After two impressive races where American Michael Lewis moved up through the field during the FIA European Formula 3 season opener at Silverstone, misfortune struck Michael for his third race, but it was an encouraging beginning for the Californian in his new drive with the kfzteile Mucke Motorsport.
In practice, Lewis ranked P1until late in the session, when he was was bumped down to third.
"We were just going to go out and feel the car lap by lap," explained the 22-year-old Lewis. "It was pretty awesome to be back with a strong pace in the wet conditions."
After practice, track conditions dried out, allowing Michael to try out his Mercedes-powered Dallara for the first time in the dry for the two-part qualifying sessions.
"Peter [Fluckiger, engineer] and I had the same plan to just feel the car and really get used to the car more than anything," explained Lewis. "After about three laps I was getting back to my dry weather pace, but I was stopped short of my full potential because of a red flag and some additional yellow flags halfway through the 20-minute Q1 session. The red flag was the same for everyone, but it really hurt me a bit more as I needed every lap I could get in the dry to feel out the car. I was very positive and hoped that Q2 would be wet, because I am confident in running on a wet track."
Lewis ended up P18 and P20 after Q1, but during the five-minute break to reset the clock and commence Q2, rain started to fall heavily and made the entire circuit completely wet. When the green light at the end of pit lane was illuminated, all drivers had to face a completely different situation.
However, the rain only lasted several minutes into Q2. As they were qualifying toward the back in Q1 due to particular circumstances, Peter and Michael decided to gamble and put on slick tires for the start of the Q2 session. This would mean that Lewis would have to enter the fully wet race track hoping the track was dry enough at the end of the session. With about eight minutes to go in the session, it started to pay off.
"A bit of Sector 1 and nearly all of Sector 2 was starting to get relatively dry because that is the old asphalt area, so I was pushing as hard as I could there," said Michael. "However, most of Sector 3 was still pretty much full wet. So it was intense to manage traffic with drivers on rain tires battling around me plus the normal risk/reward of the slicks on a wet track."
He wound up 13th. "I was pushing to get one more lap in, but missed the line by a few seconds, having completed that lap would have put me a couple of rows ahead," he noted. "I was really enjoying driving in those conditions and liked that we tried to gamble for a top spot!"
From 20th, Lewis moved up to 13th in Race 1, and had caught a pack of cars ahead of him before running out of laps.
"The car was handling well and I finally got to do some clean laps in the dry," reported Michael. "My goal was to stay out of trouble, make no mistakes, and pass as many cars as possible. I think it's safe to say that goal was reached."
Only one hour after the completion of Race 1, Race 2 got underway under threatening weather conditions. The track ended up being somewhat dry, but with damp spots spreading throughout all sectors of the track.
Starting 18th when the second 35-minute race began, Lewis made another impressive start by placing his car in the best position on the track to avoid a number of crashes and make passes on that first lap. By the second lap, Michael had worked his way up to P10. A safety car was then deployed on the second lap to adhere to all of the accidents. When racing resumed, Michael fought hard and was found battling to hang onto 10th spot.
"I just made one mistake by fighting a competitor for one position," related Lewis, "but ended up losing two places on the exit of Copse. I regrouped and put pressure on the driver in P10, but was unable to make a safe overtake in the end."
Team boss Peter Mucke commented positively on the first two days of racing. Considering that the young American had signed just a week earluer and had no test time coming into the weekend, Mucke was well pleased with his showing.
"It is too bad that he couldn't implement that [fast practice form] at the qualifying, but to almost finish in the top 10 coming from the back of the field is a great performance," he said.
Race 3 provided the best chance for Michael to score his first championship points as he would start from 13th on the grid. With an early start time of 9:15 a.m., the circuit was cold and wet from the previous evening's rain showers. However, when the race got underway, the track was neither completely wet nor completely dry. In fact, many drivers elected to use slick tires for the event, while other drivers opted for rain tires. Lewis and his engineer decided to use slick tires to start the race.
"We were pretty confident with our choice before the formation lap, and once I passed through pit lane to take another lap, I also agreed that the track was going to suit the dry tires the best," said Michael. "The track was extremely wet in some places, especially in Sector 2 and Sector 3."
As the lights went out, Lewis made another fine launch and battled hard into the Arena section and the Turn 6/Turn 7 complex. Michael was able to avoid three big crashes on the first lap, but unfortunately as he began to exit the Maggots-Becketts-Chapel complex toward the end of the first lap, he was punted off from behind when another driver tried an ambitious overtaking maneuver. The collision sent Lewis into the muddy gravel run-off area and retirement.
"There were a lot of accidents happening on that first lap and people flying off everywhere. I was able to make it through all of the accidents and was around P7 when I got hit," explained Lewis. "It was very frustrating not to finish because my guys were working so hard the entire weekend and they deserved a good result. It is just one of those racing situations that you can't control and you just have to deal with other people's mistakes."
Overall, Lewis said he was very pleased with the passion and work ethic of the kzteile24 Mucke Motorsport. He now looks forward to his next run with the team at Round 3 (races 7, 8 & 9) of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship at Hockenheim, May 3-5.