IMSA’s development series have proven to be a breeding ground for new American talent, with former Prototype Lites champions Tristan Nunez and Sean Rayhall, as well as Madison Snow, who captured the 2013 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge title, having all made the step up to the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
Another rising star that’s set to follow in their footsteps is open-wheel turned sports car standout Michael Lewis, who makes his TUDOR Championship debut in this weekend’s Oak Tree Grand Prix.
The 23-year-old California native, who made more than 100 starts in Formula 3 competition in Europe, shifted gears to sports car racing in 2014, taking part in his first season of GT3 Cup Challenge, thanks to a scholarship from IMSA, Porsche and Yokohama that’s awarded to drivers without previous Porsche GT3 Cup experience.
With three wins and currently in a title-contending third place in the championship in his rookie season, Lewis has already made quite the impression in the GT paddock, enough to have gained the attention of GB Autosport to try his hand in the team’s Porsche 911 GT America this weekend.
“It was a total surprise,” Lewis told Sportscar365. “A big thank-you to the two teams, [Competition Motorsports] for letting me race in GTD and then obviously GB Autosport for making the phone call.
“I’m just here this weekend to try to keep the car on track and really learn as much as possible about the car and these little differences.”
Teamed with sports car ace Damien Faulkner as a substitute for regular season driver Ben Barker, who is on Porsche Supercup duty at Spa, Lewis has had to quickly come to grips with the Tully’s Coffee-sponsored car, which is a different beast compared to the 911 GT3 Cup car he’s been used to.
“Power-wise, that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “Off the bottom-end, it’s got some torque. The geometry setup is a bit different. Aero is also different, as well as the tire. “It looks like a 991, it is a 991 but it’s actually quite a bit different. It’s something to get used to.”
While only getting his first laps in the car this weekend, and the first time at VIR in five years, Lewis has proven to be a quick learner. He credits that largely due to his experience in Europe, which taught him to take advantage of every possible opportunity.
“All the years of racing I’ve done has prepared me well,” Lewis said. “Even if I’m at a new track, I can be on it fast and that’s something I’ve learned over the years in Europe.
“A lot of times in Europe, you only get one practice and it’s straight into qualifying. The idea of being on it fast is helping.”
Lewis, who was considered one of America’s F1 hopefuls, made a career shift at the end of last year after being invited to the Porsche Young Driver Academy at Barber Motorsports Park.
It was there, while stacked up against the likes of Snow, David Ostella and Angel Benitez Jr., all of whom had previous success in Porsches, that put Lewis in a unique position to make the jump to sports car racing.
“If it wasn’t for that, I honestly don’t know what series I would be in right now,” he said. “Porsche pulled me into the Cup series for this season.They gave me my start in this part of my career and I really have to thank them.”
While Lewis hasn’t ruled out a return to open-wheel, he’s hopeful of continuing down the GT route for now, with the goal of landing a full-time ride in the TUDOR Championship, ideally in a Porsche.
“I think GT racing is the place to be and I’m going to stay with that for the moment,” he said. “But I’m always open. With Porsche giving me a good opportunity like this, why wouldn’t you want to stay?”