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    Posted September 26, 2013 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Photo essays: Your stories in pictures

    Young race driver in “Rush” to go pro – James Hunt look-a-like


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     FoodAndTrack shared the story of James French, a 21-year-old racer pursuing driving as a career and studying motor sports engineering in college. French says he's been watching races all his life and started driving when "my dad got me a go-kart for my fifth birthday."
    - rachel8, CNN iReport producer

    Photos by Charles Merker using a Nikon D90 with a Tamrom 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD lens. The cockpit video (linked below) was filmed by driver James French on a GoPro.


    He’s not English, he’s a “French” and he’s in a rush with his race cars. James French of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, is one of America’s fastest young race car drivers and he carries a striking resemblance to English driver James Hunt in Ron Howard’s new movie about European racing in the 1970’s called Rush.

    As a wee lad, James French got his start in motorsports at age five, racing go karts on a challenging hill-side course (Motorplex at Road America). He entered the field of sports car club racing at 16 and now at the ripe age of 21, he’s strapping GoPro cams to his 1997 Jordan F1 car and his C Sports Racer—documenting top speeds of 200+ mph on the famous track near his home:  Road America – a 14-turn course set in scenic countryside of the Kettle Moraine region in Eastern Wisconsin near Elkhart Lake.


    The release of the film Rush, should bring out an infusion of racing fans to tracks and to cinemas --it’s igniting drivers as well. The story is the real-life rivalry of two accomplished Formula 1 drivers, James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl). Thrills are chronicled both on and off the track, culminating in a fierce battle for the 1976 German Grand Prix Championship.


    I discovered James French while shooting video at Elkhart Lake’s Road America track during the recent fall Vintage Weekend (VSCDA). James and his racing veteran father, Brian, were competing against each other in a field of race cars.(On that day, they were driving their two classic Formula 1s). The dueling father and son drivers were both roaring around the track at breakneck speeds. For me it was reminiscent of my childhood days when my own father took me to watch motor races in Germany, France and England—places like Silverstone, Goodwood and Le Mans. It was the ultimate experience of my youth, but seeing James French and his father scream around the track-- like in the movie Rush--accelerated my enthusiasm to learn more about this young speedster. My visit with the young driver before the race helped me learn that the junior French may have speed skills like James Hunt, but off the track, he’s a far cry from the philandering “Hunt the Shunt.”  James French is a reserved, family-focused, fourth year college student studying motorsports engineering at Indiana University (IUPUI). When I posed my standard “Food and Track” question about his plans for dinner, he quietly replied, “Whatever my mom makes me.”  Brilliant.


    His most recent race was the 50th anniversary of the SCCA National Runoffs at Road America on Sept. 21- 22, 2013. The father and son team were challenging each other again in their two other cars—both C Sports Racers, with top speeds of 160+mph. James started near his father, then jettisoned past three other drivers to place third in the CSR Division. As he returned to the paddock he was told he'd just won added awards: Hawk Fastest Race Lap, Sunoco Hard Charger and the GoPro Hero Move of the Race (in leaping from sixth to win third).  After the track turned cold, I viewed James’ GoPro camera files and re-lived the race, imagineering myself into the cockpit with my own name, ‘Jeremy James’ boldly imprinted on the car. Dreamy. You can too—view the race from James’ cockpit here: http://youtu.be/-r4-GoI1FBY


    My quest for high speed experiences was initially heightened in July during Road America’s summer Vintage Racing event (The Hawk with Brian Redman) where I met two world champion professional McLaren F1 drivers who raced in the same era as James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Englishmen Brian Redman and David Hobbs took time to talk shop and shared a few stunning race stories of their famous championship days. David attended an early screening of the movie Rush and stated it was quite a realistic depiction of that historic time.


    Like Redman and Hobbs, James French has the right stuff. He's got the technique, discipline and stamina to be a champion-- on the brink of launching into what could be the beginning of a promising professional racing career. The key to success in this industry, as I’ve been told, is sponsorship, skill and track time. I look forward to following James French as his success grows and I’m grateful to the ‘French’ fellows, who along with Ron Howard’s movie Rush, have helped me re-live racing once again on one very hot track. 

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