(Editor’s note: As we approach this year’s running of the Walter Hayes Trophy, one of the most competitive development races in the world, I thought it would be beneficial to other young drivers to hear from a driver with experience in the event so that they could describe the experience. Toronto-based driver Michael Gibaut kindly took the time to explain what the race meant to him and why you as a driver should consider participating. This year’s edition will be held November 2 & 3, 2019. Mark)
I took the usual route of climbing the motorsport ladder by starting in karting and then moving up to Formula Ford 1600 which is where I got introduced to the Walter Hayes Trophy which is always held at the home of British Motorsport at Silverstone in Northamptonshire, first weekend of November.
My move up to Formula Ford was orchestrated by James Beckett of James Beckett Motorsport. James is known in the UK as Mr Formula Ford. James organizes the annual Walter Hayes Trophy and other Formula Ford events in the UK throughout the racing season. James put me in touch with a small Formula Ford Team which was based in the south coast of the UK, Plymouth, as they were looking for a new driver. At that time I was living in the South coast as well, so EMax Motorsport were easy accessible for me.
Having spoken to the Team Boss, Glen, I was told that they did have an opening for a driver however the only test dates they had were in November at Silverstone and during the Walter Hayes Trophy. I had no idea about this undertaking to test at the world’s biggest Formula Ford race so I readily accepted. It was only when my dad and I arrived at Silverstone on a very cold and wet day early November that I realized how big this event was.
Walter Hayes was a marketing executive guru for the Ford Motor Company who was instrumental in the formation of Formula Ford racing and also the famous Le Mans winning Ford GT40. Walter Hayes passed away in December 2000 and the trophy was created the following year to celebrate his life and career, Formula Ford in particular.
This race weekend is the traditional season finale at Silverstone and provides the best wheel to wheel action during the course of the year. It has turned into what is considered the most prestigious racing event for Formula Ford 1600’s which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017.
The Walter Hayes Trophy attracts competitors from all around the globe to participate in a knockout competition. Over 100 cars will start the event, driven by both professional drivers and amateur racers and they will battle through a series of heats on the opening day to reach Sunday’s all-important knockout phase. With each race, further competitors leave the competition until, after two semi-finals, the top thirty-six driver’s line-up for the Grand Final. The winner of this race will win the Walter Hayes Trophy, and join a growing list of distinguished drivers to have done so. It is a full 4 day event with practice on the Thursday, Friday then racing Saturday, Sunday.
Having never even sat in a Formula Ford car before, the Thursday night was spent seat fitting and then getting into the car, a Swift 92, and just getting used to it driving it around one of the empty parking lots at Silverstone. I was fine and was enjoying every moment, but I do remember my Dad and Glen really feeling the biting cold just watching me and their faces when I would say “Just one more time”!
Overnight the pits and garages at Silverstone started to really fill up and when we got back in the morning, it was a real buzz and such a great atmosphere with everyone helping to get cars out on the tracks despite the fact that once the cars left the garages you were rivals on the circuit. My enduring memories of the 4 yrs I raced in Walter Hayes were the cold in the pits and the outbursts of torrential rain on occasions out on the circuit. British weather is never the best in early November, however, for me, it was a baptism of fire and I relished the challenge, but also accepting I was there to look, learn and listen from some of the world’s best drivers in Formula Ford.
My 2 days of testing went well and thankfully nothing untoward happened during my “learner” times on the circuit despite being in the midst of 38 cars on occasions, and I secured the drive with EMax for the next season.
Over the next 3 years, I raced with EMax Motorsport and Souley Motorsport in this fantastic event. During the many races that I took part in, it was always the close camaraderie in the pits with all the other drivers, the teams, the many cups of tea made in the biting cold weather with everyone huddled around the cars trying to get fixed or improve on the last times, to the excitement, but also the nervousness of heading out onto the Silverstone National circuit with up to 40 cars on the grids and the close wheel to wheel racing you knew you were going to get.
In 2017 I secured my first front row start in the event. Sitting on the front row with 38 Formula Fords all looking to catch me into the first corner, Copse, of the National Circuit was pretty daunting. Into the next race and I was back on the front row however that race didn’t last long for me as I was caught up in a racing incident going into Woodcote corner and that was my race over.
If you are a FF driver and you relish the challenge of racing on big grids at the Home of British Motorsport, then you have to take the challenge and get yourself over to the UK and put an entry in for the Walter Hayes Trophy, details of which can always be found on Silverstone’s website.
If you’re wondering why I am doing this article for Motorsport Prospects, it’s because my Formula Ford racing is taking me onto Sports car racing either in Canada or the US and I am now based in Toronto. It just goes to show how important this festival can be in building careers.
Please take a look at my website www.michaelgibaut.com