September 14, 2016: Lamborghini Super Trofeo at Circuit of the Americas. #1 Shinya Michimi, Prestige Performance, Lamborghini Paramus (Pro)

2016 Sep. 14th-17th Circuit of the Americas (USA) – Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America (Rounds 9 & 10)

Shinya Michimi and Prestige Performance managed to survive a drama-filled and challenging weekend by making wise decisions for the greater good towards the overall championship goals.

A second-place finish at COTA for Shinya Michimi in both rounds 9 and 10 of Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America allowed him to clinch the 2016 Driver’s Championship and Prestige Performance was able to secure the Team Championship title over the weekend as well.

The team ran into issues immediately with Michimi’s car in the first practice and missed the entire practice and most of the second practice session while the team worked on the car.  Being another new track for Michimi, practice would have been beneficial for not only setting up the car, but also for learning the circuit.  The team determined that the issue was with the fuel pump and worked incessantly to fix the problem in time to get him out for the final ten minutes for two hot laps.  With just two hot laps, Michimi managed to set the fastest lap in the final practice.  So it appeared that the problems with the car had been resolved.

Unfortunately, the drama of the weekend did not end there.  Michimi, who had not been feeling well all week, was beginning to feel worse.  The next day for qualifying, Michimi was not much better but he still managed to qualify 4th for race one and 3rd for race two.  With a long gap between qualifying from 8:35 AM to the start of race one at 5:55 PM, Michimi’s condition continued to decline, so he spent much of his time in the air-conditioned trailer resting.  The team, having only his health and best interests in mind, gave him the option to sit out and not run.  But Michimi insisted that he felt up to the task and reassured the team that he would retire from the race if at any time he did not feel well enough.  To make matters worse, all of the teams, crews and drivers were dealing with excessive heat that weekend in Austin, TX.

Haas F1 development driver, Santino Ferrucci, started race one in second behind Richard Antinucci. He got a jump on the start, but Hindman, who had started in third, had the advantage going into the left-hand Turn 1 at the top of the hill.  Ferrucci fell into second, followed by Michimi in third with Antinucci falling back to fourth. The three raced single file over the next 10 minutes until a full-course yellow was brought out by debris left on track from two punctured rear tires on the No. 09 US RaceTronics entry driven by Damon Ockey.

With 38 minutes to go in the 50-minute race, the field restarted under green. Hindman retained the lead, but Michimi made an outside move going into Turn 1 to take the inside line and second position from Ferrucci through Turn 2.  The three continued to race in lockstep until the mandatory pit window opened up at the 20-minute mark.

Ferrucci dove into the pits upon seeing Michimi go in for his pit stop.  With Ferrucci’s pit box being in the eighth stall past Michimi’s which was in the fourth stall, his team simply watched for when Michimi was released, then immediately released Ferrucci so that he would come out ahead of Michimi.  Then Ferrucci hit the brakes and crawled down pit lane to make sure he was able to meet the minimum pit time required.

This is not a legal pit maneuver, however, as a rule was added for 2016 to address this issue when the series saw this same strategy being employed in the prior year.  Nevertheless, no penalty was issued to Ferrucci and his team.

An exciting battle would ensue for the remainder of the race.  With Ferrucci back out front after the pit stops, the two made side-to-side contact and traded positions over the next five minutes. Ferrucci pulled a gap of 0.987 seconds, but Michimi reeled him in. With 21 minutes to go, Ferrucci got sideways coming out of Turn 2, but Michimi couldn’t quite capitalize.

Over the next 16 minutes, the two played a game of cat and mouse as they wove through lapped traffic. Ferrucci extended his lead to 2.203 seconds at one point, but Michimi, who had set the fastest lap of the race, would not go away and closed it to 0.743 seconds. The gap again grew to 3.582 seconds, only to once again be diminished to no more than a car length.

With six minutes to go, Michimi was following Ferrucci’s every move. Michimi dove in the inside of Turn 1, and Ferrucci cut back in sharply, forcing Michimi to have to veer across the track to avoid contact.  That ended up being Michimi’s last ditch effort.  Ferrucci retained the lead and drove to his eventual first Super Trofeo win.

Michimi’s second-place finish in the No. 1 Prestige Performance Lamborghini Huracán was his eighth overall podium finish of the season. The result helped Michimi extend his Championship lead to 45 points, 126-81, with three rounds to go.  Prestige Performance teammates Craig Duerson and Trent Hindman rounded out the overall podium with a third-place finish.

At the end of the race, however, Michimi was not well and was pulled from the car and taken straight to the track care center for evaluation.  The care center was very busy after the race as the heat had taken a toll on many drivers and some were treated for heat exhaustion.

“You always want to get the win, but it was a really good finish considering the challenges we faced,” Michimi said.  “I don’t know how this team did it, but they managed to put the car back together and give me a really great car.  I definitely had a car capable of winning.  It was a good battle with Ferrucci, but this being a one-off event for him, he had nothing to lose and it was clear that he was going to do whatever it took to get the win.  I have to think about the points championship, as well as the team and dealership championships.  It didn’t make sense to risk a potential incident or DNF.  All in all, we got the solid finishes that we needed for the overall points chase.”

