Josef Newgarden made a little bit of history over the weekend as he became the first American driver to win at the famed Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, giving the Team USA Scholarship programme another successful incursion into the UK.
With team-mate Conor Daly also playing a starring role by rising from the back of the grid in his heat to finish a sterling sixth in the 25-lap Kent Class final, the two American teenagers - who carried support from the Firestone Indy Lights series - confirmed they had every right to display optimism after what might best be described as a character-building time during the heats earlier in the weekend.
Newgarden made a superb start to his 15-lap semi-final on Sunday morning, vaulting from fourth on the grid to second on the opening lap, and followed that with an opportunistic pass for the lead on lap two. He then checked out, posting the fastest race lap and finishing over four seconds clear of his nearest challenger – a country mile in the ultra-competitive world of Formula Ford.
In the second semi, Daly displayed his prowess by rising from 20th on the grid - the result of a broken throttle linkage on Saturday - to finish hot on the tail off the leaders in sixth place, only missing the fastest lap by a scant 0.039secs.
The results meant that the final began with 17-year old Newgarden on pole and Daly in twelfth place among the 28-car field.
“I made sure to do plenty of burn-outs and had another stellar start,” recounted Newgarden, “I led the first six laps until the caution flag came out, but I knew I had to be on the ball once the safety car's lights were off so that I could get a gap on the field.
"I did just an okay job at that and just managed to hold off the pack into Paddock Hill Bend. As we got deeper into the laps, I was getting increased pressure from the train of cars behind me and, about halfway into the race, I made a slight bobble into Paddock Hill and Patrick McKenna was able to slip his nose inside of me and take the position.
"At this point, I was just focusing on crowding his mirrors and waiting for any opportunity to make a move. I looked twice into Kidney and finally was able to complete my pass into Clearways [on lap 13]. Then, on the next couple of laps, I was able to break the draft and finally get some breathing room.
“This was the point where I became the most nervous. I focused on doing the same thing I did in the semi-final by putting my head down and just running fast consistent laps, but there was a rush of relief at the chequered flag. I was so happy to take the victory, so happy for the Team USA Scholarship programme and Cliff Dempsey Racing - and the thought of having my name stand in the record books with guys like Mark Webber and Jenson Button was overwhelming. I know this victory and the memories I have will stay with me for a lifetime.”
Newgarden took the flag with a 2.3secs lead over the pack, and again posted the fastest race lap for good measure, while Daly underlined the potency of the Team USA Scholarship/Cliff Dempsey Racing effort by moving from twelfth to sixth in the course of the 25 laps, on a track where overtaking is notoriously difficult.