Jeansonne and Kotyk. Photo courtesy Team USA Scholarship

Big weekend for Americans abroad in ELMS, Formula Ford Festival

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This weekend, the Formula 1 world came to the United States for the United States Grand Prix from Circuit of The Americas. But it was also a big weekend for Americans racing in Europe this weekend.

American teams claimed titles in European Le Mans Series competition in Portimao, Portugal, while this year’s two Team USA Scholarship drivers excelled in the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, England.

PAIR OF AMERICAN TEAM CHAMPIONS IN ELMS

At the European Le Mans Series finale in Portimao, Portugal, two American teams captured titles with the DragonSpeed-run, G-Drive Racing-backed entry driven by Memo Rojas, Leo Roussel and Ryo Hirakawa in LMP2 and with the Anglo-American United Autosports team in LMP3, with a pair of American drivers in Sean Rayhall and John Falb.

Rojas and Roussel are the LMP2 driver’s champions with Hirakawa not on equal points after missing a couple races in the No. 22 Oreca 07 Gibson. Elton Julian’s DragonSpeed team has focused primarily on Europe in recent years, and propelled both the team’s No. 22 and 21 cars to success in ELMS throughout the year, and made its debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

United Ligier leads Panis-Barthez Ligier and G-Drive Oreca, which won LMP2 title. Photo: Onroak/DPPI

United Autosports missed out in LMP2 with its trio of Filipe Albuquerque, Will Owen and Hugo de Sadeleer in its No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson, coming both second in the race (to Graff Racing’s trio of Richard Bradley, James Allen and Gustavo Yacaman) and the championship (down 12 points to Rojas and Roussel). The result was unfortunate as it came with a 55-second stop-and-go penalty for exceeding the maximum pit speed limit.

But it did defend its LMP3 title as last year, with Rayhall and Falb finishing second in the race in its No. 2 Ligier JS P3 chassis, behind teammates Wayne Boyd, Mark Patterson and Christian England in the No. 3. Rayhall has blogged for NBC Sports this season and undoubtedly will have a fun read soon as the pair recovered from an issue in qualifying that resigned them to the back of the field.

“Winning the ELMS LMP3 title is extremely satisfying – it’s a great series – six, four-hour races is a great formula. Zak (Brown) and Richard (Dean) at UA have been fantastic as have our car crew. Their professionalism gives us confidence in the car and its paid dividends for us all. Christian [England] was catching me before I made a small mistake which allowed him to get ahead,” Falb said.

JEANSONNE, KOTYK IMPRESS IN FORMULA FORD FESTIVAL

We’ll leave it to Team USA Scholarship founder Jeremy Shaw to recap the outings of Aaron Jeansonne and Jonathan Kotyk, this year’s recipients, in the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch this weekend, linked here.

The pair finished just outside the top 10 in the 20-lap final, Kotyk in 11th and Jeansonne in 13th. Both improved from 16th (Kotyk, in No. 21) and 18th (Jeansonne, in No. 22) on the grid, with Kotyk’s fastest time of 50.809 seconds slightly quicker than race winner Joey Foster’s best of 50.892. The full results from the weekend are here.

All the news covering this year’s crop is linked here, and here’s a link to their blog pages (Jeansonne, Kotyk).

IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500