becketts, only for Esterson to out-brake him into the corner in a move he feared would end in disaster. But, before Middlehurst could fight back, suddenly he was down to fourth on the Wellington Straight. “Going from third to fourth, I missed a gear and that dropped me back,” Middlehurst explained.

That meant Esterson was able to cross the line just 0.249s clear of White and Mitchell to take a well-deserved win. “I don’t believe it,” enthused Esterson. “It definitely helps after finishing second last weekend [in the Festival] – that hurt a lot. I had a good lead but the tow is so huge here and I couldn’t get away.” White was delighted with second after starting down in eighth, stating: “I don’t think I could’ve got much more out of it.” And Mitchell rounded out a happy podium, after entering with no expectations but ending the event as one of the stand-out stars. “I was going in with an open mind,” he said, having enjoyed the battle. “It was very close – not an inch was given.”

Esterson wins Walter Hayes Trophy as Smith reclaims British Truck title

Max Esterson, 2021 Walter Hayes Trophy winner

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey

Middlehurst therefore had to settle for fourth, while Josh Fisher grabbed fifth from Lucas Romanek’s Oldfield Motorsport Van Diemen JL15 on the final lap to add to the Wayne Poole team’s successful event, this duo finishing some way clear of the squabbling Joey Foster and Matt Cowley, who had made contact earlier in the day.

“I will take that after getting knocked out in the semi-final,” said Fisher, who started 12th. “I thought I would sit back and watch it all happen and managed to pick them off.” Cowley and Foster’s semi-final collision was triggered by Tom Mills, and Mills’s appeal of his 13s penalty contributed to the farcical delay to the final. The 16-year-old had shown impressive pace throughout the weekend but had a habit of getting into scrapes. And that was again the case in the final when he and Jonny McMullan (Van Diemen LA10) collided at Brooklands, leaving McMullan out and Mills finishing 19th.

This meant David McCullough (RF00) and Felix Fisher – who battled through the repechage races after car woes (see heats report) – were able to complete the top 10. But it was Esterson who was left to enjoy the largest celebrations, with those pre-race nerves well and truly banished to being just a distant memory.

Brands Hatch BARC: Smith secures sixth British Truck title

Esterson wins Walter Hayes Trophy as Smith reclaims British Truck title

Ryan Smith, British Trucks, Brands Hatch 2021

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

A sell-out crowd at Brands Hatch on Sunday witnessed Ryan Smith fight back from a points deficit to claim his sixth British Truck Racing title in a row after a frantic finale. The return after two years of MotorSport Vision’s fireworks spectacular helped ensure a bumper turn-out, with the headline truck races supported by a packed programme on and off the track.

In a season dogged by reliability problems, Smith came to Kent third in the Trucks table behind David Jenkins and Martin Gibson. Smith qualified fastest and Stuart Oliver was second despite only one flying lap. Jenkins was next, but Gibson’s third-row spot was left empty after he struggled to the pits with a gearbox problem.

He was given a reprieve, though, when Shane Brereton plunged off at the first corner and brought out the red flags. Gibson’s repairs were completed before the rerun, which was dominated by Smith with Jenkins a distant second. John Newell and Gibson contested third, while Oliver retired with overheating.

Race one’s order was reversed for the grid in race two, but Oliver was a spectator after his problem was diagnosed as a cracked cylinder head. Smith won again after starting seventh, but Jenkins’s hopes were dashed by a first-lap trip through the Paddock Hill gravel. He recovered to third behind Gibson despite grappling with broken rear suspension, but was promoted to second when Gibson was disqualified for overspeeding.

Meanwhile, second in class to Willem Breedijk guaranteed Craig Reid the Division 2 championship title. Smith and Jenkins were on equal points on Sunday morning and, while Smith stormed to another win from eighth, Jenkins struggled to finish sixth. Gibson was fifth, but his title hopes were already over because of his earlier disqualification.

Jenkins made the most of a front-row start in race four and soon headed into the distance. Smith was also on a charge, eventually being classified fifth, but Brereton and Reid came to grief separately on fluid dropped at Druids, bringing the race to a halt.

