The final round of the 2014 Auto GP Championship took place at Estoril this weekend with Shinya Sean Michimi back at the wheel for Euronova Racing. The Japanese-American driver returned to the team for his third outing of the season after successful races and setting fastest laps at Monza and the Red Bull Ring earlier in the year.
Having never been to Estoril before and with just one session of free practice before qualifying, the ability to learn the track quickly was vital. Things were made more difficult by the inclement weather, as free practice was held on a wet-to-drying circuit. In the afternoon for Qualifying, Michimi made it through to the final ten minute qualifying session, and despite the lack of experience at the track, managed to earn the 5th place qualifying spot.
Both races took place on Sunday in front of a big, enthusiastic crowd. Michimi made a great start in Race 1, but the race had to be restarted under bizarre circumstances when the Medical Car broke down as the lights changed, leading to an immediate red flag. The race was restarted several minutes later behind the safety car. Michimi’s strategy involved an early pit-stop and he came in on lap 7, but was later served a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit-lane. This put an end to his podium hopes for Race 1, but his pace was encouraging and for much of the race he was lapping as fast as the race leaders. Despite his penalty, he took the chequered flag in 6th place.
Michimi would start Race 2 in the third position. However, he made life difficult for himself by making a less than stellar start and completed the first lap falling all the way back to 8th place. On the pit wall, Team Manager, Vincenzo Sospiri, called the perfect strategy and brought him in for new rubber as soon as the pit-lane opened. With clear track in front of him, and focused on what he knew he had to do, Michimi quickly became the fastest driver on the track, setting the fastest lap of the race on lap seven and bettering it again on lap ten. When the front runners pitted, the Euronova driver’s blistering pace allowed him to beat them out of their pit stops with all re-joining the race behind him, with the exception of Sa Silva, who re-entered the track in front of him. Michimi wasted no time and passed Sa Silva for the lead half a lap later in Turn 6, Parabolica Interior. From there he continued to click off fast laps to put a gap between himself and the rest of the field. Michimi took the chequered flag with a gap of 3.7 seconds to current GP3 driver, Luis Sa Silva, and over a 5 second gap to ex-Formula 1 driver Antonio Pizzonia, who came home in 3rd place. With this win, Michimi had earned his first victory in Auto GP after only three outings in the series.
Shinya Michimi: “I’m completely overwhelmed and I don’t think this will sink in for a while. This was a very emotional victory for me, as I just lost my grandfather in the U.S. who was battling cancer. I really wanted to win this race for him. I have to thank the team who did a perfect job all weekend. Coming here we knew that we had very little data for the circuit, but by the end we were able to be the quickest car on the track, and this really shows the strength of the team. I also want to thank my sponsors for their continued support of my career; Plan Z, Ramblas, Nitro, Taylor & Cutter, Perfect Shine, Realpower, miNami aoYama Network, Arai Helmets, GO Designs, and Oktane Visual.”