Team USA Blog: Elliott Budzinski

The Formula Ford Festival is over, Thomas has joined William and I at our base in Milton Keynes away from the track, and our time in the UK is over. The events and results of Brands Hatch have been published and recounted, but what has not been shared are my personal experiences of the Formula Ford Festival and what life is like as a scholarship driver for the American team.

Looking back, I made some costly mistakes on Saturday at Brands Hatch that ended up carrying over to the rest of the weekend, which actually started even earlier during practice days. The value of the practice days cannot be underestimated, and the way I ran the races was not as calculated as it should have been. A few more practice starts at the pit lane exit may have changed everything. Although I think it’s obvious that the weekend didn’t deliver the result I wanted, the car felt solid. I take it as a learning experience – weeding out small mistakes that can tip results in a completely opposite direction.

On the here and now… we are once again staying in our flat in Milton Keynes. It’s not something I’ve talked about much, but all this time is a big adjustment for me. It’s the longest time I’ve been away from home and lived alone, and I feel like I’ve grown in the process. I’d like to think I’m responsible at home, and my job for MPG Motorsport involves a lot of independence, but everything that is part of Team USA life pushes me further than ever. Before leaving, I wondered if I would be homesick. Although there are times I miss staying in my own bed and being with family, for the most part it’s so busy that there isn’t much time to miss life at the House. It’s what I dreamed of doing, and it’s hard to forget.

The best part of this week off is that Thomas, William and I were lucky enough to have a factory tour most days. Haas F1, McLaren Technical Centre, Multimatic Motorsports and Ilmor Engineering Ltd. all generously took the time to show us around. The first was Haas and it did not disappoint! While it wasn’t a literal F1 ‘factory’, that doesn’t take away from what we saw there. The UK factory is more of a home base directing all Haas Formula 1 operations and preparations. Mark Lowe kindly showed us around and answered all of our questions. The effort required to lead a Formula 1 team is astonishing.

On Tuesday we visited Ilmor Engineering with 2020 Team USA Scholarship winner Bryce Aron accompanying us. Ilmor is a British high-performance motor racing engineering company that runs Chevrolet’s IndyCar program, among other things. As you walk through the door to reception you are greeted by IndyCar V6 and V8 engines on the pits, along with others they have worked on over the years. Principal Design Engineer Simon Young gave us a very in-depth tour, taking us through the design office and then where engines are built, stress tested, improved, before a final version is sent out. It was awesome to see their engine dynos where the race laps are simulated. The size of the installation and the intricacy of the one piece engineering, not to mention the entire engine, is simply amazing.

On Wednesday, the three of us were with Ammonite’s two full-time mechanics, Adam Thomas and Toby Evans, off to Woking for a tour of the McLaren Technical Centre. The folks at MTC Events were immediately welcoming and after a few quick refreshes we started on the ‘Boulevard’ which features lots of special road cars and former World Championship winning F1 cars. In my opinion, the 1988 MP4/4 was the star. It was amazing to see the history in this showroom and to consider the people who have been instrumental for McLaren over the years. We continued to the heart of the operation where F1 cars are designed and built. Lots of stories are told about how clean the facility is, but when you hear “you can perform surgery in their rooms” it’s no exaggeration. The visit to the trophy room ended the visit perfectly.

The week ended at the Multimatic Vehicle Dynamic Center. It started early in the morning when William and I introduced Thomas to public transport in England by taking the train from Milton Keynes, via London, and then on to Thetford. Dan Bridgeman was amazing – as an engineer he was able to answer our questions with very technical answers. We have seen how different manufacturers/race teams test the limits and capabilities of their cars and how different changes in setup affect vehicle dynamics. We started with the large physical test beds on which the cars are placed and studied their different purposes. He followed that up with what we pilots find most interesting – the loop pilot simulator.

As a driver, you often don’t take into account all the work done by the team off the track. Seeing the different facilities gave me an extra level of appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes, with so many different people putting their hearts and souls into racing cars and motorsports. I am eternally grateful to everyone who showed us around and answered all of our questions, including the silly ones.

Now all eyes are on the Walter Hayes Trophy. I plan to take everything I learned at the Formula Ford Festival and add to it. I have the right mood for next week and one goal – to bring home gear for Team USA and Ammonite Motorsports.

– Elliott

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