Max Esterson: Lighting the fire

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

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Published on December 17, 2021 with No Comments

Proud to carry the Team USA colors (Jakob Ebrey).

PALM BEACH, Fla. – I’ve been home for nearly a month now trying to unwind from what was a successful, yet frantic end to my season in England. I’ve been thinking back on all that happened in the time between picking up my Team USA teammate, Andre Castro, at Heathrow and me coming back home a few weeks ago the day before Thanksgiving. Even though Andre and I spent nearly a month together in England, it all went by in a flash. Whether it was watching Andre’s first shakedown run in the Low Dempsey Racing Ray at a very cold Hinton Airfield or visiting the jaw-dropping McLaren Technology Centre, it’s safe to say that both of us enjoyed our Team USA experience.

Pole position for the Festival Heat race (Jeremy Shaw).

The two weeks of driving that the Team USA Scholarship provided me were probably the most formative in my two years of racing. I knew I would be fast at Brands Hatch and Silverstone. The team and I had done several days at each track earlier in the year and turned some of the fastest laps ever around the circuits. Speed was the not the question. The bit in question was whether or not I would be able to control and dominate the race weekends. I was off to a good start at the Formula Ford Festival with a pole in my heat in the wet. I followed it up by leading every lap of my heat race despite reasonably heavy pressure from Ollie White behind, although I would say I never felt that my lead was too threatened as I had a plan during the race and executed with very few mistakes.

This confidence I had built up on Saturday at the Festival crumbled on Sunday morning in the semifinal. I started on pole in very wet conditions against a group of drivers I had consistently beaten all year long, but struggled from the moment the lights went out. I had an enormous amount of wheelspin at the start and dropped a few positions right there. It did not get any easier as I didn’t drive well and struggled to get tire temperature. I fell all the way back to seventh in a 12-lap race. It was disastrous and painful to know that I would be starting 13th in the final (which was dry) at a track that is notoriously difficult for overtaking even though I was generally the quickest driver in the dry during testing. I honestly did not expect much more than a top-10 finish to be possible.

Circuit boss and ex-F1 driver Jonathan Palmer (right) helped us celebrate at Brands Hatch (Gary Hawkins).

I made up two spots on the first lap of the final and from there just kept looking forward. By the time the safety car was out for a big crash between the leaders on lap four, I was already up to sixth. Right there and then I knew I had a shot. I was up seven positions in four laps. After the race restarted on lap eight, I made a couple of huge moves into Clearways and Paddock Hill Bend. I could see the leaders ahead and I knew I had the quickest car in the field. There was a fire inside me that I was lacking the whole season. I eventually made it up to third but was stuck although just one-tenth of a second from the lead. The two leaders drove great defensive races and provided me close to no opportunities to even attempt a move. I ended up third and then later promoted to second after Neil Maclennan was disqualified for overtaking under yellow flags. In all honesty I was pretty gutted to miss out on the win by such a small margin. It felt like it was my weekend; everything was going my way until Sunday morning. It still stings a bit today talking about it watching the replay of the final thinking about what I could’ve done differently. That said, it was hands down my best performance in a car and I was proud of how I drove. It was also a tremendous result for Team USA as Andre ended up third, making it a double podium for us. For Andre to finish third in that field is incredible considering how little experience he had in Formula Ford. As someone who was racing in the series all year, I was super impressed.

The emotions of victory at Silverstone (Jakob Ebrey).

Luckily I had another chance at success a week later at the Walter Hayes Trophy. I really needed it, as going into the winter break with the mixed emotions from Brands Hatch would’ve been quite difficult. I knew I had to make it count at Silverstone. I qualified on pole once again in my heat and then won my heat race against Team Dolan’s Matt Cowley. I started second in the semifinal but once again took the victory, this time against the 2021 National Formula Ford Champion, Chris Middlehurst. Both the heat and semifinal were tightly contested, but I felt like I had the upper hand in both races. I was the one who could make and defend moves more easily, inside or outside. I was on pole for the final with two-time event winner, Michael Moyers, next to me. Making it this far without sealing the deal is what made me most nervous, but I tried to put it out of my head. The car was perfect and after some squabbling between drivers behind, I had a 1.4-second lead. A gap that big is almost unheard of in Formula Ford at a dry Silverstone, although the draft is so strong that Chris Middlehurst in second was nearly two miles per hour faster than me on the straights. The gap was closing and he caught me with three laps to go. I defended hard and crossed the line first. A big weight was lifted off my shoulders and it finally felt like I could take a breath. I was so happy to get Team USA the big win, and so happy for my team after providing such a great car all year.

Celebrations; however, didn’t last long. I was back at Silverstone on the following Tuesday testing with Douglas Motorsport for my upcoming GB3 Championship season. I then tested at Oulton Park and Snetterton in the final weeks before coming home. I was busy to say the least!

Keeping active and sharp in a shifter kart.

A few days after I got back home Andre and I had breakfast together in New York City. It was great to recall all the memories and people in the England that made our Team USA experience truly special. There are too many people name here, but I know it was a large task to organize it all so I’m thankful for everyone that played a role. For now I’m in Florida training hard in the gym and a shifter kart for next season and trying to get some sun before I head back to England in the middle of January. I know the next season is just around the corner and I’m excited to try to carry this momentum I have into 2022.

As always thank you for your support and Merry Christmas,

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