Ben Kennedy makes history in first oval NASCAR race in Europe
TOURS, France – Europe’s first NASCAR race staged on an oval produced an historic debut victory for Ben Kennedy who used all of his experience to win the Michelin 100 at Tours Speedway amid – what will go down as another first – wet conditions. For the EURO-RACECAR NASCAR Touring Series it could not have been a better occasion with the joy of spectators and wider community combining to make this event a triumph.
Historical, exceptional, grand and enjoyable; superlatives that cannot fail to define this unique event organized under the auspices of the FFSA. The crowd, who afforded the drivers a standing ovation at the finish, knew they had seen something special. An hour of racing was also enough to silence the doubters and confirm that this was indeed a genuine NASCAR event.
NASCAR Touring Series Director Richard Buck, who was in attendance, was left in no doubt. “I have experienced an extraordinary event,” he said. “I am proud to have witnessed the first oval race in France but, to be honest, am a little relieved too as I was concerned about Ben driving here, even if he did a great job. A member of the France family (Kennedy is the great grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.) winning his first NASCAR race in France; what could have been better?!”
Kennedy (#96 TFT) lined up for the Michelin 100 in seventh on a circuit still wet from the downpour that hit Indre-et-Loire just a few minutes before the start. EURO-RACECAR’s guest of honor had already plotted his rise through the field though and, thanks to expert traffic management around the 600-metre oval, Kennedy was able to pass both Javier Villa (#64 Gonneau Racing) and leader Romain Fournillier (#11 OverDrive-McDonald's) to take command on lap 50 of 100. Not even two caution periods were enough to deny him either the lead or a maiden NASCAR victory.
“It's amazing because this is my first Victory Lane appearance in a NASCAR discipline,” he said. “I had everything to learn from coming here; car, circuit, and tires! The competition is very tight and the drivers are of a very high standard, something that makes this victory even more special. EURO-RACECAR has done a great job and the excellent atmosphere and spirit have done NASCAR justice. It really makes me want to return.”
Having taken the lead at half-distance, Kennedy – along with poleman Fournillier – was able to lead the most number of laps. Meanwhile Fournillier initially did well to hold off the likes of Villa, Ander Vilarino (#2 TFT-Banco Santander), Yvan Muller (#100 Still Racing-Convergence) and Romain Thiévin (#99 Still Racing-Exotics Racing) before eventually dropping to sixth. That helped Yann Zimmer (#18 Scoprus Racing) to ultimately claim the Junior class victory after he picked up the most number of positions from his 19th place grid slot.
Series newcomer Zimmer finished hot on the heels of Dimitri Enjalbert (#33 OverDrive) whose bold tire choice saw him storm up the order to finish second, Romain Thiévin who crossed the line backwards and Antoine Lioen (#05 Rapido Racing). In the Challenger Trophy, victory went the way of Bruno Cosin (#55 Pole Position 81), who came home seventh overall.
OPEN DIVISION: JOHAIS TO THE FORE
The Open final proved as equally interesting and more than contributed to the success of an historic first event. Not even a light shower could dampen the enthusiasm of the drivers who had opted for slick tires. Poleman Vincent Gonneau (#15 Gonneau Racing) led the way during the first 25 laps before being demoted by Frederick Johais (#33 OverDrive) at the halfway stage. Like the Elite race a few hours later, two drivers would share the most laps led. “It's great to impose myself at home because of the Guest list,” said the Touraine resident. “It has been eight years since I last raced!”
Despite finishing second, Gonneau was forced to constantly defend from Simon Escallier who did manage to take the position during a restart on lap 39 before conceding it again later. Escallier was nevertheless happy to secure a third consecutive top three finish ahead of best placed Gentleman racer Philippe Marie (#88 Orhès Competition) and Pascal Renaudat (#64 Gonneau Racing) who was the first Legend home.
The top 10 was completed by Alain Grand (#11 OverDrive), Gerald Corman (#25 Orhès Competition), Joseph Cozella (#14 Still Racing-JDC Finance), Joaquin Gabarr¢n (#05 Rapido Racing) and David Perisset (#99 Still Racing-Exotics Racing).
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