Junior Open Wheel Talent

News and Views on Drivers Chasing Open-Wheel Stardom

Team USA Scholarship-2009

by Ryan Stringfield
Posted November 2, 2009 at 5:53 pm Team USA Scholarship

Team USA Drivers (L)Connor De Phillippi, (R)Brett Smrz

Team USA (L)Connor De Phillippi, (R)Brett Smrz (photos-Team USA Scholarship)

Brett Smrz and Connor De Phillippi, who were the selected recipients of the 2009 Team USA Scholarship, were faced with an unprecedented amount of pressure after being chosen.  The duo had to follow in the footsteps of Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly, who set the bar pretty high in 2008.  Newgarden became the first American to win the prestigious Formula Ford Festival and Daly became the youngest driver in history to win the Walter Hayes Trophy.

The pressure didn’t seem to affect Smrz or De Phillippi though, as both drivers are very confident individuals.  Typically, when you have an amalgam of confidence and natural talent… success is imminent.  And in this case, it was.

The European adventure can’t be entirely sugarcoated though, as both drivers faced the typical ups-and-downs of racing.  In order to fully develop, a driver needs a library of experience; some good, some bad, and some that are just labeled ‘a learning experience‘.  It’s safe to say that both De Phillippi and Smrz had their share of each.  Which is okay, because victory always tastes sweeter after sampling disappointment.

Formula Ford Festival- Brands Hatch

Both drivers were incredibly quick in the Kent Class at the Formula Ford Festival.

Connor De Phillippi, who won the 2009 Skip Barber National championship, qualified 3rd for his first heat.  He followed that up with another 3rd in his heat race.  Despite setting the fastest lap of the race and battling for the lead, De Phillippi finished 8th in the Semi-Final after gearbox troubles and a slight mistake dropped him down the time sheets.  In the final, he was collected by a spinning competitor which relegated him to 12th.  Ultimately, he finished 10th.

Brett Smrz- 27th to 4th (photo--jeffbloxham.com)

Brett Smrz- 27th to 4th (photo--jeffbloxham.com)

Brett Smrz also had his share of bad luck at Brands Hatch.  He qualified 2nd in his group heading into the heat races.  With a solid run in his heat race, he finished 2nd.  And then that moment of heartbreak and disappointment struck– he DNF’d the Semi-Final.  Determined not to let one race ruin a great opportunity, Smrz drove from 17th to 3rd in the Last Chance race.  Just to make the final after starting back in 17th in the Last Chance race is impressive, but Smrz wasn’t satisfied.  He proceeded to continue his charge in the Final, moving from 27th on the grid (out of 28 cars) to finish 4th.  A drive like that is more impressive than a win in my eyes and I’m sure the race fans at Brands Hatch were equally impressed.

Walter Hayes Trophy- Silverstone

Two weeks after the Formula Ford Festival the American duo traveled to Silverstone for the Walter Hayes Trophy.

Brett Smrz showcased his speed at Silverstone by winning his heat race (Heat 4) by 4.298 seconds.  He followed that up with a 3rd in his Semi-Final.  Unfortunately, contact with another competitor early in the Final ended his chance of winning the race.  He finished 9th in the Final, which is still very impressive considering this year’s WHT featured over 120 entries.

Connor De Phillippi Wins the Walter Hayes Trophy

Connor De Phillippi Wins the Walter Hayes Trophy (photo: jeffbloxham.com)

Connor De Phillippi was ready to make up for disappointment in the Formula Ford Festival two-weeks prior.  He started out by finishing second in his heat (Heat 5).  From there, things only got better.  De Phillippi proceeded to win his Semi-Final race by nearly 8-seconds.  Saving his best for last, he won the 2009 Walter Hayes Trophy by 1.035 seconds.  Not only did he win the race, he broke Conor Daly’s record as the “Youngest Driver to win the Walter Hayes Trophy” by a mere 10-days.  At the time of the win, De Phillippi was 16 years, 10 months and six days old.

All in all, this year’s Team USA effort was extremely successful.  Connor and Brett may not have won both events this year as Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden did last season, but, certainly, each of them drove at least one race they will never forget.  On top of that, they turned quite a few heads in doing so.

Click Here for further reading on Team USA.

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