Following a breakout season in Pirelli World Challenge, which saw him collect three wins and a runner-up finish in the GT championship, Mike Skeen has found himself in Japan this weekend, ready to take on a new challenge in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Skeen, a Silver-rated driver by the FIA, joins Jeroen Bleekemolen and fellow American Bret Curtis at the wheel of the No. 61 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia for Sunday’s Six Hours of Fuji, in a one-off deal put together by fellow World Challenge racer Curtis.
“Bret sent me an email after the WEC/TUDOR COTA weekend asking if I was available,” Skeen told Sportscar365. “Then there was a week or two where the team had been talking to another Silver driver to see if that would work. When that didn’t work, I found myself in this spot.”
While considered one of the stars of GT racing in North America, the 27-year-old has been a rather unknown name globally, as this weekend’s race marks his first-ever overseas race.
“Racing is the same, no matter where you go, whether it’s NASCAR, World Challenge, or here,” he said. “It’s certainly been a goal to get here, whether in Blancpain or more international type racing, but I didn’t necessarily expect it this year.
“I think being competitive in World Challenge helped a lot in raising my awareness. The fact that GT3 cars are there now, it gets more international recognition. It’s certainly been good.”
It’s proven to be a quick learning curve for Skeen, Bleekemolen and Curtis, as all three had never driven a Ferrari prior to this weekend.
However, Skeen has already been up to speed in the Prancing Horse, having set times this weekend within two-tenths of Bleekemolen, who’s arguably considered one of the most versatile drivers in the world.
The experience of the Amato Ferrari-led AF Corse outfit, which is fielding five Ferraris this weekend, also helps.
“It’s been great having a known quantity to work off of,” Skeen said. “We’ve been using their experience on the setup side. I think we all picked up speed pretty quickly. It doesn’t hurt have some experienced guys in the cars.”
Having qualified fourth in class, Skeen is upbeat heading into the race, knowing a podium is likely in reach, should everything go to plan.
While the Fuji race is a one-off, Skeen is hopeful of additional international outings in the future, while he finalizes his 2015 program, which will likely include a return to World Challenge.
“I’ve certainly gotten a lot more exposure this year and that will help,” Skeen said of his success in World Challenge. “I’ve been working pretty hard with a few new contacts trying to make some new programs happen.
“We’ll see what happens. I’d say there’s a high likelihood I’ll be back in World Challenge, at least on a part-time basis, depending on how the schedules conflict.”