Team USA Scholarship drivers Max Esterson and Andre Castro enjoyed a successful opening day at the 50th Annual Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch. Esterson, 19, from New York, N.Y., led from pole position to checkered flag to win his opening Heat race, while fellow New Yorker Castro, 22, executed an impressive last-lap pass to finish third and secure a strong starting position for tomorrow morning’s Semi Final round.
Conditions changed dramatically during the day, with the initial qualifying sessions held in pouring rain. A tremendous entry of almost 100 cars necessitated four Heat races from which the top 12 finishers in each race would qualify directly for a pair of Semi Final races.
Drawn in Heat 1, Castro qualified fifth fastest this morning in the worst of the conditions. He lost a place off the line to Irish veteran Robert Barrable in tricky, drying conditions but remained in contention throughout an exciting 12-lap race. Polesitter Jamie Sharp clearly had the pace but not the patience as a couple of grassy excursions restricted him to second place behind former Festival winner Jonathan Browne.
Veteran Chris Middlehurst looked set for third place until an inspired drive by Castro culminated in the American diving through under braking for Clearways on the final lap. Having overtaken Barrable with a similar maneuver a couple of laps earlier, Castro narrowly hold off Middlehurst as the pair sped across the finish line.
“Really pleased with P3 in today’s heat race,” said Castro. “I felt as though the car came to me as the track dried off, as we started with the sun out on a damp track. I was able to recover from P5 in the last couple of laps, taking third in the last corner and drag racing to the line. Happy to finish up near the front and to have a solid starting spot for tomorrow’s Semi Final! Thanks to Low Dempsey Racing for the great car, and can’t wait to finish strongly on Sunday.”
Track conditions were little less wet when the Heat 3 contenders ventured onto the challenging 1.2-mile track for qualifying. Esterson proved to be the class of the field as he annexed pole position ahead of perennial Brands Hatch front-runner Oliver White.
Now on a fully dry track under a sunny sky, Esterson made an exemplary start to maintain his lead into Paddock Hill Bend, after which he controlled the remainder of the race, despite intense pressure from White. The two leaders were separated by just 0.179s at the checkered flag.
“I’m really happy to make it through day 1 of the Festival with a clean sweep,” said Esterson. “I struggled at the start of qualifying, but after a red flag the tires really came in and I put in a lap that was enough for pole by over two tenths.
“I knew the Heat race would be a challenge as I had last year’s Walter Hayes Trophy winner, Ollie White, starting in second in dry but patchy conditions. I managed to hold off Ollie several times into Clearways and just focused on getting good exits onto the pit straight to make a gap onto the pit straight. My focus for now is on winning the Semi-Final tomorrow in order to be in a good position for the Final.”
Former Festival winners Joey Foster, from Truro, England, and Niall Murray, from Dublin, Ireland, were the day’s other two Heat race winners.
The first Semi Final race is set to start at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow, with the 20-lap Grand Final slated for 3:40 p.m. local time. Time and scoring is available here and all races will be live streamed here.