|Connor De Phillippi and Brett Smrz|
The latest pair of Team USA Scholarship drivers, Connor De Phillippi and Brett Smrz, today completed a successful first test session at Brands Hatch, where they will make their European racing debuts in this weekend’s Formula Ford Festival.
After an overnight flight from Boston to Dublin, followed by a seat fitting at Cliff Dempsey Racing’s shop in Ashbourne, County Meath, another overnight ferry journey to Holyhead in north Wales and then a lengthy drive to Brands Hatch in south-eastern England, De Phillippi and Smrz were able to take a brief look around the famed Brands Hatch Indy circuit prior to their first taste of their identically prepared Ray GRS07/08 Formula Ford cars.
"My first time out in the car went really well," said De Phillippi, who clinched this year’s BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National Presented by Mazda with a pair of solid finishes at Lime Rock Park last Friday and Saturday. "I adapted to the car’s characteristics quite easily, because they are quite similar to the Skip Barber car. It moves around a lot, although it is still very stable in the high-speed turns. Understeer seems to be a common characteristic, so adapting my driving to that will be the next step. Adapting to the H-pattern gearbox was a bit tricky, but for now the car is great. I’m just focusing on perfecting the track."
According to unofficial timing, 16-year-old De Phillippi, from San Clemente, Calif., was within a few tenths of today’s best lap times. Smrz, 18, from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, also was close to the pace despite a brief trip into a gravel trap.
"The car was a bit difficult to get used to," said Smrz. "It tended to have a lot of understeer, rather than a lot of oversteer. The Skip Barber cars tend to be more on the loose side, so it is something that I had to take some time to overcome."
Both youngsters thoroughly enjoyed their first taste of the undulating and challenging Brands Hatch circuit.
"Paddock Hill Bend is quite some turn," exclaimed Smrz. "The first time I went through there, I didn’t expect the drop to be quite as severe as it looked. Once you are in the car, it feels like a roller coaster. There is a compression at the bottom of the hill, and then it immediately starts to climb back up another hill. You definitely have to build your confidence."
Veteran Formula Ford driver-turn-team owner Cliff Dempsey was impressed by the two Americans. Dempsey also looked after the pair of 2008 Team USA Scholarship drivers, with Josef Newgarden becoming the first American to win the Formula Ford (Kent) Festival and Conor Daly adding a victory in the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone.
"They’re not going too bad," he said with characteristic understatement. "My first impressions are good. You keep sending me kids like this and I’ll run them anytime, anywhere. They’re great!"