Homegrown doesn’t begin to explain the near-perfect representation of Austin, Texas, Esses Racing with Mercedes Benz of Austin has become this season in the Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS.
Before becoming Team Principal and part owner of Esses Racing Dave O’Neill was grinding away in the pinnacle of motorsport, FIA Formula 1 competition. After stepping away from open-wheel racing O’Neill was given the opportunity to take his accumulative years of management and mechanical experience and go grass-roots racing in the United States. For Esses Racing ownership O’Neill is Paired with Judd Miller, former IndyCar mechanic Phil Spano and former Red Bull Racing pit crew member Gareth Rees.
Esses Racing was birthed out of the need for an opportunity in Austin. The once small capital had very few race teams in 2018 even though Circuit Of The Americas was reaching its six-year anniversary. However, the metropolitan was increasingly drawing larger crowds of people who were calling Austin home and enjoying the proximity to the sport of racing.
Originally, Esses Racing was focused on track days and autocross events with clients dipping their toes into the sport. The 15,000-square-foot shop swelled to house around 70 cars. The Esses Racing crew cared for clients and cars alike as customers tackled radical, GT, historic, and EV racing.
O’Neill had sworn off the ranks of professional racing and was enjoying growing the Esses Racing business. Then Will Hardeman enters the picture.
“We had been in touch with Will while he took a step back from racing and was doing a few things here and there,” O’Neill said. “Then one day he came to me and said he’d like to get a GT4 and do some track days. I looked at him and told him the truth. He’d be bored in a GT4. He knew I was right, so I hunted down a GT3 to bring home. The program evolved from there.”
Hardeman brought with him his company and dealership Mercedes-Benz of Austin to create the No. 19 Mercedes-AMG GT3 entry in the PRO-AM Class of the Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS. The team added professional driver Adam Carrol to the mix for a launch pad year of learning and competition. O’Neill and Hardeman are using the year to learn the ins and out of SRO Motorsports America racing and to have a bit of fun.
“Will is big on making the experience enjoyable for his whole family,” O’Neill said. “He wants to enjoy his time in the car. He wants his family to enjoy their time when we’re racing. We won’t run the whole season this year which I think works for us since we are also focused on learning. In each race, we’ve been bumping into an upgrade missing. It’s been a slow process getting up to speed. We had a near miss at a podium finish last race but it's still a miss.”
As the drivers grow in experience behind the wheel, the team has a carefully curated cast of experienced and novice race hands. Esses Racing carefully found full-time mechanics as well as fly-in support alongside top engineers from Europe.
“Austin has enthusiasm for racing but not necessarily the history,” O’Neill said. “When you put together a team, not everyone can know everything, it just doesn’t work. So, we’ve put together a good blend of locals who are new to the sport and some who have worked a bit in racing. We have about three mechanics that work in-house for us full time and our Crew Chief Ross Needham (formerly CORE Autosport) who lives in Georgia.
“For our engineer, I wanted someone who had experience with the Mercedes, so I brought in Mark Wynne from the UK. He’s worked with professional drivers before and won championships. In addition, I don’t think we realized how good Will was going to be in the car. I think with the combination of everything we will see results before you know it.”
With the proper people in all the necessary places, Esses Racing and O’Neill are chipping away at the monumental undertaking of getting a team in podium contention. Running in the ultra-competitive PRO-AM Class of the Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS keeps teams on their toes as anyone is capable of winning making engineering and mechanics all the more important. Of course, the SRO America calendar then lends its hand to fun for the family with ideal locations such as St. Petersburg, Florida, Sonoma, California, and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Esses Racing, much like its hometown, is a mix of new and old faces. The team is growing exponentially with no plans to slow down soon. The success it faces is in near grasp as it climbs to a global stage of prominence alongside SRO America. All this is to be put on display at Circuit Of The Americas for the third calendar event of the 2023 Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS race season.
All qualifying and race session are streamed live on the GT World YouTube page. Join Ash Vandelay on Twitch by following the SRO Motorsports channel. Vandelay hosts six-hour programs Saturday and Sunday, where she is joined by drivers while chatting with fans and giving an interesting insight into that day's races.
Tickets are on-sale at www.showpass.com/sro-cota with enhanced offerings including the Patriot Car Corral and trackside camping. With tickets starting under $20 dollars, it’s fun for the whole family with kids 12 and under free with a ticketed adult.