The 2018 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season was just the second year that 18-year-old Trenton Estep raced a car with a roof over his head.
You wouldn’t have known it by his performance, though.
The Texas teenager won the season-opening round of the series back in March at Sebring, giving him a lead in the Platinum Cup championship standings that he would never relinquish over the remaining 15 races spread out over eight weekends from March through October.
He won three more races after that season-opening victory on March 15 in Sebring, but what really delivered the title was an eye-popping 14 podium finishes in 16 chances. According to JDX Racing Founder and co-owner Jeremy Dale, the team that fielded Estep’s No. 3 Hertz/Byers Porsche entry in 2017 and 2018, all those podium results were part of the plan going into the season.
“We talked before the season about the points-scoring system that’s in place,” Dale said. “If you look at that points-scoring system, it’s not a coincidence that basically every IMSA championship – which uses the same system – came down to these battles at Atlanta. That’s because the system is what it is.
“What that means is, if you have a DNF, you’re done. It’s basically impossible to make your way back, because the gains and the gaps are so small, so you never see big swings. We were aware of that from the very beginning, and we told Trenton, and he understood very well.”
A key turning point for the team came right at the end of the first half of the season during the doubleheader weekend at Watkins Glen International as part of the run-up to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen. Estep crashed the car in the second practice session of the weekend.
He wasn’t injured, but the car had significant damage. As soon as the wrecker returned the car to the team’s paddock area, the wheels for a season-defining moment were set in motion.
“Every weekend with the guys at JDX has been really special, but one, in particular, would probably be Watkins Glen, which was a really key turning point,” Estep said. “We had that incident in practice and it was just hands-on by everyone to fix the car overnight.
“The guys stayed up all night working as hard as they could and we got it fixed for qualifying. We qualified P2 for Race #1 and P1 for Race #2, and we managed to win [Race 2], so that felt really good for me. It was really, really awesome to give back to the guys at JDX who worked so hard to fix the car overnight.”
“For me, that sent a message to all of us in the team and everyone in the paddock that nothing is going to stop us,” said Dale, who celebrated JDX Racing’s first championship in 2018.
“Nothing is going to slow us down this year. We’re not going to let anything deter us from what the goal is here. That was both the in the performance of the team that night fixing the car, and especially in Trenton’s performance the following day to go out and do what he did.”
Another pivotal moment came a few races later, at Virginia International Raceway. Estep went into the weekend with a solid, 17-point lead in the championship standings over Roman De Angelis and six races remaining.
Canadian driver Zacharie Robichon, who dominated the 2018 Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama season en route to that series title, was brought in to drive the No. 19 Moorespeed Porsche in place of Will Hardeman, who had to step out of the cockpit for personal reasons.
Robichon won both races in his first weekend with the team at Road America two weekends prior and also had won the first race of the weekend at VIR.
“It was Race #2 at VIR where he took a run at Zach [for the race lead] at Turn 1/Turn 2 down there, and probably in a different set of circumstances, you push that a bit harder,” Dale explains.
“But we knew Zach, even though he was performing well, there’s no mathematical way for him to win the championship, under zero circumstances, so you’re not really racing him. He’s just there.
“To get tangled up with him and end up off the road would just be incredibly dumb, so we were aware of that and you race accordingly. Trenton did a brilliant job of keeping all that big picture stuff in perspective all the time.”
It was all a product of Estep’s learning process from his first GT3 Cup Challenge USA season in 2017, when he finished third in the final season standings, to his championship-winning 2018 campaign.
“Between Year 1 and Year 2, I learned, I can’t even tell you how much,” Estep said. “Especially Year 1, every race weekend I went to, I think (engineer) Luke (Goldenstein) and Jeremy said it was like drinking through a fire hose.
“I was just taking in so much information about the driving, about the series, about tire conservation, and just so much stuff that I didn’t even – to be honest – quite think of.
“The guys at JDX just helped me learn all this and just use it to our advantage. I would say Year 1 and Year 2 were years I’ll never forget, and hopefully I can take those skills and progress forward with them.”