After being forced on the sidelines for the last two events, and seeing his championship hopes evaporate, Michael Lewis is hoping to make the most of his return to Pirelli World Challenge competition, beginning this weekend at Road America.
The 25-year-old Californian is set for a two-race program with Calvert Dyanmics, having brought together a number of familiar faces — and the same Porsche 911 GT3 R he drove in the opening four PWC events with EFFORT Racing.
“It was really [Calvert Dynamics team principal] Preston Calvert and some really influential people from EFFORT Racing, the team I used to be with, to make this happen,” Lewis told Sportscar365.
“In particular Erin Gahagan, [EFFORT] team manager and Stefan Pfeiffer [engineer], were really instrumental in working with Preston and my sponsors.
“It’s just two race [weekends], nothing crazy… We’re not really going for a championship or anything. But we’re trying to win some races, which is hard in itself. I’m very excited.”
Lewis was one of the revelations in the early part of the 2016 season, having claimed a weekend sweep at St. Petersburg, which included his breakthrough first career PWC pole and overall win.
He sat 4th in the GT class drivers’ standings at the time of EFFORT’s withdrawal, which not only impacted Lewis but also teammate Patrick Long.
The American Porsche factory driver, however, managed to find refuge at Wright Motorsports and not miss a race, keeping his championship hopes alive.
For Lewis, though, finding a way to return took a little more time, as he frustratingly sat out both rounds at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Lime Rock Park.
“It didn’t hit me that hard in the first few weeks but as those races happened, you started thinking to yourself a lot more than you used to and started questioning whether you’re able to do this still,” he said.
“But the first moment I got [back] into the car [on Thursday] it was so nice to be on the track, as I would normally be, and get to drive as hard as I can and as fast as I can.
“It was very nice and a homecoming feeling with everybody saying, ‘Hey, welcome back!’ It’s very exciting.”
While adapting to a new team in the Phoenix Performance-run squad, led by father-and-son Joe and Andrew Aquilante, Lewis is also surrounded by many of his former crew at EFFORT.
It includes his engineer Pfeiffer as well as Erin and Dave Gahagan, whom he had worked with over the past two seasons.
“It’s a Porsche and all the same colors on the inside,” Lewis said. “I have Stefan Pfeiffer on the radio and it’s black and white on the inside.”
Lewis’ arrival could also come as a boost to the Calvert Dynamics team, which has struggled so far in its first year of GT competition with the new GT3-spec Porsche and driver Andrew Davis.
The addition of a second Porsche 911 GT3 R to its stables, alongside its GT Cup entry for Preston Calvert, is expected to pay dividends over the next two weekends.
“Any chance you get a chance to bounce ideas off somebody, it gives you confidence,” Lewis said.
“I think that’s one key factor here, not just with me being on the team here but vice-versa with Andrew Davis, who is a very fast driver.
“That confidence is definitely something to rely on. We may be fast or we may be wherever we are, but that confidence is helpful.”
While currently confirmed for only Road America and Mid-Ohio, Lewis hasn’t ruled out additional outings with the team later this year but for now is fully focused on the immediate task at hand.
“I think a good goal would be to work good as a team,” he said. “Andrew is an awesome man to work with and obviously Preston is having fun in his Cup car.
“I’m very low-key on what [expectations] I set for myself. Honestly, I want to go as fast as I can and to let the team work through the setup of the car as best they can and we’ll see where we end up.”