Esterson wins Walter Hayes Trophy as Smith reclaims British Truck title

Miles Rudman, Legends, Brands Hatch 2021

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

This set up a tense final with Smith defending a one-point lead, although he started with a grid advantage over Jenkins (third versus seventh). Smith hit the front on lap two, but the decisive moment came two laps later when Jenkins jostled Mark Taylor onto the grass at Surtees and the errant truck slammed into Jenkins as it rejoined.

Remarkably, these two and innocent victim Steve Thomas all continued, but by now Smith was long gone in the lead and secured another title. Division 2 provided an exciting battle, which ended with Steven Powell beating Reid, Simon Cole and Brad Smith, the group also having to contend with the recovering Taylor and Jenkins. Legends points leader Miles Rudman suffered in the first of Saturday’s trio of races, two caution periods hampering his efforts to move up from a lowly grid spot.

He finished sixth in the opener, before race two yielded second place. Rudman finished ninth in the final, the three wins shared by Sean Smith, Will Gibson and John Mickel. Rudman won Sunday’s opening race and tied up this year’s championship in a typical slipstreaming battle with Gibson and Jack Parker.

Rudman looked set to win the second heat as well, but Dan Clark swooped past on the final lap. Mickel, Gibson, Smith and a closing Rudman crossed the line in that order in race three in a blanket finish. New Junior Saloon champion Charlie Hand only missed the podium at one event all year, and he completed a triumphant season with two more wins.

Harvey Caton lost any lingering chance of overhauling his rival with a grassy moment and a pitstop in the first race. Stars of the Saturday encounter were Jamie Petters and Ruben Hage, who spent much of the race door to door and completed an entire lap side by side before finishing third and fourth.

Esterson wins Walter Hayes Trophy as Smith reclaims British Truck title

George Turiccki (left) battles David O’Regan, Pickups, Brands Hatch 2021

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

David O’Regan made only his second Pickup Truck appearance of 2021 and won the first race in unusually dominant fashion on the road, but a track-limits penalty dropped him to eighth in the results. Dean Tompkins passed father Paul at the last corner to be credited with the win, while Matt Simpson was close behind, despite a gearbox problem.

George Turiccki, 2019 champion before COVID-19 wrote off the whole of last season, was only going to be robbed of another crown if a whole list of unlikely events got in his way. And he stayed out of trouble to come home in fifth place. Turiccki led from the start of race two, but the field was quickly brought under safety car control after Mark Willis, Michael Smith and Dean Tompkins tangled on the drop down to Graham Hill Bend.

At the resumption, Allen Cooper led briefly before sliding off, and Simpson spun out of third after a bump at Clearways. This left Turiccki and O’Regan to trade the lead before the Irishman eventually gained some consolation for Saturday’s disappointment with victory. The Classic Touring Car Racing Club celebrated and honoured the contribution of marshals with a pair of Allcomers’ races.

Mike Saunders’s V8 Ford Escort Mk1 was leading Rod Birley (BMW M3) and Gary Prebble (Honda Civic) on the road when the first race was stopped early to rescue Guy Martin’s stranded Trabant 600RS. This made nonsense of the handicap system being applied on the timing screens. Scott Kirwan’s Renault Clio, 32nd in qualifying, was declared the winner while Saunders, Birley and Prebble were classified 24th, eighth and 23rd respectively.

Esterson wins Walter Hayes Trophy as Smith reclaims British Truck title

Guy Martin, Trabant 600RS, Brands Hatch 2021

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

The woefully slow Trabants missed race two, which featured a superb duel between Malcolm Harding’s Escort Mk2 and Sam Wilson in Rikki Cann’s Aston Martin V8 Vantage.

Despite their heroic efforts in traffic, they were classified second and third behind Colin Claxton’s Escort Mk1, which was generously treated by the handicapper. Birley crashed on lap one after trying to pass Prebble. Alistair Dendy beat Alex Cursley in a shortened Hyundai Coupe race after an opening-lap stoppage.

Wayne Rockett kept them company in third. Red flags also interrupted race two, which was rerun for five minutes, giving Dendy another win over Cursley with two generations of the appropriately named Rocketts – son Jonny in front of dad Wayne – next along. Reports by Stephen Lickorish and Brian Phillips.

Pictures by Steve Jones and Gary Hawkins.

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Esterson wins Walter Hayes Trophy as Smith reclaims British Truck title

Brands Hatch firework display

Photo by: Gary Hawkins