Max Esterson enjoyed a strong weekend for the Team USA Scholarship at the 50th Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, followed by an eye-opening visit to the Multimatic facility in Thetford and a brief test of a GB3 Championship Tatuus with Douglas Motorsport.
This past weekend at Brands Hatch for the 50th Anniversary BRSCC Formula Ford Festival was the most amazing race weekend I’ve ever been a part of. With nearly 100 cars entered, the Brands Hatch Lower Paddock felt full and there was definitely some extra excitement in the air as several F1 and IndyCar legends including Scott Dixon, Bruno Giacomelli, Eddie Irvine and Jonathan Palmer came to watch and Jan Magnussen and Roberto Moreno even raced in the event!
Testing on Thursday was dry and my pace was strong. My Team USA teammate, Andre Castro, quickly learned his way around Brands Hatch in a Formula Ford, although it was a bit different to the last time he was there in a EuroNASCAR stock car. Friday morning was very wet and I struggled a bit compared to last year’s Festival winner, Rory Smith. New tires and a few adjustments for the second session really helped and I was setting the pace. The car was flying in the afternoon as the track started to dry but I spun entering Clearways and backed hard into the wall. The team did a great job getting the car back together and we were ready to go racing.
Qualifying on Saturday morning in the rain couldn’t have gone better. I grabbed the pole by over two tenths of a second over Ollie White with just a few minutes left in the session. The track mostly dried for the heat race in the afternoon; however, there were still some damp patches in Druids and Clearways making it pretty treacherous. I held onto the lead for the entirety of the 12-lap race but was under pressure the whole time from White, who finished only two tenths behind me. Winning the heat meant that I would start on pole for Semifinal Two on Sunday morning.
The skies opened up on Sunday, so much so that the tunnel to get to the pitlane was flooded! After the flooding cleared, the race got underway. I really struggled to get tire temperature and rapidly fell down the order and could only salvage seventh. It was a tough pill to swallow after dominating the start of the weekend, but teammates and previous Festival winners Dennis Lind and Jan Magnussen encouraged me to keep pushing, telling me that it was far from over even though I would be starting back in 13th for the Grand Final… And they were right!
The final was the most exciting race I have ever been a part of. The car was on rails and I was able to swiftly work through the field. After some daring overtakes and a crash between the leading three drivers, I was up seven positions by the fourth lap. At the halfway point of the 20-lap race, I made it up to third. Unfortunately, on lap 13, both Jamie Sharp (the leader) and I were passed under yellow flag conditions into Druids, which halted my progress for a few laps until I got a position back from Chris Middlehurst with a big lunge into Paddock Hill Bend on lap 16. I stalked Jamie Sharp and Neil Maclennan for the remaining laps, looking for a way by, but the opportunity was just not there. I had to settle for third (although I was later promoted to second), which at the time was a bit hard to take considering the team gave me a car to win and I was just .138 seconds away from doing so, but it’s also an amazing achievement after starting 13th.
It was my best drive to date and to be honest (above, Gary Hawkins photo), I cannot stop watching the replay of the race and thinking about what happened! It was also a huge success for the Team USA Scholarship and Low Dempsey Racing with Andre and I both on the podium after second-place finisher Maclennan was disqualified for passing under yellow. Dennis and Jan also moved through the field to finish ninth and 11th. There is definitely lots to be proud of with those results in one of the most stacked Formula Ford Festival grids in many years.
I will try to put it all aside for now as there’s another chance for success this weekend at the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone. The team has been hard at work prepping the cars and we have already hit the track for testing.
Andre and I have managed to keep busy this week with a tour of Multimatic’s facility in Thetford on Monday where they produce lots of complex components for both race cars and road cars, including dampers for some current F1 cars! On Tuesday we both had quick run in Douglas Motorsport’s GB3 Championship (British F3) cars at Bedford Autodrome (below) which was a blast! The grip the car had compared to the Formula Ford I’m used to was astonishing. Even though I had already driven the car a few months ago, 250 horsepower was still a lot to manage at first and it was quite tricky to get used to working hard to get temperature in the front tires. Bedford offered a nice selection of corners with one slow hairpin, a couple of chicanes, as well as a series of high speed corners leading onto the pit straight. Wayne Douglas and his crew welcomed us with open arms and were fantastic to work with. The team got Andre and I up to speed quickly and I hope to have another run in a GB3 car soon!
Thanks again to all the Team USA Scholarship supporters, as well as my personal sponsors, iRacing and Max Papis Innovations, and the many people that came to Brands Hatch to watch as well as those who cheered me on from home.