Lewis Wires Pirelli GT Field At St. Pete

Michael Lewis dominated Saturday's GT race at St. Petersburg. (Al Steinberg photo)
Michael Lewis dominated Saturday's GT race at St. Petersburg. (Al Steinberg photo)
Michael Lewis dominated Saturday’s GT race at St. Petersburg. (Al Steinberg photo)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Michael Lewis scored a flag-to-flag GT victory in Saturday’s race at the Pirelli World Challenge Cadillac Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Martin Fuentes and Sloan Urry won in GTA and GT Cup.

When the green flag flew, polesitter Lewis, in the No. 41 EFFORT Racing/Curb-Agajanian Porsche 911 GT3 R, launched cleanly into the lead through turn one, with second-on-the-grid Alvaro Parente, in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 slotting into second, and third-on-the-grid Johnny O’Connell, in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R. in third.

O’Connell’s teammate Michael Cooper, in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R. followed in 4th.

In GTA, pole sitter Fuentes, in the No. 07 Hublot/Under Armour Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia slotted into first in class and 12th overall in the race, while GT Cup pole sitter Urry, in the No. 20 Security National/Avasis Porsche 911 GT3 Cup led over Alec Udell, in the No. 17 Amsource Capital/Panther Pipeline machine.

Of note, Patrick Long, in the No. 31 EFFORT Racing/World PMO Porsche 911 GT3 R started from the back of the field in 19th after the team worked tiredlessly to repair his car following the significant damage the machine sustained in Round 2 last Sunday at Circuit of the Americas. With repairs ongoing, Long was unable to take to the track for Round 3 qualifying completed on Friday.

By lap 5, Lewis had built a .968-second lead over Parente and a 3.5-second lead over O’Connell in third place. Lewis continued to open up the gap and by lap 13 led Parente by over 2.045 seconds, with O’Connell running 6.6 seconds behind.

In GTA, Frankie Montecalvo, in the No. 66 DIME R&D Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS GT3 closed the gap to two seconds on Fuentes with the two running 16th and 17th overall in the race. Urry still led over Udell by just under a second in GT Cup. On lap 15, Montecalvo dropped a few positions after spinning in turn 4. The car did not contact the wall and he resumed under power.

By lap 21, Lewis continued to lead Parente with the gap up to four-seconds with O’Connell still in third, Cooper in fourth and 17-year-old Austin Cindric, in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 in fifth. A hard charging Long had moved up to 10th.

Further back in the field an intense battle raged with Andrew Palmer, in the No. 87 Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3 and Ryan Eversley, in the No. 43 Acura/HPD/Red Line Oil/RealTime Acura TLX-GT going door-to-door for a number of laps vying for 8th with the drivers trading the position back and forth. Long joined the battle and was able to get around both.

At the checkered, Lewis scored his first career GT win, over 10 seconds ahead of Parente in second. O’Connell finished third, Cooper fourth and Cindric fifth. Fuentes and Urry took their third straight wins of the season in GTA and GT Cup respectfully. Long finished in seventh, gaining 12 positions overall during the race to secure the VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger Award. Long also won the Optima Batteries Best Start award for gaining three positions on the first lap of the race.

Lewis registered the fastest lap during the race and will start on pole for Sunday’s Round 4. Fuentes and Urry also secured the poles for tomorrow’s race with fastest laps in their respective classes. The Cadillac ATS.V Move of the Race was awarded to Eversley for his pass on Adderly Fong, in the No. 88 Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3.

“It is so special to be sitting in victory lane especially with the overall win,” said Lewis. “The race was a tough one with no yellow flags and it was flat out all the way. I knew that Alvaro (Parente) had a quick car in the McLaren but our EFFORT Racing Porsche was just a terrific car today. I had some pressure in the first five laps. My engineers said just to keep my head down and don’t worry about the things behind you. It was hot out there and I wanted to hit my marks every time. I was actually preparing for a restart because I was sure there was going to be a yellow flag or a green-white-checkered situation. So I was trying to conserve my tires for a late race caution. Starting from pole position really makes things so much easier for the race.

“So qualifying is extremely important here or any street course. We look at video from practice to qualifying to the race and study the track. A lot of the work starts before we get to the track, then throughout the weekend. I want to thank Patrick Long for his mentoring and assistance in setting up the car. He couldn’t qualify for today’s race due to the crash at COTA last week but he did a super job driving through the field for seventh. He would have been right up there if he could have qualified yesterday. Following the COTA events last weekend, the team did a spectacular job preparing my car as well as rebuilding Patrick’s Porsche. Just a sensational effort by the EFFORT Racing team this week.”