Jonathan Kotyk reflects on a memorable and educational month-long journey to England as part of this year’s Team USA Scholarship program.
Since returning home to the USA I have already begun to miss England. From the fierce on-track action to the all-star hospitality provided by Michelle and Cliff Dempsey, my Team USA Scholarship journey will stay with me for a long time to come.
It all started almost a month ago when I caught a flight from Philadelphia to London’s Heathrow airport. I had only been outside America once before when I represented the USA in the Rotax Grand Finals in Valencia, Spain back in 2014. So it was an honor when I was chosen for this year’s Team USA Scholarship program and given an opportunity to contest both the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy.
Upon arrival we were straight to work with Cliff Dempsey Racing for a seat fit, followed by car prep and testing. Our busy schedule saw Aaron and I first at the Bruntingthorpe Proving Grounds to shake down the cars. Following that was a test at Donington Park, then directly on to Oulton Park for a local race that weekend. This gave us a wide selection of track knowledge and an opportunity to learn how the tires and cars worked – in a variety of different weather conditions.
Our first main event was the Formula Ford Festival in Brands Hatch. Even though the Brands Hatch Indy Circuit is short it tests the limits of the car with a big elevation change through Turn 1 (Paddock Hill Bend), a hard braking zone into Turn 2 (Druid’s hairpin), a smooth Turn 3 (Graham Hill Bend), then a flat-out chicane (Surtees/McLaren) leading into Turn 4 (Clearways), a long right final corner leading back onto the front straight – all in just 50 seconds!
Unlike the F1600 races back in America which I competed in this year there was only one “feature” event for the weekend, with a Heat Race on Saturday followed by a Semi Final and then the finale on Sunday which was fought out by the top 28 cars from an entry of over 80. We worked hard each time on track and brought home a solid 11th-place result.
After Brands Hatch we headed back to Cliff’s shop for another car prep, followed by one more test at Donington, which went very well. Next it was time for a few days of sightseeing. We headed off to London by train, then saw all the sights on foot. Our adventure continued with high-profile tours of the McLaren headquarters, Sahara Force India F1, and even some time driving on an IndyCar simulator at Wirth Research. It was so cool to gain a taste of how the auto racing industry works on the highest levels.
Our hectic journey continued with the Walter Hayes Trophy at the famous Silverstone Circuit. Once again, all of the top Formula Ford drivers came out to compete, making it one of the toughest races in the world. The Silverstone National Circuit is fast but takes precision and commitment to stay up front. I was glad to use what I had learned at the Formula Ford Festival going into qualifying, especially since this would be my first time around the circuit in the wet. We had a good car and I was able to qualify second for my heat race, just behind last year’s winner Niall Murray.
The heat saw a hard-fought battle each lap as the track was transitioning from wet to dry, and in the end I came away with the win. It was such a good feeling and was I happy to put the Team USA car on top because I knew how hard Cliff and the entire team had worked to provide a fast car. It was an amazing feeling having the opportunity to represent the USA and all of the scholarship supporters as well.
I started on the front row for my semfinal race on Sunday, and kept right on the tail of the leader until an early incident brought out the red flags. Another intense battle was fought out after the restart, but we missed the setup slightly and finished fifth, which meant I would start 10th for the Grand Final. This was still a big accomplishment as only 36 cars from the original field of almost 120 would take the green flag! The 15-lap race was pretty crazy with a huge train of cars battling for position throughout, but I stayed focused and kept my nose clean to finish in sixth place. It was a fantastic way to cap off a memorable trip.
Now that I am back home in Florida I have had some time to reflect on my experience in England. I had the time of my life – both in terms of the racing and also outside of the car. It was amazing to immerse myself in a different country’s culture for the first time. From the language, the food, and the daily life, this opportunity the Team USA Scholarship has provided will stick with me.
It’s a great feeling to carry your country’s colors and represent all these amazing partners. The program that Jeremy Shaw has put together helps you reach your full potential as a driver. I look to use the knowledge that I have gained from this trip to push me forward in my pursuit of making it as a race car driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The demanding work never stops as it’s already time to start preparing for the next season.
I would like to personally thank Jeremy, the Team USA Scholarship, Cooper Tire, the Road Racing Drivers Club and SAFEisFAST, Doug Mockett & Company Inc., Cliff Dempsey Racing, Mazda Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Lucas Oil School of Racing, Bell Helmets, Sparco, Penske Racing, Honda Performance Development, Dyson Racing, RaceCraft1, Pitfit Training, CXC Simulations, Technology & Business Law Advisors LLC, Andersen Promotions, Molecule Sport, Styled Aesthetic and Hyspeed LLC for supporting the Team USA Scholarship program and for believing in me. I’m now preparing for the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200k Scholarship Shootout in Phoenix, Ariz., in December and am excited for what the future holds.
Thank you for reading!