Teenage dream – Max Cotton

Cars People

Meet the school age skidder with top tier drifting in his sights

Let’s face facts: no-one can look back at being 13 with pride.

Whether it was knuckling down to Year 8 Geography homework, mooning over our latest crush or getting really into a band, pretty much all of us spent that first teenage year doing something we wouldn’t even consider now. Max Cotton is different. Armed with an engine-swapped, 2.8 litre BMW E30 and a freshly imported Nissan S15 Silvia, he’s getting sideways and setting course for a career in professional drifting.

Max landed in the drifting world just a year ago, having started his four-wheeled life in kart racing. ‘We were racing Honda Cadet karts,’ he explains, ‘but it wasn’t always fun.’ That’s when Max stumbled upon Ken Block and his Gymkhana videos. He was instantly hooked and soon showed up at Prodrift Academy to try drifting for real.

‘He was drifting an MX-5 within minutes,’ his father, Dean Cotton, recalls. ‘I couldn’t believe it!’ Max was in his element and Dean was keen to encourage his son’s nascent talents. Three months later, Cotton senior had secured a BMW E30 3 Series for Max. ‘From my research, they’re harder to drift than an E36 or E46 and we thought that might make Max into a better driver.’

Throughout 2018, the father and son team have taken every opportunity to get their boxy Beemer out on track. Starting at Adrian Flux Arena, the pair have since run Max everywhere from Teeside Autodrome to Driftland in Scotland, where Max is the youngest drifter to hold a licence. ‘Driftland was a massive step up,’ says Max, ‘it’s so fast and it was one of the first big tracks I’d ever driven. Then Teeside has a massive corner too and I knew that if I could get that I could do anything.’

Speaking to Tom Hutchinson, managing director at Prodrift Academy and one of the key figures in Max’s training, it’s clear that this teen is talented. ‘You can tell very quickly how fast a driver is going to progress,’ Tom explains, ‘and Max understands the line and how to carry momentum exceptionally well, thanks to his karting background. We kinda knew from day one that he had potential.’ Of course, an emergent skill can’t shine without training and Max receives regular tutoring from the academy.

The lessons don’t end when Max is out of the car. ‘Recently, we’ve been encouraging Max to practice twinning with us on simulators,’ Tom continues, ‘there are lots of knocks and bangs when you’re learning, so it’s far more cost effective doing it virtually!’ In addition, Prodrift and the Cottons also use videos and livestreams to provide Max with instant feedback when he’s on practice days.

A year of training has culminated with Max’s first competitive event, a round of the BMW London LT Drift Challenge Cup. Running under the Swaffham circuit spotlights, up against a huge selection of more powerful cars and more experienced drivers, he summoned the best of his training to hold his own. ‘I got more used to the competition atmosphere and twinning with other cars as the event went on,’ he adds, ‘plus the field was evened out by the rain and the low grip surface.’

He didn’t have it all his own way, mind. ‘We drove around the track to start each run, then initiated straight into a puddle,’ Max laughs. ‘We didn’t have a fan to aim at windscreen, so it was steaming up in half a lap…’ As the night drew on, the qualifying results were announced. ‘We were just looking at each other as they read out the positions,’ Dean remembers, ‘and we kept expecting Max’s name to be called. Then we heard he’d qualified third: that was a huge confidence boost and we were absolutely over the moon!’ Max carried that momentum into the final runs, finishing third overall.


For 2019, Max is set to step up into national competition. Supported by Prodrift and using one of their Nissan 350Zs, he’ll be taking on either Driftcup or the British Drift Championship’s Pro Am division. ‘There’s a huge amount of potential in Max,’ says Tom, ‘I think he has the skills to compete in Pro Am. A feeder series would be a walk in the park for him, so he needs to be somewhere where he still has to push to finish on top.’

Keen to secure his long term career, Max has also recently imported a Nissan S15 Silvia from Japan. ‘We’re developing that for 2020 and currently looking for working partners,’ he grins. ‘To get the power we need, I’m looking at a Nissan Skyline GT-R RB26 conversion.’ Once the project is complete, he’s planning to compete at BDC Pro level before moving on to the European or American scenes.

Having seen what he’s managed aged 13, we can’t wait to see where he goes next!