Michael Lewis, of Poway, Calif., had his way with the GT-1 field on a wet and rainy Sunday afternoon at Road America on his way to a sixth gold medal at the SCCA National Championship Runoffs. Simon Gregg, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., was second and Jim Bradley, of Gaston, Ind., finished third.
Lewis, the defending GT-1 National Champion, started second and slotted in behind Gumout polesitter Cliff Ebben, of Appleton, Wis., on the opening lap. Ebben pulled out to a healthy lead over the first two laps before disaster struck on Lap 3 when he spun his No. 36 Lamers Motor Racing/McMahon Group/Stumpf Ford Mustang in the Hurry Downs section of the four-mile circuit, making hard contact with the barrier at the exit of turn seven. Ebben avoided injury, but his race was over.
From there it was all Lewis, who steadily pulled away from the field for the remainder of the 13-lap event. He crossed the stripe 2:15.002 ahead of Gregg, and posted the Hawk Hot Lap on the final lap of the race at 2:49.355 (85.028 mph). The victory today was reminiscent of his first career Trans-Am Series victory, which came in a rain race at Road America in 2001.
"It was looking like our annual cage match, me and Cliff here, and he didn't disappoint," Lewis said. "We didn't have our strongest engine. We lost that early in the week. I was actually hoping for rain and it's one of those things where be careful what you wish for, because it's not that much fun. It turned out to work for us.
"He took off at the start and I knew he wanted a gap. He knows all the nuances of this track. Obviously, he lives a stone's throw away, so he takes that advantage in with him and that includes the wet, as well. This place has a lot of secrets in the wet. I don't know what happened, actually. I came up to turn six on that lap and I saw a yellow flag waving. I said, 'I wonder if Cliff's getting through there OK,' but it was Cliff. It was a big surprise. As I came around the corner, he was just sliding off the wall.
"It certainly would have been a whole different ballgame with him in the race. I think Simon had a problem on the same lap and I had a 25-second advantage. At that point in time, it's just clicking the laps off. That's really hard in its own right. I'm sorry it was probably a little boring out there, but I'll take it. I've had some taken away from me and I've had enough excitement for the year."
Lewis now has 12 medals in SCCA National Championship Runoffs competition. It was his second consecutive GT-1 National Championship, and he also took a GT-1 title in 1995 and GT-3 National Championships in 1992, 1996 and 1997.
"I looked at that list for the first time when I hit last year, five," Lewis said. "I looked at the list of guys that have done that and I'm going, 'Wow, I'm getting up there pretty good. There are some names here that are really pretty impressive.' Six will probably be even more impressive. Then you look at [Jerry] Hansen with 27 and it kind of puts you in the proper frame of mind.
"I'll take it. It's great. I love the SCCA. I'm involved it in at some of the higher levels of management now, and it's so wonderful to come here. It's wonderful to sit here with a guy like Jim, who has really not been racing very long. Here he is. He probably had no thought of this an hour ago and here he is on the podium because he just handled the conditions better and survived. And Simon, seeing the progress he's made over the years. It's really gratifying at this level to run. I also run in the ALMS and the multi-billion dollar teams with Audi and Peugeot and you know what? I like these guys. I like running with these guys. It's very gratifying to see the whole community."
Despite a late-race spin, Gregg scored his best Runoffs result to date with a second-place run in the No. 59 Derhaag Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette. Gregg's previous best results were fourth-place runs in GT-1 in 2010 and 2007.
"It feels very good," Gregg said. "I started the pace lap thinking I wouldn't be able to see at all and thankfully the windscreen cleared. I got by the blue Corvette, [Rick] Dittman, at the start and that was good and I just sort of drove around by myself most of the time. I had one spinout in turn five. That was stressful, but luckily I had a big enough lead and didn't stall the motor. It was a good race today.
"It's great being at this track. This is my third time up here this year and I've been racing with Mike for years in Trans-Am, back when Trans-Am was really big. It's one of the best years I've ever had."
Taking the final spot on the podium was Bradley in the No. 01 Optical One Chevrolet Corvette for his first Runoffs medal. Bradley also earned the Sunoco Hard Charger Award for his improvement from eighth on the starting grid.
"We had three sets of tires there, the slicks, the intermediate and the rain tires, and of course we were concerned about what to go out with," Bradley said. "Obviously, when it started raining, the rain tires were the choice and what we needed to use. The biggest thing with running in the rain with these kind of cars is - first of all - the amount of power that we have and being able to put the power down, but also getting a clear windshield. The fogging on the inside of the windshield, even though they have a blower, makes it real difficult to view.
"I cannot begin to describe what it's like for me and my heartbeat and the excitement of being here. Of course, I'd like to congratulate Simon and Mike for just a great drive. I didn't see them, so I don't know, but I'm just thrilled to have finished third."
David Fershtand, of Fort Worth, Texas, had a couple of great side-by-side battles with Bradley before settling for fourth in the No. 05 Fershtand Race Prepared Oldsmobile Cutlass. Denny Lamers, of Appleton, Wis., completed the top five in the No. 66 Lamers Motor Racing/McMahon Group Stumpf Ford Mustang.
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. - Final Results from Sunday's GT-1 National Championship Race, part of the 48th SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America with finish position, starting position in parenthesis, driver, hometown, car and laps complete.
1, (2), Michael Lewis, Poway, CA, Jaguar XKR, 13.
2, (4), Simon Gregg, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, Chevrolet Corvette, 13.
3, (8), Jim Bradley, Gaston, IN, Chevrolet Corvette, 13.
4, (7), David Fershtand, Fort Worth, TX, Oldsmobile Cutlass, 12.
5, (6), Denny Lamers, Appleton, WI, Ford Mustang, 12.
6, (10), Carl Janin, Dallas, TX, Chevrolet Camaro, 10.
7, (11), Chip Boatright, Mundelein, IL, Chevrolet Corvette, 10.
8, (3), Rick Dittman, Prairie View, IL, Chevrolet Corvette, 9.
DNF, (1), Cliff Ebben, Appleton, WI, Ford Mustang, 2.
DNF, (5), Kyle Kelley, Huntington Beach, CA, Chevrolet Camaro, 1.
DNS, (9), J. Richard Grant, Germantown, TN, Chevrolet Corvette, 0.
Time of Race: 37:38.304
Winner's average speed: 82.894 mph
Hawk Fastest race lap: #12 Michael Lewis 2:49.355 (90.847 mph)
Lap Leaders: 1-2, #36 Cliff Ebben, 3-13, #12 Michael Lewis.
Sunoco Hard Charger: #01 Jim Bradley