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May 02, 2014 - 06:49 AM
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Lewis Eager For Rare Home State Race At Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
Posted by: newsla on May 02, 2014 - 06:45 AM
Sports Cars
Lewis Eager For Rare Home State Race At Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Driving race cars has taken Michael Lewis on a whirlwind world tour of road circuits from his native Southern California.

He won races in Formula 3 and tested a Ferrari Formula One car in Europe. He raced a Formula BMW car in Asia. He won championships and races in North American karting.


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But there's one conspicuous stamp missing from Lewis' road-racing passport - his home state.

That will change May 2-4 when Lewis joins the rest of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama field for the third and fourth rounds of the 2014 season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California, about 370 miles north of his Laguna Beach home.

"It's my home race," Lewis said. "I've never driven on a road course in California. I've done an oval one or two times. I'm excited just to race in California officially."

Racing on a road course in his home state is just one of the new experiences Lewis has encountered in 2014.

Lewis, 23, shifted gears to sports cars in North America this season after racing the last three years for elite European teams in prestigious junior open-wheel formulas, including the FIA Formula 3 European Championship, the Formula 3 Euroseries and Formula 3 Italia.

He produced eight top-10 finishes in 2013 in FIA European Formula 3, one victory and seven podium finishes in 2012 in the Formula 3 Euroseries and three victories and two poles in 2011 in Formula 3 Italia. He earned a test in a Ferrari Formula One car in 2011 after his strong performance.

That success captured the attention of Porsche Motorsport North America, which included Lewis as one of four young promising talents invited to the Porsche Young Driver Academy last September at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Lewis' strong showing at the Academy helped him earn a scholarship from the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), supported by Porsche and Yokohama.

The IMSA Scholarship is awarded to a driver without prior Porsche GT3 Cup experience and is designed to attract and recognize new talent that desires to race in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama. The scholarship represents a vital first step in building the necessary budget required to race in this highly competitive championship, one of nearly 20 similar Porsche single-make series worldwide.

"There's a lot of opportunity right now within sports cars," Lewis said. "There's a lot of stuff happening there. I've never driven that kind of car before. I was presented the opportunity to do it, so I did it. It was kind of a thing that made sense."

Lewis is driving this season for Southern California-based Competition Motorsports, owned by three-time series champion Bob Faieta. Lewis finished eighth and sixth in the first two rounds of the season March 13-14 at Sebring International Raceway, his series debut in the No. 98 Competition Motorsports/CURB Records/Eilbach Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car in the Platinum Cup class.

The adjustment to the handling characteristics of sports cars wasn't daunting for Lewis after three years in open-wheel formula cars. A pragmatic approach ensured a smooth transition.

"You just approach it as you would any other car," Lewis said of the 911 GT3 Cup car. "Just try to find its limits. It has a steering wheel and pedals just like a go-kart or an F1 car. Sure, it moves around a little more. Other than that, you understand how much it moves and apply the same things to drive fast. It was pretty seamless."

But not everything was perfect in his first event. Lewis admitted he was caught a bit off-guard by the 20-minute qualifying sessions for the series, with 36 cars scrambling trying to find space for a clean lap.

"It was pretty crazy," Lewis said. "There was no way anybody could get a free lap. You'll get something decent; you have to accept that. It was kind of cool to try to just manage the chaos. It was good. That's the thing I want to get better at."

Improvement should come quickly. Few teams have a championship pedigree like Competition. Team owner Faieta won consecutive series titles as a driver from 2007-09, and Competition will field five 911 GT3 Cup cars in the two rounds this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

There's strength in those numbers for Lewis. There's also comfort in the reception he has received from the team. Lewis often travels from his home in Laguna Beach to the team's shop in Tujunga to visit with the crew and help prepare the cars.

That work ethic has endeared him to the crew, especially considering Lewis spent the last three years racing in Europe, where drivers often don't mingle with mechanics at the shop.

"They keep me grounded," Lewis said of the Competition crew. "It's not like, 'Hey, you're Mr. Big Shot, you're coming from Europe.' Usually when you race in Europe, it's a little more removed. It's really cool to have the shop an hour and a half away and go there whenever I want. I'm the kind of person that's more hands-on. It's cool.

"It's a nice balance of staying grounded and the crew being really supportive, and I like that. You like to have it when they're all in. Nothing but smiles with Bob, and I really appreciate his hard work. I'm happy."

The quick adjustment to sports cars already has Lewis thinking about his long-term prospects in IMSA competition.

"I just want to win races," Lewis said. "A big thank you to IMSA, Yokohama and Porsche to give me a shot to drive in the series through the scholarship from them. I want to cultivate a career here in America and race sports cars."

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