Long Beach, Calif. – Young GT racing star Michael Lewis of Laguna Beach, Calif., literally grew up at the race track.
Lewis, a current college student at Cal State, Fullerton, went to races throughout Southern California and across the nation with his father, Steve, who was a successful team owner in the USAC Midget car ranks with stellar drivers like Stan Fox and Tony Stewart, piloting the famed white No. 9. Fox won the last race ever at legendary Ascot Park in Gardena, Calif., in 1990.
But now, Michael is making his own racing legacy in the Pirelli World Challenge at the wheel of the No. 41 EFFORT Racing/Curb-Agajanian Porsche 911 GT3 R GT sports car and gets set to compete at the 1.948, 11-turn street circuit in downtown Long Beach as one of the contenders for Sunday’s 50-minute PWC GT sprint race at the 42nd annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
In his most recent PWC GT racing performance on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. in March, Lewis enjoyed his best racing weekend to date by winning two pole positions and two feature races.
“It was one of my best weekends of racing,” said Lewis. “I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend leading into my home race in Long Beach. I won both poles and led every lap of the two races. I went through the two events without making a mistake. It was a dream event.”
And Lewis wasn’t racing against your average GT drivers either. He took on a star-studded lineup including four-time PWC champion Johnny O’Connell of Cadillac Racing, Porsche teammate and former PWC titlist Patrick Long from EFFORT Racing, Australian JD Davison and teammate Bryan Heitkotter of Nissan, young Cadillac star and current point leader Michael Cooper, multi-time racing champion Jon Fogarty, McLaren drivers Alvaro Parente, Colin Thompson and Austin Cindric, another local star Andrew Palmer and his teammate Adderly Fong of Bentley, Audi’s Kyle Marcelli, Acura’s Ryan Eversley and Peter Cunningham as well as endurance star Andrew Davis.
“I can’t tell you how tough it is in the GT division in the Pirelli World Challenge right now,” said Lewis. “There are factory drivers from a variety of manufacturers and many of the drivers are the best in the world. In St. Petersburg, everything just clicked perfectly. My engineer, Stefan Pfeiffer, is one of the best in the business with Porsche and the EFFORT team is one of the world’s finest organizations. I couldn’t ask for anything more in my driving career.”
Now Lewis comes to the historic Long Beach street circuit seeking another victory run. But, despite growing up in near Laguna Beach, Michael hasn’t been a regular at the “Roar by the Shore.”
“It’s funny but I never went to the Long Beach race when I was younger,” admits Lewis. “My first time there was 2014 and then I raced at Long Beach last year. But, as close as the race was to my home, we just didn’t get the event. I went to a ton of dirt oval tracks and, even, the Indy 500. So it’s very exciting for me to compete for the win this year at the legendary street circuit.”
With Lewis’ father’s oval track successful, it seemed logical for Michael to follow in the oval ranks. And he did take that path, racing quarter-midgets and Focus midgets with many wins.
But the teenager wanted his open-wheel racing career to make left and right turns as he began competing in karting. And more victories followed for Lewis. The personable youngster was a contender at the Italian Open Masters and French Open as well as top North American action.
Lewis later moved to the bigger open-wheel machines such as the Formula BMW Championship, the Italian Formula 3 series and the FIA European Formula 3 campaign. In 2013, Michael was invited to participate in the prestigious Porsche Young Driver Academy at Barber Motorsports Park.
“I enjoyed the midgets but I wanted to road race as I became older,” admits Lewis. “Karting was the proper way to go and my career began to grow in open-wheel racing. I was able to earn a scholarship from the Academy debut and moved into the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge. I won Rookie of the Year in 2014 and joined EFFORT Racing in 2015.”
Lewis immediately showed his potential last year by scoring wins in the GTA division and was moved to the highly-competitive GT category. He finished eighth in the final GT points standings, impressive given he was the only rookie in the class.
“Coming to Long Beach after the St. Petersburg weekend does give me a lot of confidence,” Lewis admits. “With Patrick as a mentor, Stefan as my engineer and the entire EFFORT Racing team behind me, I’m very pumped up for another chance to step to the top of the podium. Long Beach is Patrick’s home race and I know he’ll be ready for a winning run as well. The GT division has so many good drivers, it will be real dog fight.”
But Lewis has paid his racing dues and seen the GT victory lane now. Don’t be surprised if this local college kid isn’t spraying champagne again next week at Long Beach.