Max Esterson: Walter Hayes Trophy Recap

Written by Team USA. Posted in Driver Blogs, Feature, Max Esterson

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Published on November 15, 2021 with No Comments

A perfect end to the weekend (Jeff Bloxham).

BRACKLEY, England – Wow! What a couple of weeks it’s been! These last two weeks have provided some of the most exciting memories that I’ll remember forever. I’m writing to you a day later than usual because I’ve just been so busy, mostly focusing 100 percent on being in a racecar almost every day. By the time you get this email, I will have been in a car 12 of the last 14 days, including having run the 50th Anniversary Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, the 21st running of The Walter Hayes Trophy (WHT) at Silverstone, and having had an intense 400 miles of running in a GB3 (aka British F3) car on the Silverstone GP track – my first time running the full circuit.

After last week’s run to second place at the FF Festival, on Wednesday we started running at the Silverstone National Circuit with three days of testing prior to the Walter Hayes Trophy. Similar to the Festival, there were over 100 entries which would compete in four heat races and two semi-finals in a knockout fashion, from which those at the front progress on to the Grand Final held last Sunday afternoon. With so many cars entered, the atmosphere was intense and fantastic. The BRDC Clubhouse and the BRDC Grandstand were filled with Britain’s most knowledgeable and enthusiastic fans and journalists and like at the Festival last week, there were racing legends milling about from Formula One, IndyCar, and the sportscar world.

The atmosphere at Silverstone was fantastic (Jakob Ebrey photos).

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday testing went extremely well in both wet and, opposed to last year, mostly dry conditions. Picking up where we left off last week, we seemed to be the car to beat and had pace better than others without the benefit of a draft. True to form, in Saturday morning’s qualifying session I was able to put it on pole by over two tenths of a second. I was able to carry my momentum into Saturday afternoon’s heat race by leading away from pole and ended up coming home in first, chased the whole way by British GT driver and perennial Festival and WHT frontrunner Matt Cowley.

There was a long wait before the Grand Final.

For Sunday’s Semi-Final, I lined up in second next to the winner of Heat Two, Chris Middlehurst. I had another good start when the lights went out and was able to beat Chris into the first corner, Copse. After swapping positions a few times and making a strong move around the outside of Brooklands, I crossed the line first again. For the big event, the Grand Final, I would start on pole next to the other semi-final winner, two-time Walter Hayes winner, Michael Moyers. After a long wait on the grid caused by another competitor appealing a steward’s penalty ruling, my immediate goal was to stay focused and to stay warm while we waited for over 40 minutes and the sun slowly slid down the horizon.

Leading the field into Luffield corner.

Once back in the car, engine fired and final adjustments made, I was finally able to lead the field around to our starting positions. Lights out and again I was able to make the most of my pole position and lead away into Copse. With three long straights on the Silverstone National circuit, keeping in front of a 30-car freight train wouldn’t be trivial. While it may have been less peaceful behind me, everything was going perfectly for me and I was able to stay focused ahead and pull out a pretty substantial 1.5-second gap to the pack – usually enough to start feeling just a little bit comfortable. Running in front is great, but it also means you have no one to draft off of and the everyone is drafting off of you. In fact, looking at the data after the race confirmed I had the slowest trap speed of all 30 cars – seven miles per hour slower than the fastest cars behind me! Sure enough, like the peloton in the Tour de France, the pack started to haul me in with a couple of laps to go.

Under pressure into Brooklands on the final lap (Jeff Bloxham).

I was expecting the pack to catch me but knew I had the pace to race with anyone and just had to keep focused on running my race and turning in perfect laps, which in a Formula Ford means finding the perfect balance, slightly over the limit, and sliding precisely but still carrying your momentum. Sure enough, by the last couple of laps my lead had evaporated and the pack was upon me. Regular rival Chris Middlehurst led the charge with four or five close followers in tow. Into the last lap and down to the fast braking zone of Becketts, Chris was alongside and even slightly past, but I was able to brake later than late, hold him off, and get one more great run down the Wellington Straight. One more time into the Brooklands braking zone and one more perfect exit from Luffield and I’d be home! As it was, that’s what happened and behind me Middlehurst had missed a gear change out of Becketts and was battling to keep in front of hard-charging 2020 WHT winner Ollie White. 0.245 seconds was the final margin over Ollie, but first is all that mattered to me!

The Low Dempsey team has been so supportive.

It feels great to have won such a big event and to have done so with such a strong showing through the five days of the event – Pole, Heat Race win, Semi-Final win, pole for the Grand Final, and leading every lap of the biggest race of the year. I’m so happy to have delivered the win for Jeremy Shaw, the Team USA Scholarship, and all of its supporters, and for my team Low Dempsey Racing who have worked tirelessly and provided me with awesome cars at every outing, and for my regular supporters: iRacing, Amity Search Partners, Christian Angle Real Estate, Bell Helmets & MPI, who have stuck with me and helped make it all possible.

Although I’ve had an amazing year of learning every time out, after the last couple race weekends of being in contention to win the National Formula Ford Championship at Snetterton, ending up one tenth of a second away from winning the Formula Ford Festival last weekend, and winning the Walter Hayes Trophy, I feel like I’ve learned a giant amount in just these couple of weeks!

While I certainly feel like getting a little rest after such an intense couple of weeks, I was back on the sim running iRacing in preparation for a two-day test in a GB3 car on Silverstone’s Grand Prix circuit this past Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s a big step up but so far, so good! I love the car and seem to be getting right down to competitive times. Right now my focus is on doing a good job and continuing to test the GB3 car between now and Christmas, and in the background trying to organize the budget and funding to mount a proper assault on next year’s championship. As always, thanks for the support and thanks for following along.
-Max Esterson

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