While in the Seton Medical track care center, after two rounds of fluids, when Michimi’s body temperature was not coming down, the medical team was determined to find out what was causing his illness.  After going over some of his symptoms, the team asked for permission to do a chest x-ray, and discovered that he was dealing with a severe case of pneumonia.  The care center then prescribed a strong antibiotic to hopefully help get him back to feeling better. Michimi was going to need a quick recovery, as race two was set to start the next morning at 8:00 AM.

“I really found out just how good the medical teams for the tracks are,” Michimi said.  “The staff did not give up until they figured out what was wrong with me. Being so late at that point, all of the pharmacies were closed and it looked like it may be impossible to get the antibiotics that I needed.  But they went above and beyond.  One of the staff members called contacts at the hospital ER pharmacy in downtown Austin and made sure that they would be open and fill the prescription for me.  He even gave us his personal cell phone number to call in case we had any problems.  It was very comforting to find out how good the medical staff is and to know that we are in good hands if there are ever any problems at the track.”

The next morning, the team again gave him the option of sitting out.  But already feeling better from the antibiotics, Michimi insisted that he was good to go.   Ferrucci started from pole, but the No. 07 of Cedric Sbirrazzuoli who started from second and Michimi in the No. 1 Prestige Performance entry from third, got a good jump at the line.  Sbirrazzuoli took the lead in the No. 07 Dream Racing Motorsports entry on the front straight, and Michimi jumped into second position after an outside move on Ferrucci in Turn 1.

When the pit window opened, Sbirrazzuoli opted to stay out on track longer in hopes of gaining a larger advantage before handing the car over to his co-driver.  In a repeat of the previous day, Ferrucci dove into the pits upon seeing Michimi go in for his pit stop.  With Ferrucci’s pit box being past Michimi’s, his team once again watched for when Michimi was released, immediately released Ferrucci who then crawled down pit lane to make sure he was able to meet the minimum pit time required.  Having gotten by with it the day before without penalty, Ferrucci’s team again utilized this same maneuver to get their driver back out in front of Michimi.

Michimi tried to squeeze to the inside going into Turn 2, but Ferrucci shut the door. Much like the day before, the two moved in unison over the next few laps around the 20-turn, 3.427-mile circuit in the heart of Texas.  Behind that dueling duo, Richard Antinucci, who had taken over the No. 17 US RaceTronics entry representing Lamborghini Beverly Hills from co-driver Brian Thienes, was coming on strong.  Antinucci was able to overtake Michimi to settle into second position with 13 minutes remaining and set his sights on Ferrucci.  Over the closing laps, Antinucci pushed to close the gap to the leader, but Ferrucci held on for the win.  Antinucci crossed the finish line second but a post-race enforced penalty for a short pit stop dropped him and Thienes to third place overall.

Ferrucci would take the win for Round 10 in the No. 77 Courtney Racing entry representing Lamborghini Broward, with Shinya Michimi taking the second-place finish and the duo of Richard Antinucci and Brian Thienes rounding out the podium in third place.

While he didn’t have enough for the race win, Michimi’s finishes for the weekend gave him the points needed to clinch the overall championship, the main goal coming into the event at COTA.  Considering all of the challenges the team faced at the start of the weekend, the team recovered to finish the weekend much better than they could ever have imagined.

“I really don’t know what to say,” Michimi said. “I’m a bit speechless, like I was with my first win. I’ve just got to thank everybody in the team, everybody who has helped me out during my career. My family, all of my sponsors. They stuck with me through all the year, so I really want to thank them for all that.  I lost my grandfather two years ago to cancer, and he was a drag racer.  He was a lot of my inspiration.  He used to tell me stories about what he did as a child and everything, so I’m dedicating this whole year to him.”

Shinya:  “COTA was yet another new track for me, but that was the least of our concerns considering all of the challenges we faced this weekend.  I can’t express enough how great this Prestige Performance Wayne Taylor Racing crew is.  We were having so many issues right from the start.  But this amazing crew, they did what they do.  They never gave up. They not only found the problem, but fixed it and managed to give me a really good car.  It was a really tough weekend dealing with the illness also.  With all the adversity, we were really happy to overcome all the obstacles we faced and to be able to secure not only the overall Driver’s championship, but also the Team championship.  I can’t thank everyone enough for all that they have done for me, especially Prestige Performance (WTR).  I am truly blessed to be able to work with such a great team.  Now we will look forward to Valencia to try to finish the year strong and to work towards securing the Pro-Am and dealership titles for the team.”

The teams will head to Valencia, Spain, for the final two rounds of the championship Dec. 1st -2nd to decide the remaining titles, followed by the World Finals on Dec. 3rd-4th.