Photo courtesy United Autosports

Rayhall: Title time in Portugal

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Editor’s note: Sean Rayhall, one of America’s rising driving talents, will file a series of blogs throughout the year chronicling his season in the European Le Mans Series, co-driving with John Falb at Zak Brown and Richard Dean’s United Autosports team in its Ligier JS P3.

His sixth blog is simple: they won the LMP3 championship, and here’s the recap (previous blogs are linked here; SilverstoneLe MansRed Bull RingPaul Ricard, Spa).

We rolled into this weekend in Portimao, Portugal needing a mistake-free race in order to clinch the championship. With how wild the race was at Spa, this was a bit of a taller order than it seems. It was nice to have my girlfriend Bailey with me this weekend, which helped my peace of mind.

We had a lot of oversteer in the car initially which wasn’t going to be comfortable for four hours, so United Autosports went to work dialing us in to have a good race car on old tires. It turned out that ultimately was the case, and we weren’t sure how qualifying was going to go, but we knew over four hours we would be in the hunt.

Qualifying was shortened by red flags, which unfortunately only gave us one timed lap, and a few others were able to get two. We would’ve started on the front row but I went a little wide in Turn 1 which violated track limits, and deleted our only lap. Therefore we had to start dead last behind all the GT cars. That was a bit devastating, but I had a lot of faith in our team and the race pace we had shown that all was going to be alright in the end.

Nerves were flying Sunday morning, but I knew we just had to go to work and things would play out alright. I picked car by car off and ended my double stint in second place after starting 17th in LMP3. It was a mega feeling getting out of the car after one of the best races we had put together so far.

John worked really hard getting himself into the lead, but ultimately didn’t have the pace over the last hour to hold off our teammate Christian England (co-drove with Wayne Boyd and Mark Patterson) in the No. 3 car, which ended up giving us a P2 finish and the championship.

I really can’t put into words how special this was for us and the team. Everyone was in absolute tears of joy, minus our engineer “G-Baby” (Gary Robertshaw) who simply refuses to show emotion… but he gave us a smile which was plenty enough for me.

Every single person on the United Autosports crew won this championship out of sheer dedication and hard work, and I can’t thank them all enough for the work and talent they brought to the table this year. When days didn’t go our way, we all dug in and worked even harder, and that’s what champions are made of.

I want to thank you all for following this year and being a part of the biggest accomplishment in my racing career yet! It means more to me than you could ever know. Oh.. and you can bet we had one or more drinks at the banquet. The celebration was mega!

Stay tuned for 2018… but I can’t wait to see what we do next.

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