Mid-Ohio: Michael Lewis qualifying report

Michael Lewis is a close third qualifier for Buckeye 100 at Mid-Ohio. Friday June 28th, 2002: Mid-Ohio at Lexington Ohio -- Weather is warm but bearable as electric fans of all sizes and shapes can be seen throughout the paddock area. The ...

Michael Lewis is a close third qualifier for Buckeye 100 at Mid-Ohio.

Friday June 28th, 2002: Mid-Ohio at Lexington Ohio -- Weather is warm but bearable as electric fans of all sizes and shapes can be seen throughout the paddock area. The AmeriSuites Jaguar is sporting the aero package that the crew had gotten from Rocketsports when they arrived on Thursday. This is the latest in a string of aerodynamic adjustments made by the Trans-Am series in the best attempt to maintain some level of parity.

The changes include louvers above the front wheels, as was done for the Panoz Esperante, and larger end plates on the rear wing. The team also got a new nose section from Rocketsports that better incorporated the aero tabs on the nose. The team was busy on Thursday making all these changes on a non-practice day.

The AutoCon Racing team made a quick stopover at Putnam Park raceway near Indianapolis for some testing. "It is a nice test track that is on our way to Mid-Ohio," Michael Lewis commented. "We did some evaluation of the fuel-injection system and went back to out 2001 set-up on the chassis to try to improve out mechanical grip. Sid Crane did some excellent detective work looking at our numbers (computerized data acquisition) and we got back to a more familiar setup."

The testing obviously went well as far as the fuel injection part of the puzzle as the team has elected to run the fuel-injection here at Mid-Ohio. "The fuel-injection seems to be fine," said crew chief Joe Geldert. "Michael was able to apply the power smoothly and consistently."

"The car is pretty good right now," Lewis said. "But Putnam Park is a high grip track and we were too stiff in this morning's session. We are going to soften up the car for this afternoon's qualifying. We made some significant gains in the last session and the car is better than it has been!"

As far as the aero changes everyone is reserving judgment. Michael Lewis indicated that the changes should help, but it really only puts the car back where it was, relative to the other cars. While Paul Gentilozzi, driver of the Johnson Controls Jaguar felt that changes should help, he was reserving judgement until he got more time in with this particular configuration.

"We haven't had enough track time to tell for sure," commented Gentilozzi. "But Mid-Ohio is much more of an aero track than people realize and the changes should be a very noticeable here."

It is 2:25 PM and the crew has scaled the car and taken it to pre-qualifying tech. All the changes and this round of spring and shock changes are on the car so we should know how well everything is working soon.

During this break in the action I was introduced to Willi Estep who is doing the truck driving and various mechanical duties for the weekend. Willi recently spent some time on Johnny Miller's team and does custom airbrush work on helmets, cars, tee shirts and most any surface he can find.

While the AmeriSuites/Benihana Jaguar is at tech Rich LaBarbera and his team is using the AutoCon scales and a little of David Steele have helped to scale their IUPAT Mustang. Rich wasn't allowed to go out in the morning practice. And sadly Rich and his team would pack up and go home. LaBarbera tested positive on the morning drug testing due to some prescription medication and wasn't allowed to race.

It is hard to argue that the AutoCon crew and driver Michael Lewis were starting to wonder if they could ever get the AmeriSuites Jaguar back to good. Today at Mid-Ohio it looks like they have. The AutoCon team has finally begun to benefit from all the recent hard work and at least for the present have put their setup problems behind them. Michael Lewis clocked the 3rd fastest time of the first (the cars are split into two groups based on the morning practice times to reduce the traffic) qualification session. And was clearly the fastest Jaguar in the session.

Michael is right on pace with the front row qualifiers of Butch Leitzinger and Boris Said, and given the slick conditions anything can, and probably will happen.

Just about everyone was complaining about the slick conditions and ill handling cars, but in this heat and bright sun, grip is at a minimum.

Justin Bell came up with the quip of the day saying, "Every time I look at Stu (Hayner) I feel really good because I know that I have so many good years ahead of me."

Speaking of quips Michael Lewis seemed to be the major target of friendly kidding about his fuel economy run at Lime Rock. When asked if he would try to go the distance Lewis quipped back, "I didn't stop for fuel at all today!" But Michael offered little inside information as to the fuel strategy of the race. He did mention that they chose an economy run at Lime Rock because that was the only chance they had for a good finish. That would not appear to be the case here at Mid-Ohio.

Everyone on the AutoCon Racing team was upbeat and looking forward to Saturday's race. As if a huge weight had been lifted. Michael had a hard time containing his wide smile as the team performed routine maintenance on the AmeriSuites Jaguar for Saturday's race.

"We are preparing the car in expectation that the track will be slippery," Lewis said at the end of the day. "In fact it may well be even slicker."

-mlr-

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About this article
Series Trans-Am
Drivers Butch Leitzinger , Boris Said , Justin Bell , Paul Gentilozzi , Johnny Miller , Michael Lewis