One of the coolest things about being a racer has to be getting to say I drive race cars for a living when someone asks. Well, that and living in one of the more bucolic parts of Italy half the year and racing a tailored-fit racecar throughout Europe. Southern California's Michael Lewis is living that dream, but make no mistake about it; it's a dream that wasn't simply granted by a wand-wielding, sparkly winged, helmet donning, race fairy. Lewis pays his dues daily, working harder than the majority of 21-year-olds, and by making personal sacrifices that most wouldn't be prepared to put together. Of course anything less wouldn't be honoring his huge gift for racing, and that's clearly not how he rolls.
At the Red Bull Ring Spielberg Lewis and the Prema Powerteam finished second despite a series of pre-race challenges.
In our last update with Lewis (Michael Lewis stays with Prema Powerteam to compete in F3 Euro Series Championship), we looked into some of the major changes after his highly successful 2011 ACI Sport Formula 3 Italia Championship season. This time Lewis talks to us from his part-time home in Italy, about his sweet new ride, making adjustments in order to dial it up a few notches, and on remaining focused by staying centered.
Tell us about the new ride, what's it like having Dallara and Mercedes-Benz custom build a racecar for you?
"The new car is quite nice to drive. Initially, the F3-12 Dallara chassis had more front end grip (both mechanically and aero) so we had to adjust the balance a bit. After the first few pre-season tests, Prema and Mercedes-Benz developed a solid balance, so that by the first race in Hockenheim the cars were really fast."
Lewis charges through the field at the Red Bull Ring during Round 9 of the F3 Euro Series.
"Basically, the car chassis is built in the Dallara factory in Parma, Italy. Then, Mercedes-Benz supplies the engines, and it all is pieced together at the Prema Powerteam headquarters in Vicenza, Italy. At the moment, in the F3 Euro Series/FIA F3 European Championship/F3 British Championship the biggest competition to the Mercedes-Benz cars is Volkswagen. So, right now, and throughout the season, Mercedes-Benz is working on perfecting the car (whether that is aero balance stuff, or engine related things) they are pushing really hard. Even for F3, Mercedes puts the car into the wind-tunnel, so there is quite a big development going on. As an official Mercedes-Benz race car driver, it's really nice to know that you have so much support in both the engine department and the chassis department."
I suspect there was another sizable period of adjustment to the Euro Series Championship, but you seem to be getting the hang of it. What are some of the more notable differences from Italia Championship?
"Yes, unfortunately that's true. I started out really well by qualifying on the second row of the first race weekend. Then, in the races of that first weekend, I didn't drive how I normally drive. I was trying to rush things and I was thinking I had to be first, to the point that if any little mistake happened, it threw my rhythm off massively. Since then, I've reacquainted myself with all that I know, and I'm back to the calm and aggressive style that I know so well. Enjoying driving is really important as well, because too much pressure sometimes kills your performance."
After his second place finish at the Red Bull Ring Lewis is either signaling his results or requesting a second bottle.
"The biggest difference from Italian F3 championship to the Euro Series is that the Euro Series is at a higher level. There are many more drivers and they are all fast. You also get far less testing time, so the Euro Series really demands a lot from its drivers. Spec wise, the cars are the same. Italian F3 is using the F3-08 chassis (the one I drove last year) and the Euro Series is using the new car. Just the engines are different."
After your two podiums at Brands Hatch in England, and coming off your second place finish at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, how are you feeling now and what all is staring to go right for you?
"The second step on the podium was definitely nice. The weekend before, we scored two P3s and a P4 in that three race weekend. So it's been going quite well. Interestingly enough, the Red Bull Ring weekend started off terrible in qualifying, as I never set a proper lap. So basically, my time recorded was just warming tires (the reason is quite complicated, but I had to start from the back of the grid in the three races). So the weekend from the start was looking pretty intense. Then, I kept my cool and drove really hard to finish P6 from P12 in Race 1."
"I was really happy about that and so was my team (we were really fast in the race which confirmed our overall speed). Then in Race 2 I made it inside the Top-8 invert from Race 1, so I started P3. I got a really good start and I nearly passed for P1 on the outside of Turn 1, then I fell back in line and in the end finished P2 after a pretty complicated race. For Race 3 I drove all the way from P13 to P6 again, and this time I was right in tow with P2, from where I was in P6. So basically I managed something pretty crazy."
After a period of adjustment Michael Lewis has his mojo back and the results prove it.
Where do you currently live and when do you get to go home to Laguna Beach to visit? Also, what do you do with any spare time you have?
"Right now I am living in a small lakeside community and the town is called Baveno, Italy. The town is on Lago Maggiore (Lake Maggiore is a large lake located on the south side of the Alps and separates Italy from Switzerland) and it is a very outdoors and nature related community. I stayed here since last year and I travel back to the California for the winter time."
"Basically, since I am enrolled in the University at California State University Fullerton in online classes (Lewis recently finished a calculus class earning an 'A', with an official proctor, and no open textbook tests) I am always quite busy. I train physically every day, twice a day, and rest on Sundays. Once I have my work done, and if I'm not too tired, I'll go out skateboarding for a bit. The life of a race car driver is by no means stagnant. You've got to manage all aspects, all the time."
How are you feeling heading into your next race in Nuremberg, Germany in a couple of weeks?
"At the moment I am stoked to get back in the car, because driving is what I love doing the most. But, it's going to be a weekend of unknowns, because it's on a street circuit (Norisring), so there are a lot more variables than at a normal permanent circuit. For example, the track is extremely dirty in FP1 and FP2 and there are no margins for mistakes because it's a street circuit; yet you still must push as though you know the track like the back of your hand. So the biggest thing is to try and get over the feeling of being at a new circuit as fast as possible. That's when you can really drive fast."
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