Nine years and 60 races

Sheboygan native French has impressive history at RA, looks forward to return to home track

ELKHART LAKE — Sheboygan native James French estimates he's competed in ap- proximately 60 races at Road America over the past nine years.

That's five to seven races annually for the 26-year-old driver, who will tack another event to his Road America list in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race on Aug. 4.

The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race is one of many during the August race weekend that will include the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, plus the Lamborghini Super Trofeo at the 14-turn, 4.048- mile permanent road course in Elkhart Lake. All part of the Continental Road Race Showcase which runs Aug. 2-5.

French can't quite nail the exact number of races he's logged at his home track, but it's dozens.

“It would be interesting to count,” said French, who completed his first lap at Road America at age 14 during a test day in a Formula BMW. “I would be surprised if a lot of people have as many laps as I do at Road America.

“Every time we come back to Road America, I always feel at home. I have so many laps there. I am very comfortable in all kinds of cars.”

French drives in the elite Prototype class for Performance Tech Motorsports in IMSA, along with endurance driver Kyle Masson.

The 2018 season marks the first in Prototype for French, who dabbled in IMSA for a few one-off races in Road America before joining the series in a full-time capacity in 2016 running in the now-retired Prototype Challenge class.

The PC class, with its open cockpit, had few cars in its division, and the class was eliminated after the 2017 season.

Performance Tech Motorsports, French, Masson and Patricio O'Ward were the team and drivers to beat during the 2017 season, collecting seven straight wins in the No. 38 en route to the PC class championship.

French took home a Rolex for his efforts in helping the team post a victory at the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

French credits father Brian French for inspiring his love of racing. Brian drove motorcycles before making the switch to cars. Brian won the 1999 SCCA Formula Atlantic national championship.

James admits that his most memorable moment at Road America isn't a victory, but his very first test day at the track. Since he grew up watching his father compete, being alone on the track getting tips from Brian was a special experience.

“We just did lead-follow and I got to experience the track,” James French said. “He brought me up to speed and showed me a couple tricks. More than any results, the first time being on the track resonates with me, and getting to follow him around after watching him for so many years.”

French even has another advantage, considering he has a different level of understanding with a motorsports engineering degree earned in 2016 from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

He's able to provide the team with a much better description of what the car is doing or what he thinks it's doing, or what needs to happen to make improvements.

“The car could be understeering and there are 15 ways to complain about understeer,” French said. “Actually having a fundamental understanding of the tire and the geometry of the car, aero balance and separating all those things, I think makes for a better driver and better development of the car.”

There have been learning curves and adjustments for Performance Tech Motorsports' foray in the Prototype class, but it would be tough not to put French and the team among the most knowledgeable at Road America.

Car set-up at Road America is critical and challenging, and it's a challenge that French relishes each time he gets in the driver's seat. The course length and corners make it fun and demanding.

“It's a very fast track, and you might think it's a downforce track, but there's the Carousel, 13 and 7, which are all high-speed corners, but they're almost flat — or close to it in qualifying,” he said.

French said he enjoys the passing opportunities and rhythm.

“For pure racing, I don't think there's anything quite as good in the U.S. It reminds me a lot of Watkins Glen, which is another favorite track of mine,” French said.

“I just love the way Road America is set into the environment. You're racing through trees and woods, there are lots of elevation changes, and it's absolutely beautiful. We're very lucky to have it in our backyard.”

Everything for the Continental Road Race Showcase begins on Thursday with test sessions for all the classes from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be open karting all weekend at the CTECH Manufacturing Motorplex plus the Road America Disc Golf Course will be available.

There will also be a free Family Fun Zone for Children age 12 and under on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Turn 1. All children must be with parent or guardian.

Practice and qualifying takes up the majority of the day on Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Road America will also be hosting its Most Awesome Campsite Contest over the weekend. Judging takes place on Friday with announcement of the winner at the fan forum on Saturday. Winning campsite and campers receive free tickets of their choice and a campsite to a 2018 Road America event. All campers can also stay until Noon on Monday.

Saturday is an action packed day full of world-class racing. The feature race will be the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge at 4:05 p.m. Practice and qualifying for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race fills the afternoon on Saturday as the best sports car racers in the world will be looking to get a good starting position for Sunday. Earlier on Saturday the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge will host its first race of the weekend at 11:30 a.m., then at 2:05 p.m., the Lamborghini Super Trofeo takes to the track.

Sunday is just as exciting as Saturday with the second IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge race in the morning at 9:40 a.m. Fans will have plenty to look forward to throughout the day with autograph sessions, parade laps, and a chance to get up-close to the cars on the front straightaway before the afternoon action begins.

The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship hits the twists and turns of Road America at 1:35 p.m., with some of the best sports cars and drivers in the world looking for a win on the revered 4-mile, 14- turn road course.

Tickets are available online or during the event at the gate. Additional information is available at or by calling 800-365- RACE (7223). All races run rain or shine and anyone 16-yearsold and under are free with a paying adult at the gate. Parking and paddock access is also free.

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