Brigstock, England – That's a pretty weird title, right? Don't worry, it's going to make a lot more sense soon!
I do believe we left off at the end of testing at Brands Hatch for the Formula Ford Festival. So Saturday dawns and brings with it – much to everyone's surprise – a bit of sunshine and warm weather! The track was still a little damp from an overnight shower when I made my way out for qualifying but I quickly figured out where the damp patches were and how to avoid them and then put in a quick lap amongst all the traffic. I used to complain about traffic in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda but I don't think I'll be able to do that anymore after experiencing 30 Formula Fords on a 1.2-mile track!
I knew my time was pretty good but had no idea if it would hold up until I came around the last lap of qualifying and saw the Cliff Dempsey guys holding up my pit board with "P1" on it. So, step one complete! If anyone would have asked me if I was going to qualify on pole my first time at Brands Hatch I probably would have told them "of course!" but, in reality that would've been a bit of a stretch!
Heat 1 was right after lunch for me. It was time to put my standing start skills to the test! Luckily, no one was actually grading my standing start because it would of gotten a C – at best. (Ed: I was!) I had too much wheelspin and instantly dropped to second by the first corner. I got a lap to gather myself up and then made a charge for the lead. Coming into Clearways (the last corner) I made a nice move up the inside to take the lead and then sailed off for the win from there. So just like that in my first day of racing in the UK I grabbed pole position and a win! Winners at the Festival get these Christmas wreaths of different colors. (Ed, again: All winners of UK races receive those, Aaron!) Which is a cool and different idea instead of just trophies! After a fun night with the team I headed to bed to be ready for the big day.
Sunday again was a weird weather day for the UK. It was a super-nice warm day (I wasn't complaining!). (Ed, once more: Thin ice, frog!) I started my Semi-Final from pole position and this time improved my standing start about two full letter grades. I held first place and only had to do some defending for the first lap. As much as I don't like how you're allowed to defend your position over here I have to say I was a huge fan of it while I was leading! Basically, if you don't want someone to pass you, you're allowed to do pretty much whatever you want. So I held my position and began to pull a nice gap on the rest of the field. Then we had a Safety Car. You never want to see one of those while you're way out front. Luckily, I was watching the other Heat race from Saturday and saw how they handle Safety Cars. When the lights go out on the Safety Car it tears off for pit lane. The big difference is that over here the Safety Car does this about halfway through the lap. This leaves the pace completely up to the leader. So when the Safety Car pulled away I just slowed right down and waited on the back straight till it got far enough away that I wasn't going to catch it by the time I got around to the front straight. I put the hammer down at the end of the back straight and by the time I got to Paddock Hill Bend I already had a nice gap. Then with three laps to go we got another Safety Car! I felt like I was in NASCAR because we then had a "Green, White, Checkered" finish. I could nearly hear Darrell Waltrip getting all excited and saying "Boogity, Boogity, Boogity Boys!" I had another great restart and won comfortably. This gave me a guaranteed front row starting position for the Final. Sadly, the other Semi-Final only had one Safety Car which meant that their total race time was faster than ours so I would be starting P2 for the final!
I got a really good start in the final and instantly began to challenge for the lead. I was just sizing up first place to see where I might be able to make a move. Because of the extreme levels of defending here you either have to try something silly or wait for them to make a mistake. Because hindsight is 20/20 I can tell you the latter is probably the better choice. On Lap 4 I had great run onto the front straight and drafted alongside the leader into Paddock Hill Bend. I was on the outside and braked a bit too late which sent my car into a big slide. Just when I was gathering it up I got into the marbles and spun off into the gravel trap. My race and my shot at winning it all my first time in Europe was over.
As I was sitting in the gravel trap watching the rest of the race I realized I basically lived Ricky Bobby's motto – "If you ain't first, you're last!" – to a "T" this weekend. I qualified on pole, won both my Heat race and my Semi-Final. Then instead of being more patient and waiting for an opportunity or settling for second in the Final I went for it all and lost. I'm not extremely proud of it, but it's a funny comparison nonetheless.
I had so much fun this past weekend and learned a lot about racing and myself. Thank you so much to all the Team USA Scholarship supporters for making opportunities like this possible. And thank you to everyone at Cliff Dempsey Racing for giving me an amazing car all weekend. I'm sorry you'll be picking rocks out of it all week. I can't wait to bring all that I've learned to Silverstone next weekend for the Walter Hayes Trophy.
Thank you to all the readers as well who have been keeping up with my adventure!